Training Upper Back

Training upper back

Training upper back, has its fair share neglected issues attached to it. Whether you’re standing on the stage or in front of the mirror; big back training will get noticed. Hands down this is the biggest of the upper body muscle groups, if it’s fully developed. Sadly… it is generally one of the most neglected! There are many different physical, psychological and personal reasons for this.

This article will take you on an adventure of discovering your upper back. How to prioritize develop and shape it. We will look at different training angles, strengths and weaknesses of the upper back, including how to mentally connect and feel the isolation and multi-joint exercises for your upper back.

Training the upper back takes almost as much tenacity and focused mental effort to build and develop, as those exercises associated to leg training. No other upper body exercises even come close to how winded back training is capable of making you feel. So what does a wide well-developed upper back add to your physic?… It epitomizes raw upper-body Size and Strength in Men!

If I Can’t See My Upper Back, Should I Train It?

It is not uncommon to hear the guys in and out of the gym talk about chest training and how much they can bench press. But training upper back, and showing it off to your friends and hearing guys tell stories of how much weight they can use to perform bent over rows is seldom heard, or bragged about.

Training upper back with the same intensity that most athletes put into chest and arm training, more often than not simply, doesn’t happen. For the most part, it is difficult to see the hard work and effort that goes into serious upper back training, because of its obvious location.  But…

The sad reality that gets missed with this giant muscle group’s lack of understanding in weight training is: bodybuilders and weightlifters in the earlier years have a tough time actually feeling the exercise movements there performing.

I want to help you take some of the guesswork out of training upper back with this article: so, let’s discuss how to build size, thickness width and shape into the upper back. The sweat, intensity and passion to develop this muscle group… I will leave to you!

Muscles of the Upper Back and Their Exercise Function.   

Training upper back
Anatomy of the upper back

So what types of exercises do what for the upper back?

To take some of the mystery and complicated theory out of training upper back, Let’s discuss upper back exercises and their movements, to help you get a better idea of what exercises give you which results.

Ø Pull-ups, Chinning and Pull-downs

These types of exercises excite and stimulate the widest part of the lats these exercises and their movements will primarily be responsible for building upper back width, shape and detail. But...

Just having upper back width doesn’t mean you have a thick, muscular looking upper back. For that you need different exercises at different intensities.

 Ø Barbell and Dumbbell Rows, Dead lifting and Cable Rows:

These types of basic movements are not as as fun and stream lined to perform as isolation exercise as your training upper back but...

these exercises build size, thickness and muscularity in the upper back. Because rowing exercises are used to develop strength, try to be consistently progressive by adding weight, keep your form tight… as your (strength increases, so will your size).

Note: focus your efforts of strength and thickness-based compound movements like rowing exercises, towards the start of the work out when energy levels are at their highest; this includes body weight-based chinning. Rowing movements are the workhorse exercises that will build raw upper back strength, size and thickness!

Using a top down approach, meaning: start with the big rowing exercises or chinning for the Lat muscles, then as energy levels begin to deplete throughout the work out, focus more exercises emphasis on the Traps, Lower back and Spine.

Multi-joint Exercises to Develop Raw Strength and Thickness

Back sculpted of stone

Performing compound, multi-joint exercises are demanding but, weight training's athletic history has shown us these types of movements as taxing as they are; hands down win the day!

These exercises stimulate the entire body, and with these big exercise movements, comes the big benefit of: more growth hormone being released simply through; the exerted contracted effort that these exercises demand!

As mentioned the back is a large muscle group and it’s muscle diversity and complexity is equally as big. I can’t stress enough how important it is to always take this muscle group through a full range of motion on each exercise of each repetition.

Varying your grip, wrist and hand position on different exercises each new back training day and focusing your efforts on the muscles as your training upper back, will have a huge impact on how big and how symmetrical your upper back, is going to look!

Also: the upper back needs a wide variety in training exercises, so… Be sure to continually change up the exercises and your routine to keep your upper back guessing, remember it’s up to you to make the upper back, respond… Just because you can’t see all of it, doesn’t mean you can’t develop it.

Always provide yourself with a great warm-up and stretch before, training upper back!

These can be performed with regular LAT machine pull-down's or using half your regular working weight performing dumbbell bent rows, a couple of sets of each will be sufficient to get the back, shoulders and arms warmed up for more of the heavy movement exercises.

Silhouetted back development


So let's have a look at some of the more tried-and-true rowing exercises you can perform to develop your upper backs strength, size and thickness. These exercise combinations and movements are old-school and timeless in their nature. But, their ability to be a effective is proven.


T-bar rows
Bent-over barbell rows
Seated cable rows
One arm dumbbell rows
Simultaneous dumbbell rows
Stiff legged deadlifts

Isolation Exercises to Develop Upper Back Width, Detail and Shape.

Wide grip chins

Isolation exercises in weight training/bodybuilding, definitely have their place, but if you’re a beginner they don’t have as-much  importance. A lot of guys like to perform isolation exercises simply because they are easier and because of this ease, this provides a fun factor, but…

Fun factor doesn’t always increase and yield muscle size and thickness like those of the big multi-joint, strength training exercises, as listed above. Keep this in mind as you’re performing isolation exercises.

Note: I recommend using your mirror or have a trusted friend or training partner, girlfriend or spouse photograph you every 50 - 60 days or so, preferably when your back is pumped.

This is a great way to track progress and use isolation exercises to target and prioritize weaker areas in your back development.

Wide grip chins
Palms in cable pulldown's
Straight arm cable pulldown's
Bent arm barbell pullovers
LAT pull downs
Close grip cable pulldown's

Training Upper Back: the Trapezius

Squeezing and contracting

The Trapezius is an extreme upper back muscle that can often get missed or even ignored out of any training stimulation. The fact is: the trapezius plays an intricate part in the full development of the upper back and is responsible for taking up to one-quarter of the total upper back development landscape.

This muscle group also has some of the nicest contour and shape of the muscle groups faced to the rear of the physique. It fills in the middle of the back traveling all the way from the upper rear delts and neck and makes its final insertions into the lower spine.

As you can see this is a large area and does deserve some effort, so let’s look at some of the best, trapezius exercises and how to perform them.

Barbell upright rows
Cable rope pulls
Dumbbell shrugs
Barbell shrugs

Connecting and Feeling Upper Back Movements

Building and training upper back to an impressive size you have to mentally visualize and connect to the muscles of the upper back, or all the training in the world will not make a wider thicker back.

If you find the upper back/trapezius are sadly lacking in comparison, choosing the right exercise and resistance and connecting to these movements, visualizing and feeling each exercise movement, will be responsible for taking your upper back size and development to the next level.

Because: you cannot see this muscle group, make an effort to consciously feel each movement, increase the resistance and intensity as new strength levels prevail: is how this large muscle group should to be approached.

If you’re just beginning to get serious about training upper back, the best advice I can give is: start with a little less weight.

Work hard at the exercises, but… work even harder at feeling and form.

Training upper back is not easy…

Upper back development

As with all things that are not easy, comes many great benefits, even if we cannot always see the muscles associated to the rear of our physiques, make no mistake; these, are some of the strongest and most supportive muscles on the human body.

Without these powerful muscles bending over, pulling, lifting and supporting the physique, is all part of developing these muscles that makes many of life's tasks easier.

Training upper back has always had some arguments thrown at it; as to which are the best exercises, including how many sets and reps to perform? I’ve seen this battle of opinions, rage on for decades, and they probably always will. Just: Keep your intensity the same as you would training your arms or chest...

the exercises I’ve outlined here for you have worked well for myself and many others that I’ve trained with over the last 3 ½ decades: and your back will have know choice but to grow.

In summary:

Upper back training and development is not so much about the exercises or the routine that you put them into:

As mentioned: the back muscles are intricate and need training variety, below is a list of generalized terms and ideas for you to keep in the back of your mind as you embark your serious back training program!

Ø Variety: E.g., hand and wrist position, including the angle that you pull from.

Ø Intensity: whether you perform drop sets, supersets or pyramid your poundage.

Ø Prioritize: look at your back, with photos or the mirror, what type of work do you think your upper back training needs?

Ø Compound exercises: these build raw strength and upper back thickness.

Ø Isolation exercises: build detail, symmetry, width and shape.

Ø Full range of motion: a full stretch, pause and contraction throughout each rep adds greater fiber recruitment and builds deeper muscle bellies.

Ø Form: upper back muscles are intricate; form, therefore is paramount for maximum stimulation.

Ø Mind and movement connection: it took me over one calendar year when I was beginning, to be able to feel my upper back from these exercises. Be persistent, give yourself time and be patient and this connection will happen.

Because you can't always see the upper back it does have a tendency to get neglected as far as training it goes . Anybody who has brought their upper back development up to par with the chest and arms: will easily be able to see their upper back from the front. So now...

it's up to you all the talk great diet and training strategies and schedules mean little unless you put these into practice! The sweat, dedication, persistent intensity with a good diet, variety and training form, I leave to you!

If you bring all of these elements into your upper back training, your shirt size is going to increase! Thanks for stopping by, I hope training upper back helped you out, DWT.

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