The Best Exercises to Build Upper Back Muscles

Your upper back is an important area to exercise, as it helps to keep your body upright and your posture straight. While the back muscles aren’t as showy as your chest, shoulders, and arms, they are the muscles that will give you a lot of power for the other exercises. Here are the 5 best exercises to help you build your upper back muscles:


For those who don’t have a gym handy, this is the perfect exercise. It’s a body weight exercise that you can do anywhere that has a pull-up bar handy, or you can even do it from a roof awning or a staircase. It’s one of the hardest bodyweight exercises to do, but it’s one of the most effective exercises to build upper back muscles.

You can switch to the reverse-hand grip, which is a chin-up. It will make it a bit easier, but it will also focus on the biceps along with the upper back. Go slow, and make sure to lower your body back down slowly to avoid hyperextension of your arms.

Lat Pulldowns

This is like the pull-up, but it requires a cable machine. You will basically be pulling the bar down to your chest, rather than pulling your body up to the bar. It will be a great workout for those that can’t do many pull-ups, and you can place your hands at varying widths to give yourself a more complete workout.

You may want to spread your hands wider than shoulder width apart, as it will make the exercise more concentrated on your upper back muscles. Keep your back straight, and focus on sitting perfectly upright as you bring the bar down to your chest.

Bent Over Rows

If you want a strong upper back, this is one of the best exercises to build upper back muscles. It will build your latissimus dorsi, your rhomboid muscles (your wings), and your trapezius muscles – all of which make up your upper back muscles.

This is one where you need to be very careful. You will be bent over, so a lot of the weight will be resting on your lower back. Keep your back perfectly straight, and carry as much weight as possible in your arms. Go slow with this movement, as you are risking injury to your back if you use improper form.

Cable Rows

Cable rows require a cable machine, but it’s an exercise that you can do without risking your back. You’ll have to tighten your core to pull the cable towards you without using your shoulder muscles, but it will help you strengthen your upper back and your core.

Once again, try varying the width of your hands to get different results. Keep your back perfectly straight, and pull only using your arms and your upper back muscles. Resist the temptation to engage your back, as that can lead to injuries.

Seated Machine Rows

You’ll need a special machine for this exercise, but it will give you excellent isolation for your upper back muscles. It will help to build power in your upper back, and it’s a good stepping-stone to help you prepare to do the more advanced exercises involving free weights.

The width of your grip will determine which muscle will be exercised, so adjust your grip according to the upper back muscle you want to focus on. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together, and hold your breath in for just a second before returning the machine to its original position.



  • For strength gain, do 4 to 6 reps per set.
  • For general fitness, do 12 to 15 reps per set.
  • For endurance and weight loss, do 20 to 25 reps per set.
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