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Train the Back Side of You

Updated on December 10, 2011

Your back is comprised of many different muscles. In order to maintain a healthy spine, good posture and a great looking back, you need to do a variety of exercises that target all the muscles. The back muscles include the latissimus dorsi (also known as the lats), trapezius, erector spine, rhomboids and the teres major.

Latissimus Dorsi

The lats are the largest back muscle and insert under the armpit on the humerus bone and connect on the lower ribs and on top of your hip. Often when this muscle is defined, people say they have wings because they flare out like wings. This muscle is responsible for moving your arms down from a raised position, turning the arm toward the inside of the body and pulling the shoulder blades together.

Underhand Lat Pulldown

For this exercise, use the lat pulldown machine or cable with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Hold the bar with your palms facing you and your hands are slightly closer than shoulder width. Keeping a straight back, lean about 30 degrees to maintain create curvature in the body and to get full range of motion during this exercise. As you exhales, pull the bar down until it touches your chest and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Only the arms should move in this exercise. Do not lean back more or use momentum to pull down the bar. Focus on only moving your arms when doing doing lat pulldowns.


Hold a pull-up bar with palms facing you and with your hands slightly closer than shoulder width. As you exhale, pull up your torso up until your chin comes over the bar. Slowly lower your body down. If you have not built enough strength to perform this move, use assistance to slowly build up to doing a chin-up. You can use an assisted chin-up machine, which use weight to help you push your bodyweight. You can also use a spotter who holds your legs as you go up. If you have progressed past the chin-up and can do multiple repetitions, you can add weight to your waist with a weighted belt.

Trapezius Muscle

The next largest back muscle is the trapezius, which is located between your shoulder blades, above the shoulder blades and on your neck. The traps are considered to have three sections, the lower, middle and upper fibers. The main job of the traps is to support the head and neck, help control the shoulder blades and shrugging the shoulders.


You can do shrugs with dumbbells, barbells or with the cable machine. This exercise will mainly target the upper traps. To perform shrugs with dumbbells, hold dumbbells out to you sides. Only move your shoulders up and down. Mix up the weight to continue to progress.

Seated Row

The best way to do this exercise is using the seated cable row machine. Sit on the bench and grab the handle in one hand. Slide back on the bench until your knees are slightly bent. Bend at the hips until your arm is fully straight. As you pull the handle back, sit upright and extend your elbow behind you. Using one arm instead of two allows you to strengthen the middle traps better.

Dumbbell Lying Row

The lower fibers of the traps are the hardest to isolate. This exercise will help develop the lower traps, as well as the middle traps. To perform, lie down on an elevated bench with your chest agains the pad. Grip the dumbbells with your palms facing each other. Pull weight to the sides of the bench until your shoulder blades feel like they are touching. Throughout the exercise try to keep your chest against the pad and elbows close to the body.

Erector Spinae Muscle

This muscle is a lot smaller than the lats and the traps but plays an important role in helping you flex and extend your back in any direction. They also support and protect your spine and help maintain proper posture and stabilize the core.


Start with a lighter load for this exercise since these muscles are small and you can feel soreness easily. To perform this exercise you a barbell. Stand behind the barbell. Keep your back as straight as possible as you squat down to grab the barbell. Push through your legs to come up to a standing position with your chest out and your shoulder blades back. Important to keep your back straight in this exercise.

Good Morning

Although, this exercise does target your back muscles, your hamstrings also play an important part in performing Good Morning. To execute this exercise begin with a barbell on your shoulders. Keep your back straight, your shoulder blades squeezed together and your knees just slightly bent. Bend at the hips, moving them and your glutes towards the back, until your chest is parallel with the ground. Keep your back in its natural arch. Reverse the motion until you are standing. During this move look forward so you maintain the natural curvature of the neck and spine.


This muscle is part of the upper fibers of the back muscles. Located underneath the trapezius, the rhomboids support your shoulder blades and help you squeeze your shoulder blades together. There are two parts to the rhomboids: rhomboideus major, which is the lower part of the muscle and the rhomboideus minor, which is the upper smaller portion of the rhomboid.

Difference of Resistance

What do you like to use for your rows?

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Bent Over Row

I like to do bent over rows with dumbbells but you can use a barbell or other resistance. Grab a dumbbell in both hands, with slightly bent knees and bending at the hips so your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your head up in natural alignment. With palms facing one another, lift the dumbbells to your side. The elbows should stay close to the body and at the top of the move, really squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly exhale the weights down.

Any other rowing exercise also works the rhomboids.

Teres Major

This small but mighty muscle is located underneath the lats and works with the lats to move the arm. It also helps rotate the arms inward towards the body and provides support to the other shoulder muscles. Since this muscle is small and works in with many other muscles, it is hard to isolate this muscle with specific exercises. Many of the exercises you do to work the other back muscles will help define and strengthen the teres major.

Straight-arm Lat Pulldown

This exercise is best for targeting the teres major the most. Standing in front of a cable machine, start by grabbing the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Stand with a natural curve in the back and knees slightly bent. Keep the arms straight as you pull the bar down until you reach your sides. Slowly, controlled and with straight arms, raise the arms back to starting position.


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Fantastic hub with great information and great illustrations.

    • Sottway profile image

      Infopedia 6 years ago from Worldwide

      An excellent hub JBROCK!

      Some very good recommendations for having a healthy back, it's essential to have a strong core!

      A good read anyway keep them coming!