The Best Back Exercises for a Strong and Toned Upper Body
Back muscles are sometimes forgotten by women, but a strong back is not only attractive, but it is also critical for your overall health.
First of all, a strong, lean-back looks sexy.
Want to look fantastic in swimsuits or in backless dresses? Don’t neglect your back workouts.
But it isn’t all about beauty. Making sure you have strong muscles around your spine is also good for your posture.
Many women suffer from poor posture.
Our shoulders are slumped from working at a computer or from being hunched over a phone all day.
Other women suffer from “mom-hip,” where they cock one hip to support carrying a child or bags of groceries, which can be hard on your lower back.
It might seem counterintuitive, but regular workouts for the back can reduce back pain and stiffness.
Also, improved back mobility can help prevent injury as we age (1).
Your muscles in your back are also the largest muscle group in your body.
This means a workout of back muscles can help with body fat.
How? The more muscles you move and develop, the faster you burn calories. That’s good for your waistline (2).
Upper and Lower Back Muscles
The muscles of your back include your rear deltoids (delts), teres major, latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), rhomboids, and the erector spinae.
These help keep you upright, move your body, and help you lift objects (3).
Can a Woman Shape Her Back at Home?
Of course. We will start this article with back workouts for women that do not require equipment.
You can easily program a back workout for home, with just these exercises.
Besides, these upper body movements also make great warmups to strength training.
So whether you are working out at a fitness center or in your living room, we’ve got a back workout for you.
18 Best Back Workouts for Women
1. Good Morning
A Good Morning looks like a simple bow, but there is quite a bit more to it than that.
Good Mornings work all the muscles along your posterior chain. It fires all the muscles along your spine, down to your glutes and hamstrings.
To do a Good Morning:
- Start with your feet a little more than hip-width apart. Rest your hands on your hips, with your knees slightly bent.
- Bend at the hips and bow until your chest is parallel to the floor, maintaining a flat back. While keeping your knees slightly bent, brace your midsection, squeeze your butt and return to an upright position.
Note that Good Mornings can be done at bodyweight, or you can rest a dumbbell on each shoulder and hold them lightly in place for additional complexity.
Ten to twelve reps is an excellent start to a back warmup.
Similar to Good Morning, superman is a simple back exercise that fires several muscles in your back.
Here’s how to do it:
- In your starting position, lay on your belly on the floor. Put your arms above your head, fully extended, palms facing the floor.
- Then, bracing your core, raise your arms and legs at the same time, just a few inches off the ground.
- Keep your gaze neutral, and look at the floor rather than the wall in front of you. Hold that position for 3-5 seconds. Lower your arms and legs back to the starting position and repeat.
For your back warmup, do ten to twelve reps.
The Swimmer is another exercise that works the whole back and glutes but does not require equipment.
It is similar to superman, but the movement will be slightly different.
- Again, lie facedown on your stomach. Extend your arms above you. As you exhale, lift your right arm and left leg.
- Keep your face to the mat, and try to keep your back in a straight line.
- Pause for a few seconds. Inhale and lower slowly and under control. Then repeat with the other side. Repeat 5-8 times on each side.
Since you are on the floor warming up your upper body for your back workout, the T-Raise should be next on your list.
T-Raises target the muscles of your upper back, particularly the trapezius. Your trapezius muscles are what move your shoulder blades.
- Again, your starting position is lying flat on the floor, face down. Instead of having your arms extended above you, extend them out to the sides, so your body makes the shape of a “T.”
- Curl your fingers and stretch your thumbs up in a “thumbs up” so your thumbs point to the ceiling.
- Raise your arms off the floor for three to five seconds, then slowly lower back to the floor. Do 10-12 repetitions.
T-Raise exercises can also be done on a stability ball or an incline bench. You can also do Y-Raises, with your arms in a Y-position, or I-Raises, with your arms extended in front of you.
5. Bird Dog
The Bird Dog is another workout for the back that you can do be at home.
However, since you will be on your knees, you might consider having a yoga mat or placing a folded towel under your knees for added cushion.
- Your starting position is on all fours. Your hands are on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Your thighs should be parallel, knees under your hips. Brace your core and shoulder blades.
- Keep your back flat; don’t let it sag. Focus your attention on the ground beneath you; don’t bend your neck. Raise your right hand, extending your arm, and left leg at the same time, keeping your gaze neutral.
- Pause with your hand out in front of your and your foot extended, then bend your knee and return to the original position. Repeat on the other side. That is one rep. Do 10-12 reps.
The Bird Dog exercises can be used for purposes other than back workouts. It is also great for building stability.
You may also feel this one in your abs the day after! It works a lot of your body.
6. T-Plank (Rotational plank)
The T-Plank is a body movement between a forearm or high plank to a side plank and back again.
Side planks target your side abdominals and rectus abdominis and are great for training these muscle groups.
- Begin in either the forearm or high plank position. If you have sore wrists, you should start on your forearms.
- Feet should be about hip-width apart, hips parallel to the floor. Slowly rotate your body, lifting one arm straight to the ceiling. You will move from being on your toes to stacking the sides of your feet together.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds, then rotate your body to the original plank position and repeat on the other side.
For a warmup, start with five to eight repetitions on each side.
Back Exercises With Weights
Now, Let’s Move to the Best Back Exercises with Weights and Fitness Equipment
Weight rooms are far more welcoming to ladies than they used to be.
However, if you haven’t hit this part of the gym before, many offer a free session with a trainer.
Women need resistance training just as much as men and the best back workouts will involve some weights.
Rows are one of the great classic weightlifting exercises that help you develop fantastic muscles.
If I had to pick just one movement for the best back, it would be rows. There are several variations using machines, a barbell, or dumbbells.
Others let you change up your grip to work for different muscle groups.
In a row, you will be moving the weight towards you in a pulling motion.
You will be working your lats, traps, rhomboids, and the muscles around your spine. These are all the muscles that will let you lift more weight.
Important Note: As you are doing the pull part of the row, you will want to squeeze and pull your shoulder blades together.
As you move the weight away from you, you will let them open back up.
7. Dumbbell Renegade Row
- Grab a pair of 8 to 10 pound-dumbbells and get into a pushup position with your hands resting on the weights and your feet hip-width apart.
- Contract your abs as you bend your right elbow to pull the dumbbell toward the side of your rib cage.
- Pause, then lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm. That’s one rep.
8. Bent-Over Row with a Barbell
- Hold a barbell with an overhand grip. Keep your arms just beyond your shoulder’s width apart.
- Hold the barbell at arm’s length. While hinging at your hips, bend your knees so your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Maintain your upper body in this position throughout the movement.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar to your rib cage and pause at the top. Then slowly lower the bar back down.
Beginners should start with an overhand grip. Once your body strength increases, you can use a supinated grip with your palms facing you.
This changes the muscles you are using slightly and includes more of your biceps.
9. Dumbbell Row
A dumbbell row is the same motion as the barbell row; you are just changing equipment. However, dumbells give you a little more range of motion, since you can pull them along your rib cage.
Here’s how to do it:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and hinge at the waist. You can choose your grip: palms facing back, or palms facing together. Again, keep your knees slightly bent.
- Without moving your trunk, tighten your shoulder blades and pull the weights to your waist level. This counts as one rep.
As a variation, you can also alternate these rows, lifting one hand at a time.
10. Single-Leg Row
The single-leg row is similar to the dumbbell row, but in this variation, you raise one leg as well.
- Your setup will be the same as the dumbbell row, but as you hinge at the hip, raise one leg and hold it in the air.
- Your palms will be facing each other, holding the dumbells. Keep your leg up as you pull the dumbbells to your ribcage. Then lower. Switch legs on each set.
11. Kneeling Single-Arm Row
For this variation, you will need a weight bench along with your dumbbell.
- Place your left knee and left palm on a flat bench. Your right leg will be straight, foot on the floor. Your back will be straight.
- Hold the dumbbell in your right hand, arm extended. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you row the weight to the side of your chest and then lower. Repeat on the other side.
12. Inverted Row
An Inverted Row uses bodyweight, but you will need a bar that is roughly waist height. You can also do inverted rows with a pair of rings.
- Hold the bar with an overhand grip. Hang your body under the bar with your arms completely straight, hands above your shoulders.
- Legs will be stretched out in front of you, heels on the floor. Your goal is to keep your core tight. Keep an eye on this, as you begin to fatigue, your back may sag.
- Start by pulling your shoulder blades back, then keep pulling, bending your elbows until your chest is to the bar.
- Once your chest touches, slowly lower back to the bottom position, keeping your core tight.
13. Lateral Raise
As with a dumbbell row.
- Start with one dumbbell in each hand.
- With knees slightly bent, you will bend so your chest is almost parallel to the floor. Arms extended.
- However, in a Lateral Raise, you will keep your elbows locked as you move your arms straight out to the sides as you hold a dumbbell. Raise your arms until they are in line with your body. Lower and repeat.
14. ChinUps and PullUps
These back exercises are great for your lats or your low back muscles.
The formal name for lats is latissimus dorsi, and they run from the lower part of your back and attach under your arm.
They help you lift items onto shelves and take them down again. Chinups and pullups also work your biceps, upper and middle back.
What is the difference between a chin-up and a pullup?
These exercises are the same; the only difference is in your grip. In a chin-up, you use an underhand grip, so your palms are facing you.
In a pullup, you use an overhand grip, and your palms are facing out. (4)
For both of these exercises, you will hang from a pullup bar, with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, engage your core, and pull your chest to the bar.
- Then, slowly and under control, lower yourself back to the starting position.
Note that chin-ups and pull-ups are very challenging movements for most men and women. It may take some time to build up to these.
Doing negatives – jumping to the bar and lowering yourself as slowly as possible, is an excellent modification that can help you build strength.
15. Cable Pullover
If chin-ups and pull-ups are challenging exercises for you right now, another way to modify them is to use a lat pulldown machine.
- Grab the lat pulldown machine bar with an overhand grip.
- Lean slightly forward at the hips. Keeping your back and arms straight and pull the bar down to your thighs.
- Pause for a few seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Sit at a lat pulldown station and grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip, arms straight, and torso upright. (You can also use a resistance band hanging down from a door to do this exercise if you at home.)
- Without moving your torso, pull the bar down to your chest as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
In addition to being workouts for your back, deadlifts are great exercises for your quads, glutes, shoulders, and hamstrings.
(Note from the author: they also happen to be my favorite movement.)
- Load the barbell and stand with it near your shins. Bend at the hips and the knees.
- Your hips should be a little higher than your knees. Grab the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your core tight and back flat. Take a deep breath, and keeping your back flat and chest up, stand up with the weight, squeezing your glutes.
18. Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift is a deadlift that starts at the top.
- Begin this movement standing tall, with the barbell in your hands.
- Slightly bend your knees. Brace your core and slowly lower your upper body as far as you can without rounding your back or breaking form.
- Squeeze your glutes to return to standing.
The last word
It’s not just about sexy backs or having a good physique. Women should workout back muscles for overall health.
Moving your body can help promote healing, strength, and stability.
Not only will you look great in that dress, but you know are making choices that will help your body maintain an active lifestyle as you age.
For best results, use a combination of these routines to hit both upper and lower muscles.
- Hochschuler, Stephen. “How Exercise Helps the Back.” Spine-health, www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/how-exercise-helps-back.
- Campbell, Adam. The Women’s Health Little Book of Exercises: Four Weeks to a Leaner, Sexier, Healthier You! Pan Macmillan, 2014.
- Brandi, Henson, et al. “Anatomy, Back, Muscles – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 4 Mar. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537074/.
- Schuler, Lou, et al. The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess. Penguin, 2008.
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