Bodybuilding Back Workout for Mass (6 Exercises)

Whether you aspire to compete on stage or simply desire a strong and aesthetic back, this article will guide you through a comprehensive bodybuilding back workout. 

Read on for a deep dive into the best exercises and the most effective training techniques to help you build a visually striking back to match the rest of your body.

It’ll be hard and sweaty work, but you’ll like the results.

This bodybuilding back workout is one of many premium workouts in the StrengthLog app, which you can download for free using the buttons below.

Building a Powerful Back for Bodybuilding

A well-developed back contributes to a balanced and symmetrical physique. It provides a V-taper appearance, where your shoulders appear more expansive and your waist narrower. It complements all other muscle groups and enhances the overall visual impact of your physique.

In addition to simply looking awesome, a strong back is essential for optimal functional strength. It provides the foundation for all compound exercises and many of the activities you perform on a daily basis. Powerful back muscles improve posture, stability, and overall body mechanics, enhancing performance in the gym, other sports, and everyday activities.

In bodybuilding, there is a saying: “Contests are won from the back.” Indeed, more often than not, great back development separates the best bodybuilders from the rest.

While an impressive chest, rounded delts, and massive arms may catch the eye, an underdeveloped back will leave you at a disadvantage compared to bodybuilders who have put in the work required to build a great back.

And while building a big back takes hard work and high-intensity training sessions, the right exercises make all the difference.

Enter StrengthLog’s bodybuilding back workout: a combination of compound movements, free weights, horizontal pulls, and vertical pulls to hit your back from all angles and give you the best workout possible for building a bigger back that looks outstanding from all angles.

Back Anatomy

Before diving into the bodybuilding back workout, let’s take a moment to explore some basic anatomy to help you understand how your back muscles work and why some exercises are more effective than others.

Your back comprises various muscle groups that function together to enable movement patterns such as bending over, twisting, and extending your back. These muscles are vital for effective body and limb movements, head rotation, spinal alignment, and breathing.

We can categorize the back into two primary regions: the upper and lower back.

Your Upper Back Muscles

The latissimus dorsi, commonly known as the lats, is one of the two largest muscles in the upper body and contributes to the V-taper look desired by bodybuilders. Your delts and triceps are more sizeable but consist of several smaller parts.

Your lats work with the teres major and pectoralis major muscles to adduct, rotate, and extend your arms. Its primary function is moving the arms toward the body’s center, as seen in exercises like chin-ups and lat pulldowns. Additionally, the lats help you reach for objects on high shelves.

Latissmus dorsi muscle.

The trapezius, a large muscle extending from the base of the neck to your middle back, supports the spine, aids in maintaining posture, and enables movements such as head rotation, shoulder raising and lowering, and internal arm rotation.

Well-developed trapezius muscles enhance the visual appeal of your back and shoulders. They are directly targeted with movements such as shrugs and the high pull and provide support during exercises like overhead presses and rows, as well as protection during contact sports.

Trapezius muscle.

Located below the middle and lower trapezius, the rhomboids, comprising the major and minor rhomboid muscles, might not be visible but still contribute to back thickness when adequately developed. 

They play a crucial role in the shoulder girdle, pulling your shoulder blades together and promoting good posture. Strong rhomboids are essential for throwing movements and overhead exercises.

Rhomboid muscle.

The teres major, often called the “lat’s little helper,” is a small muscle that assists the latissimus dorsi in extending, medially rotating, and adducting the upper arm. It works in tandem with the rotator cuff muscles to maintain your humerus’s stability.

Teres major muscle.

Your Lower Back Muscles

Like the upper back, the lower back consists of multiple muscles, each essential for physical function and athletic performance.

The erector spinae, comprising three muscles, spans the entire back and assists in back rotation and straightening. When a bodybuilder is lean, the spinal erectors can be visible and resemble the shape of a Christmas tree in the lower back.

Erector spinae muscles.

The transversospinales muscle group consists of the multifidus, semispinalis, and rotatores muscles beneath the erector spinae. They aid in back rotation and help you bend your spine in various directions depending on which side you flex.

While there are other muscles in the back, the ones mentioned above are the most crucial for designing the best back workouts. Compound movements for your back engage them all, automatically ensuring a comprehensive training approach.

The StrengthLog Bodybuilding Back Workout

This bodybuilding back workout consists of six exercises for a total of 20 sets. It’s a high-volume training session for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders looking to pack on lean muscle.

Because the back is one of the more complex body parts, composed of multiple muscles, all essential for both visual appearance and function, you want to hit it from many angles and use a wide rep range.

One session of the back workout per week is enough training volume for great gains, but you could perform it twice weekly if you’re an experienced bodybuilder.

The bodybuilding back workout consists of the following exercises:

  1. Rack Pulls 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Pull-Ups or Lat Pulldowns 4 sets x 10–12 reps
  3. Barbell Rows 4 sets x 6–8 reps
  4. Dumbbell Rows 3 sets x 10 reps
  5. Cable Rows 3 sets x 12–15 reps
  6. Dumbbell Pullovers 2 sets x 10-15 reps

It is also available for your perusal in our workout log app.

If the training volume is too high for you to maintain focus throughout the entire training session, feel free to do one set less for exercises two to five.

Your rest periods should be long enough for you to recover adequately for the next set. Training back takes a lot out of you, and those large, powerful muscles often require several minutes of recovery to perform your best. A 2–3 minute break between sets is ideal for most lifters.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the exercises you’ll be doing in the bodybuilding back workout, with detailed step-by-step instructions on how to perform them.

Warming Up for the Bodybuilding Back Workout

Preparing your body before diving into a workout session is always a good idea to optimize performance and minimize the risk of injury.

A thorough warm-up routine increases blood flow to your muscles, enhances focus and flexibility, and readies your body for the upcoming hard work.

This warm-up protocol consists of a general warm-up (cardio) and a muscle-specific warm-up with appropriate exercises for the muscles you’re training today.

Step One: Cardio

For the general warm-up, allocate approximately five minutes to moderate-intensity cardio.

Although not mandatory, cardio raises your body temperature and elevates your heart rate. A warm body with blood flowing to the muscles performs significantly better than if you had walked straight into the gym from your car and picked up a heavy barbell.

Remember, your objective is to warm up, not aerobic fitness, so maintain a low to moderate exercise intensity. You want to preserve your energy for the main bodybuilding back workout.

Step Two: Prepare Your Muscles

  • The first step of the muscle-specific warm-up is to perform some dynamic stretches targeting your back and shoulders. Examples include arm circles, shoulder rotations, and trunk twists to improve your range of motion, activate the muscles, and prepare them for the upcoming battle with the barbell.
  • Secondly, do a few exercises that specifically target the lats and your other back muscles to establish a mind-muscle connection and activate the targeted muscle group. Examples include straight-arm pulldowns and band pull-aparts at shoulder height.
  • Finally, do a series of ramp-up sets of rack pulls or deadlifts. The first exercise of the bodybuilding back workout is the rack pull, and you don’t want to jump into your first heavy work set cold.

The number of warm-up sets required depends on the weight you intend to use for your working sets.

The heavier the weight, the more ramp-up sets you need on the way there.

If you train with 80 lbs, one or two warm-up sets with a lighter weight is enough. But if you’re an advanced lifter and load the bar with hundreds and hundreds of pounds, you want to start with a lighter load and gradually increase it to prepare your muscles.

A light warm-up set or two before your work sets is likely enough for exercises two and onwards since your muscles will already be warm and rearing to go.

Rack Pulls

The first exercise of the bodybuilding back workout is the rack pull, a deadlift variant that targets the entire posterior chain and allows you to hoist some heavy weight plates to pack on lean muscle mass. Building a big back requires some big lifts; few exercises do it better than the rack pull. 

Rack pulls involve lifting the barbell from an elevated position, allowing you to handle heavier weights than conventional deadlifts. They emphasize your lower body, including your quads and hamstrings, to a lesser degree, making them perfect for gaining strength and muscle mass in your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, upper traps, and lower back muscles.

In addition, because you use a shorter range of motion and don’t put your lower back in the same kind of vulnerable position as in the traditional deadlift, rack pulls can have a comparatively lower risk of injury. A lower back injury or even just lower back pain can effectively hamper your bodybuilding progress.

When you handle much weight in the rack pull, your grip strength might give out before your target muscles. You don’t want your grip to be the limiting factor in your back training, so don’t hesitate to use a pair of lifting straps to reinforce it if needed.

You’ll be doing straight sets with low reps and heavy weights for maximum strength gains and laying the foundation for a thick, powerful back. A stronger muscle is generally a bigger muscle.

Muscles Worked in Rack Pulls

Rack pull muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform Rack Pulls

  1. Set up the barbell in a power or squat rack at an appropriate height. The bar should be positioned at knee level or slightly below. Adjust the safety bars or pins to ensure they are set at the desired height to prevent the weight from going too low.
  2. Position yourself in front of the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Your toes should be pointing forward or slightly outward.
  3. Bend at the hips and knees to lower yourself and grip the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing towards you) slightly wider than shoulder-width. Ensure your grip is secure and comfortable. Use lifting straps if needed.
  4. With your back straight and chest lifted, engage your core muscles and brace your abs to help maintain stability throughout the movement.
  5. Inhale and begin the movement by extending your hips and knees, lifting the barbell, and pulling it close to your body.
  6. Keep your back straight and shoulders pulled back as you lift. Focus on engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles to drive the movement.
  7. Aim to bring your shoulder blades back and down as you lift, squeezing your back muscles at the top of the movement.
  8. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position by bending at the hips and knees. Keep your back straight and control the descent of the weight.
  9. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Pull-Up / Lat Pulldown

Time for some vertical pulls to build lat width with an exercise of your choice: the classic pull-up or the lat pulldown.

The pull-up has been a staple in bodybuilding training routines for a century or more, and for a good reason: you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better exercise for building a broad back.

Pull-ups only require your body weight and a pull-up bar but are unsurpassed for adding muscle mass to your upper lats. In addition, they hit your lower traps and biceps in true compound exercise fashion.

They are challenging and suitable for the advanced lifter who can do a decent number of reps. If you want to give the pull-up a go but find yourself struggling, you can use an assisted pull-up machine to provide you with just enough of a boost.

Alternatively, you can do the wide-grip lat pulldown.

True to its name, wide-grip pulldowns primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles, which create a wide and V-shaped appearance in the upper body when viewed from the rear.

They are one of the five most popular exercises for both men and women and a great addition to your back day hypertrophy workout.

Many bodybuilders find it easier to focus properly on the lats with the lat pulldown machine’s stability.

Regardless of which you prefer, the pull-up and the lat pulldown are your go-to options for a wide, muscular back.

How to Perform the Pull-Up

  1. Stand beneath a pull-up bar and reach up to grasp it with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Ensure your grip is secure and comfortable.
  2. Hang freely from the bar, fully extending your arms. Your feet should be off the ground.
  3. Engage your core muscles by squeezing your abs and glutes.
  4. Inhale and initiate the movement by pulling yourself up towards the bar by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Focus on using your back muscles rather than relying on your upper arms.
  5. Continue pulling yourself up until your chin reaches or clears the bar. Keep your torso upright and avoid excessive swinging or kicking with your legs.
  6. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position while maintaining control and stability, fully extending your arms.
  7. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

How to Perform the Lat Pulldown

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine and adjust the thigh pad to fit snugly against your thighs.
  2. Reach up and grasp the wide bar attachment with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder-width. Ensure your grip is secure and comfortable.
  3. Keep your feet flat on the floor and sit with your back straight and chest up.
  4. Take a deep breath and engage your core strength to maintain a stable torso throughout the exercise.
  5. Begin the movement by pulling the bar down towards your upper chest while keeping your elbows pointed to the sides. Imagine bringing your shoulder blades together as you pull down.
  6. Continue pulling until the bar is below your chin or touches your upper chest. Maintain control and avoid using momentum to swing or jerk the weight.
  7. Squeeze your lats in the contracted position, slowly release the tension, and allow the bar to rise until your arms are fully extended. Maintain control throughout the entire range of motion.
  8. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Barbell Row

The third movement of the bodybuilding back workout is the bent-over barbell row, another of the most popular exercises. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the best exercises for building a bigger back.

When it comes to developing thickness in the back, few exercises can match the effectiveness of barbell rows. While the bench press is often hailed as the king of upper body exercises, it only rules from the front. The barbell row holds court when it comes to targeting the back muscles. It doesn’t reign supreme but has a legitimate claim to the throne.

You’ll notice ten exercise variations if you observe ten different bodybuilders performing bent-over rows.

Some use an overhand grip, others an underhand grip, with the technique ranging from leaning forward until parallel to almost standing upright. Most people prefer using free weights, while some like the stability of a Smith machine.

For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger used to lean forward to the point where his upper body was parallel to the floor, while Dorian Yates preferred standing more upright with his torso at a 45-degree angle.

It worked well for both, and they both had one of the best backs of their time.

For this bodybuilding back workout, you’re sticking with the basic approach.

Use an overhand grip and bend at the hips to just above a 90-degree angle, leaning forward until your upper body is slightly above parallel to the floor. If you stand upright, you transfer more of the work to your upper back and traps. Leaning forward like this ensures you target all muscles of your back for optimal and balanced muscle growth.

You can do the t-bar row for variation now and then. It involves pulling the weight in a fixed bar path, which requires less balance and coordination.

Muscles Worked in Barbell Rows

Barbell row muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Barbell Row

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, and lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms. Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, ensuring they are firmly planted for stability.
  2. With your knees slightly bent, engage your core muscles and maintain a neutral spine position throughout the exercise.
  3. Take a deep breath and brace your core. Begin the movement by pulling the barbell up towards your body, leading with your elbows. Keep your arms close to your body as you lift the weight.
  4. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift, activating your back muscles. The movement should come from your back rather than your arms.
  5. Continue pulling the barbell until it touches or comes close to your upper abs or lower chest. Keep your torso stable and avoid excessive swinging or using momentum to lift the weight.
  6. Squeeze your back muscles at the top of the movement.
  7. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position while maintaining control throughout the descent, fully extending your arms.
  8. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Rows

If you want your back to grow, you have to row. The dumbbell row is not just one of the best back exercises but one of the best dumbbell exercises, period.

It primarily targets your lats, rhomboids, traps, and rear delts but also hits your biceps, forearms, and rotator cuffs.

The dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise where you train one side of the body at a time.

Most of us have one side that is weaker than the other and harder to develop. Including unilateral exercises in your workout routine identifies and addresses muscular imbalances by working each side independently and ensures your muscle balance, symmetry, and aesthetics are all on point.

Also, many bodybuilders find it easier to feel their lats working when doing the one-arm dumbbell row compared to traditional barbell rows.

The latter allows you to create a massive overload with heavy weights, while rowing a dumbbell one side at a time makes it easier to establish a good mind-muscle connection and squeeze your lats.

The only potential downside of the dumbbell row is that it takes twice as long to get through your sets because it’s a unilateral movement. Double the time, double the fun, and time well spent.

You can perform your dumbbell rows in several ways. 

  • The first is like in the video above, supporting your body with a hand and a knee on a bench.
  • The second is standing with both your feet on the floor, upper body hinged forward at the hip, and with your free hand on a bench or a dumbbell rack in front of you for support.

Both are excellent variations of the exercise. You can do it the way it feels best for you.

Dumbbell Row Tips and Tricks

Keep these pointers in mind to get the most out of your dumbbell rows:

  • Excessive momentum: Relying on momentum to lift the dumbbell diminishes the activation of your upper back muscles. Instead, prioritize controlled and deliberate movements and avoid any sudden jerking motions to put the full focus on your back.
  • Inadequate range of motion: Failing to fully extend your arms at the starting position or fully retract the shoulder blades at the movement’s peak makes the dumbbell row less effective. Strive for a complete range of motion with each repetition, ensuring full extension and contraction. It’s OK to let your scapula slide forward at the bottom and pull it back at the top if the motion feels natural and you’re in control of the movement.
  • Excessive elbow flare: Allowing your elbows to flare excessively diverts the emphasis from the target muscles to the rear delts and can stress your rotator cuffs. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the exercise and actively drive them upward during the rowing motion.

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Rows

muscles worked by dumbbell rows

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Dumbbell Row

  1. Place a dumbbell on the floor beside a bench or some other sturdy object. Stand facing the bench and place your left hand and left knee on top of it.
  2. Grip the dumbbell with your right hand. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat and your torso roughly parallel to the floor. 
  3. Engage your core muscles to stabilize your torso throughout the movement. 
  4. While maintaining the position of your upper body and keeping your elbow close to your side, inhale and pull the dumbbell up towards your torso by retracting your shoulder blade. Focus on squeezing your back muscles as you lift.
  5. Continue pulling the dumbbell until it reaches the side of your torso. Row it closer to your hips to target your lower lats. Squeeze your lats at the top of the movement, ensuring a strong contraction in your back muscles.
  6. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while exhaling, maintaining control throughout the descent.
  7. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions, switch sides, and perform the above steps rowing with your left hand.

Cable Seated Row

The seated cable row is a another popular compound exercise to develop a thick back. Thanks to the seated position, the lower back involvement is minimal, allowing you to maximize the tension in your upper back muscles.

In this bodybuilding back workout, you’ll do higher reps in the cable rows for a massive pump. Focus on pulling with your back, driving your elbows back, and squeezing your shoulder blades together for maximum contraction in your lats.

The close grip is the default for the bodybuilding back workout in the StrengthLog workout tracker, but feel free to use a wide grip if you prefer.

You can also use a chest-supported row machine if you have access to one. It allows you to focus on your upper back and nothing else.

Muscles Worked in Seated Cable Rows

a picture showing which muscles that are being worked in the cable close grip seated row

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Seated Cable Row

  1. Sit on the seated row bench, facing the cable machine. Your feet should be flat on the footrest, knees slightly bent, and your torso upright with your chest out, shoulders back, and core engaged.
  2. Grab the handle with a neutral grip (palms facing together) and ensure your arms are fully extended and your back straight in the starting position.
  3. Pull the handle towards your abdomen by retracting your shoulder blades (squeezing them together). Focus on driving your elbows backward and keeping them close to your body.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and contract your lats before extending your arms and leaning forward again. Maintain a controlled motion throughout the movement and avoid using excessive momentum.
  5. Stretch your lats out without letting your shoulders slump forward, then repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullover

You’re almost done, but before heading to the showers, the dumbbell pullover awaits you. 

The dumbbell pullover is an old-school exercise used by golden-age bodybuilders to expand the rib cage and for building muscle in the chest and back. It might have fallen out of fashion a bit, and the ribcage expansion part is questionable, but it’s a great finisher for your bodybuilding back workout.

The dumbbell pullover targets your lats and develops the fan-shaped serratus anterior muscles on the side of your ribs. In addition, it’s one of the best exercises to stretch many of your upper body muscles at the end of your workout.

You want to lower the dumbbell as far as you can without overstretching or compromising the stability of your shoulder joint.

Prioritize form over load: grabbing the heaviest dumbbell you can handle might be tempting, but it’s a mistake in this instance. Doing so makes it more challenging to hit your lats, instead shifting the focus to your pecs. Not a bad thing in itself, but not ideal when you want to isolate your lats.

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Pullovers

Muscles worked by dumbbell pullover

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Dumbbell Pullover

  1. Lie on a flat bench with your head and upper back supported. Keep your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell with both hands and extend your arms above your chest.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, lower the dumbbell backward in an arc-like motion while inhaling. Maintain control throughout the movement and focus on feeling a stretch in your lats.
  3. Continue lowering the dumbbell until your upper arms are parallel to the floor or until you feel a comfortable stretch in your upper body. Avoid going too far down, as it may place unnecessary stress on your shoulders.
  4. Feel the stretch for a moment at the bottom position, ensuring you maintain control of the dumbbell and engage your lats.
  5. Raise the dumbbell back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Exhale as you lift the weight.
  6. Throughout the exercise, focus on using your lats to move the weight rather than relying on your chest and arms. This mind-muscle connection is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of the dumbbell pullover when targeting your lats.
  7. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

How to Incorporate the Bodybuilding Back Workout into Your Training Split

You can incorporate this workout into your weekly routine in any way you want.

It fits perfectly into a 3 day split, a 4 day split, or a 5 day split, to mention a few examples.

You can pair it with any muscle group you choose, although combining it with leg training is likely overwhelming for most. Muscles like your biceps, chest, shoulders, or triceps combine perfectly with this back workout.

You can also let it blossom as a stand-alone back day workout.

Here are two examples of 3-day workout splits with the bodybuilding back workout in the mix:

  • Day 1: Chest + Back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Shoulders + Arms

Or a push/pull/legs-variant:

  • Day 1: Chest + Shoulders + Triceps
  • Day 2: Back + Biceps
  • Day 3: Legs
Push pull legs bodybuilding split

Here is an example of a 4-day split:

  • Day 1: Chest + Triceps
  • Day 2: Back + Biceps
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Shoulders

And this is what a 5-day training split might look like:

  • Day 1: Chest
  • Day 2: Back
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Shoulders
  • Day 5: Arms

I’m sure you can come up with a million other combinations of muscle groups and training days. Your imagination is the limit.

Read more:

>> The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

Track the Bodybuilding Back Workout in StrengthLog

Give this workout a go, and you’ll be on your way to unleash your full back potential.

The bodybuilding back workout is available exclusively in our workout log app.

A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress. 

Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles.

A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals. 

While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

>> Click here to return to our list of training programs and workouts.

For more stand-alone bodybuilding workouts like this, check out these great resources:

Good luck with your training, friend!

Photo of author

Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.