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Best Upper Back Exercises – Summer is Coming and your Upper Back Muscles will be Ready

It’s time ya’ll.  Summer is coming, and it’s time for you to walk down the beach with your swagger and confidence because your upper back muscles rival those of Michael Phelps. 

Do you need to train like an Olympian to get them?  No, you do not. 

You just need to get the right back exercises added to your workout routine

We’re talking exercises that involve squeezing your shoulder blades together to get that full back contraction. 

The beauty of these exercises is that most of them can be done right at home with just a few pieces of equipment. 

Stand up tall, and let’s get to work.

Why is a Strong Upper Back Important?

It’s always crucial to know precisely why specific exercises that develop lean muscle mass are essential to everyday life.  We like to call it functional fitness. 

Fitness that lends itself to being able to work in the garden, carry heavy groceries into the house, and play random games with your kids without pulling a muscle or, worse, breaking something. 

Chronic lower back pain affects too many people all around the world. 

Studies have shown that sometimes lower back issues stem from weakness in upper back muscles.  Strengthening exercises that provide improvements for the lumbar, neck, and shoulder muscles prove to reduce back pain. 

Add to that, the improvement of posture and overall core strength and strengthening the upper back is a recipe we can get behind.

Best Upper Back Exercises

It’s time to learn some effective exercises for that upper back. 

We’ll tell you how to perform the exercises, what equipment you will need, and the specific muscles you will utilize.  

Rocket Launcher Row

Well, this sounds rather intense, don’t you think?  Don’t stress, as we’ll walk you through it. 

Starting position is a lunge with your right leg bent and left leg straight behind you. 

With a dumbbell in each hand, tip over until your chest is almost touching your knee. 

Pull the dumbbells up to your rib cage while squeezing your shoulder blades together, and then lower your hands back down. 

Make sure you are pulling your elbows back and not out to the side. 

This back exercise works the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi or lats, erector spinae, and your core.  

Wide Bent-Over Row

If you want more work for your lats while kicking the delts and core, then the wide bent-over row is just the exercise for you. 

Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand. 

Tip over slightly from the hip with your chest almost parallel to the floor.  Make sure your legs are bent slightly. 

Pull your elbows up and out to the side and squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Stop when your hands, elbows, and shoulders form a 90-degree angle.  Then slowly lower your arms back down. 

You must use the back muscles to press your arms down as well as driving them back up.

Lunge Row with Crunch

Grab those dumbbells again because you are going to need them.  Stand in a lunge position with your upper body tipped forward from the hip. 

This move is similar to the rocket launcher row as your front leg is bent and your back leg straight behind you.  Keep your back straight and pull your shoulder back. 

Pull the dumbbells up on your sides with your elbows pulling back.  Squeeze your upper back, and then let your arms lower to the sides. 

Once your arms are lowered, pull your back leg towards your chest, leading with your knee. 

Crunch your abs and then lower the leg back behind you.  This one is great for a full-body workout, working for multiple muscle groups. 

This exercise is not to be missed by engaging your core, legs, traps, rhomboids, and rear delts.  

Reverse Fly

This back exercise can be done seated or standing.  If you are standing, tip forward slightly from the hip with your knees slightly bent. 

If you are seated, keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent and tilt forward from the hip. 

With a dumbbell in each hand, lift your arms out to the side with a slight bend in your elbow.  Squeeze the upper back muscles and shoulders as you lift the weights out to the side. 

Keep your palms facing the floor during this exercise, and make sure you lower down with muscle and not momentum.  The rhomboids are fully engaged here as well are the rear delts.  

Dumbbell Pullover

Lie down on a weight bench, holding one dumbbell in both hands above your chest. 

Make sure you pull your core in tight and keep your lower back on the bench.  Don’t get overly excited about lying down, as this exercise is intense. 

With your arms slightly bent at the elbow, lower your arms down until your elbows are close to your ears.  Slowly raise your arms back up until they are above your chest again and repeat. 

This is excellent work for your lats, shoulders, and core.  


C’mon!  You knew this exercise was going to make a debut.  Grab that pull-up bar, and let’s rock and roll. 

Did you know that this exercise works the back muscles first and foremost?  The lats, traps, and erector spinae are major players here. 

You need to contract all of those muscles in your back, which will help you pull up and over the bar.  An underhand grip will work the biceps and triceps as well. 

While this is a hard move to manage, like we’ve said before, once you can do one pull-up, you are well on your way to a few more.  

Seated Cable Row

Despite needing a cable row machine, this exercise excellent work for all of those back muscles.  Sit up with your back straight and your knees slightly bent. 

Grab the cables and pull back toward your chest, squeezing your shoulders as you do. 

Repeat as many times as you can to develop some rockstar back muscles.    

One-Arm Row

You can do this exercise with a knee on a bench for stability or standing.  Tip-over from the hip and grab a dumbbell with one hand. 

Pull back like you would for a bent-over row, but pull your elbow straight back until your hand is near your rib cage. 

You can do this same thing with one knee on a weight bench while you pull back with the opposite arm. 

Of course, reverse everything to ensure you are working both sides of the back.  Excellent work for your lats with this one.

Time to Flex

You’ve done the heavy lifting.  Well, maybe not quite, but you now have a ton of back exercises to practice for those much-desired beach struts in your future. 

Ensure that you are exercising your pecs to not develop rounded shoulders from working too much of one side of your body. 

It’s all about moderation, right?  Now, look out, Michael Phelps.  We are ready to flex our backs!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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