Home Back Workout for Muscle Mass and Strength

A strong, muscular back is essential for health, athletic performance, and aesthetics, making it a body part deserving of your full attention. The back is one of the more challenging muscles to develop without a fully equipped gym, but you can do it. In this article, you’ll learn how, with the ultimate home back workout and the best back exercises using only dumbbells and minimal additional and non-expensive equipment.

Not everyone wants massive, bodybuilder-style back muscles, but a well-developed, muscular upper back and a strong lower back are universally desirable. And attainable! StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout will help you add lean muscle mass and build a stronger back in the comfort of your home.

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

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Benefits of a Strong Back

From function to visual impact: a muscular and powerful back means plenty of benefits in your everyday life.

  • Scientific data shows that 70% of the population suffers back pain for at least a week during their lifetime.1 Between 15 and 40% experience lower back pain every year. Strength training is likely the best prevention and cure.2 3 4
  • Fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the middle back. Heavy strength training with deadlifts and squats that work the entire posterior chain is an effective and safe way to prevent them.5 That’s very important because we naturally lose some bone mass when we age.
  • Whether you want to perform your best in any physical sport or just pick up something heavy from the floor, stronger back muscles allow you to do so effectively and safely.
  • Many of us have muscle imbalances, even if we exercise regularly. Your back muscles might not get the attention they need because out of sight often means out of mind, resulting in poor posture, muscle imbalances, and tightness in your back, shoulders, and neck. Preventing is always better than having to treat. An exercise routine training the major muscle groups in your upper back is the best thing you can do, along with staying physically active in general.
  • Lastly, a tapered, v-shaped, and muscular back simply looks good, while a flat back doesn’t give the most athletic impression. You might not be able to see your back in the mirror easily, but everyone else sure will. And even if you don’t care much about what others think, it inspires a positive self-image, which boosts your confidence and physical and mental well-being.

Back Anatomy

Before we get to the workout, let’s take a minute to review some basic back anatomy to help you understand how your back muscles function and why some exercises are more effective than others.

Your back consists of many different muscle groups, but they all work together to allow you to bend over, twist and turn, and extend your back. These muscles also help you move your body and limbs, turn your head, keep your spine straight, and even breathe.

We can divide it into two parts: the upper and lower back. 

Your Upper Back

The latissimus dorsi is the single largest muscle in the upper body. Your triceps and delts are larger, but they are both made up of several smaller muscles. Commonly called the lats, the latissimus dorsi is also the widest muscle in the human body and is responsible for giving your back the v-taper desired by bodybuilders and fitness athletes.

Your lats work with the teres major and pectoralis major muscles to adduct, rotate, and extend your arms. Its primary function is to move the arms towards the center of your body, like when you do pull-ups or perform the lat pulldown. Or when you need to get something from the top shelf and reach up to pull it down.

Latissmus dorsi muscle.

The trapezius is a large muscle that runs down the base of your neck to the middle of your back. Your traps support your spine and maintain your posture when you’re standing up and help bend and turn your head, raise and lower your shoulders, and rotate your arms internally.

Muscular traps give your entire upper body a powerful look and enhance the visual appearance of your back and delts. They also aid you in many upper-body exercises, including overhead presses and pulling movements like all row variations. In addition, strong traps help protect your neck and might reduce the risk of injury if you’re into contact sports.

Trapezius muscle.

The rhomboids consist of two muscles: the major and minor rhomboid, and are found immediately below the trapezius. They aren’t visible but still contribute to your back thickness if well-developed. 

Your rhomboids are a central part of your shoulder girdle and help pull your shoulder blades together, making them essential for good posture. Also, strong rhomboids are vital for throwing movements and any overhead exercise.6

Rhomboid muscle.

The teres major is a small muscle that attaches to your scapula and the humerus in your upper arm. Often called the “lat’s little helper,” the teres major and the latissimus dorsi work as one to extend, medially rotate and adduct your humerus. It also works with your rotator cuff muscles to keep your humerus snug and in place.

Teres major muscle.

Your Lower Back

Like the upper back, your lower back consists of several muscles, many of them small but all important.

The erector spinae consists of three muscles that span your entire back. They help rotate and straighten your back and are noticeable as the shape of a Christmas tree in the lower back when a bodybuilder is shredded.

Erector spinae muscles.

The transversospinales muscle group consists of three subgroups: the multifidus, the semispinalis, and the rotatores. They lie beneath the erector spinae muscles on both sides of your spine and assist you in rotating your back and bending it backward and to the sides, depending on whether you flex one or both sides.

The above are not all the muscles in your back but the most important ones for designing effective back workouts. You automatically recruit the others if you perform compound movements and train your entire back.

Training Equipment

Being such a complex muscle group, you might think you need extensive and expensive gym equipment to train it properly. The good news is that you don’t. Whether your goal is building muscle or developing strong back muscles, you can do it at home using nothing but dumbbells and a chin-up/pull-up bar.

For the dumbbells, you can either use regular fixed dumbbells or a pair of adjustable dumbbells.

If you go with old-fashioned fixed dumbbells, you need two pairs for StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout: one heavy and one light pair. You’ll be doing compound exercises with relatively heavy weights and isolation exercises with lighter weights, and a single pair of dumbbells isn’t enough. They’ll be too light for some exercises and too heavy for others. 

The other option is to get a pair of adjustable dumbbells. That’s likely the ideal option and the best way to ensure you can adjust the weight the way you want on the fly. In addition, you save space and money: you won’t have several pairs of dumbbells lying around, and you don’t need to invest in a new set of dumbbells regularly as you get stronger.

adjustable dumbbells for home back workout
Adjustable dumbbells.

You also need a quality pull-up bar and a place to mount it. While you can train most other muscle groups using nothing but dumbbells and still get an excellent workout, you can’t do vertical pulls at home without a pull-up bar or investing in an advanced pulley machine. And for a complete back workout, you want to include some type of vertical pulls for optimal lat development. Fortunately, even a quality pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive, although it does require mounting.

If you have no space in your house for a pull-up bar, you can mount one in the garden, or maybe you have access to an outdoor gym if you live in an apartment. All you need is something sturdy to hang from.

Warming Up

Warming up increases your body temperature and heart rate and improves the blood flow to your muscles. With warm muscles, you can perform better and might even reduce the risk of injury. The risk of injuring yourself by lifting weights is already low compared to most other sports but the lower, the better.

You might want to begin with a short general warm-up in the form of some light cardio, like jogging in place, jumping jacks, or maybe even some burpees. Your goal here is to warm up your muscles and break a light sweat, not improve your cardiovascular fitness, so there is no need to go overboard. A couple of minutes is enough.

Once you’ve got your heart pumping and your blood flowing, perform a few sets of dumbbell deadlifts using a light weight and some rows and dumbbell presses to warm up your back and shoulder muscles. Some swings with a kettlebell are fantastic if you have one lying around.

Rest Intervals

According to research, resting 2–3 minutes between sets is a good idea for strength and recovery. Doing so might even enhance muscle growth a bit.7 However, don’t feel the need to time your rest intervals. If you want to speed things up, that’s okay, too. Slightly more extended rest periods might be the optimal choice, but it won’t be the difference between seeing results or not. However, taking at least a minute to recover between sets is a good idea to be able to lift as heavy as possible for the best gains.

StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout: The Exercises

This workout consists of five movements. These are the best exercises for building your back at home. You’ll perform a combination of compound and isolation movements to hit your entire posterior chain, including your upper and lower back and your rear deltoids.

  1. Dumbbell Deadlift
  2. Pull-Up
  3. Dumbbell Row
  4. Dumbbell Shrug
  5. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Let’s go through the exercises and how to perform them using videos demonstrating proper form. You can see the exact number of sets and rep ranges in StrengthLog.

Dumbbell Deadlift

The dumbbell deadlift is a variation of the standard barbell deadlift. It’s an excellent exercise for strengthening the entire body, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings in your lower body. 

You want to perform the deadlift first in your training session when your energy levels are highest, as it recruits most of the muscles in your body in some fashion, making it a demanding exercise.

Dumbbell deadlift  for home back workout

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Deadlifts

Muscles worked in dumbbell deadlifts

How to Do Dumbbell Deadlifts

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and stand with your feet shoulder-width to hip-width apart.
  2. Take a deep breath and lightly brace your abdominal muscles.
  3. Lower the dumbbells close to the floor, by leaning forward and bending your knees.
  4. Reverse the movement, and return to an upright position. Exhale on the way up.

Pull-Up

The pull-up is a fantastic exercise for building back strength and muscle mass. It’s been a staple exercise of strength athletes and bodybuilders since the dawn of physical culture more than a century ago. Even today, when we have advanced machines to train the same muscles, many still prefer pull ups. It’s one of the best bodyweight exercises, period.

Even though the pull-up offers many benefits for anyone looking to build a strong, wide back, it can be a challenging exercise. Not everyone can pull their body upwards against gravity. However, there are a few tricks you can use if you’re struggling:

  • Loop a resistance band around your legs and the pull-up bar. The band assists you in lifting your body weight and makes the exercise significantly easier. Use lighter bands as you get stronger, and you’ll eventually be able to do regular, unassisted pull-ups.
  • You can ask a partner, friend, or roommate to stand behind you, grab your feet, and provide the assistance you need to complete your pull-ups.
  • If you have no one to help you, you can place a sturdy chair or bench behind you, bend your legs, and place your toes on it. Then use a slight leg drive to assist your pull-ups.
pull-up exercise  for home back workout

Muscles Worked in Pull-Ups

Muscles worked in pull-ups

How to Do a Pull-Up

  1. Grip the bar with palms facing away from you, hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

Dumbbell Row

If you want to develop a complete back, you have to row to make it grow. Fortunately, the dumbbell row is one of the best row variations, and it’s super easy to do at home: simply use a chair or a couch for support instead of a training bench. An alternative version of the exercise is to use two dumbbells and perform a bent-over row without support.

Place your left leg on the chair and your right foot on the floor when rowing with your right arm. Conversely, put your right leg up and your left foot down when rowing with your left arm. One set for your right side plus one for your opposite side equals one set of dumbbell rows.

The dumbbell row is a unilateral movement, allowing for optimal focus on the side you’re working. In addition, it reinforces core stability and, when performed with good form, is a great exercise for almost all your upper back muscles. Make sure you go for a full range of motion and feel the stretch in your lats, then pull the dumbbell towards your belly button for a good contraction at the top.

Dumbbell Row for home back workout

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Rows

Muscles worked by dumbbell row

How to Do Dumbbell Rows

  1. Lean against a bench or chair with one knee and hand, and hold a dumbbell in your other, straight hanging arm.
  2. Inhale pull the dumbbell as high as you can in a rowing movement.
  3. With control, lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while exhaling.
  4. Switch the dumbbell from your right hand to your left hand, place the opposite leg on the chair, and repeat the movement.

Dumbbell Shrug

Deadlifts and all kinds of rows work the trapezius to some degree. But if you want to hit your upper traps and maximize muscular development, nothing beats the shrug.

Shrug the dumbbells upwards in a straight line. Rotating your shoulders offers no benefits and only stresses the shoulder joint. Also, don’t make the mistake of using too much weight when performing dumbbell shrugs. You want to go all the way up and squeeze your traps at the top of the movement.

Dumbbell Shrug for home back workout

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Shrugs

Muscles worked in dumbbell shrugs

How to Do Dumbbell Shrugs

  1. Stand with your feet feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Lift your shoulders straight up as high as possible.
  3. Lower your shoulders again.

Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

The reverse fly with dumbbells ensures that your rear delts, middle and lower traps, and rhomboids get their fair share of work. Many of us overemphasize our front delts compared to the rear delts, and including the reverse dumbbell fly in your back workout is a great way to rectify that oversight. And even though the posterior deltoid is a shoulder muscle, it is also visually part of a complete back package.

Keep your low back straight and use relatively light weights. Your focus should be good form rather than hoisting as much weight as possible to hit the correct muscles.

Reverse dumbbell fly exercise for home back workout

Muscles Worked in Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Muscles Worked in the Reverse Dumbbell Fly

How to Do Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells, lean forward and let your arms hang towards the floor.
  2. With almost straight arms (just a slight bend at the elbow), slowly lift the dumbbells to about shoulder height by raising your arms out to the sides.
  3. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

There you have it! You’ve completed StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout and worked every part of your back, from top to bottom. Keep at it, and you’re on the road to building the broad and muscular back you want.

How Many Times Per Week Should You Do StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout?

You want to do 10–20 weekly sets for a muscle group for the best results.8 9 The more advanced you are, the more training volume you can recover and benefit from. Ideally, you want to do enough sets to reach the top of this curve:

optimal training volume bodybuilding

Adding even more sets won’t make your muscles bigger or stronger. The only thing it adds to is your recovery time.

Depending on your training experience, I suggest you incorporate this back workout into your training routine once or twice weekly.

  • Intermediates with at least a couple of months of training experience get optimal benefits from doing StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout once per week.
  • If you’re an experienced lifter or bodybuilder, you can add a weekly back session and perform it twice weekly.

Regardless of your experience with the weights, StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout will keep you at or near the “optimal training volume” star.

How Do You Integrate StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout into Your Workout Routine?

StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout is versatile, and you can insert it into almost any training routine. Here are some examples if you train three, four, five, or six days per week.

Push/Pull/Legs

The push/pull/legs (PPL) split is one of the most popular ways to split your body parts. It involves training your upper-body pushing muscles on the first day, your pulling muscles on the second, and your lower body on the third.

Push pull legs bodybuilding split

StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout fits perfectly on the second day of a PPL split. Add some biceps work afterward, and you’re good to go.

Intermediate-level lifters can follow this program three days per week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example, leaving plenty of time for recovery. Experienced athletes and bodybuilders can squeeze two rounds of this PPL split into the week, resting once every seven days.

Three-Day Training Split

The push/pull/legs split is not the only way to divide your body into three training days. Another three-day split looks like this:

  • Day 1: Chest and StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout
  • Day 2: Shoulders, biceps, and triceps
  • Day 3: Quads, hamstrings, and calves

That used to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout split of choice, training six days in a row and resting on Sunday. You could follow his example, but remember that such a training volume is best suited for experienced lifters. Most people probably benefit from a few additional days of rest and recovery.

Four-Day Training Split

If you want to train your body over four days, this is the workout routine for you. You can place StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout on any of the four training days. The following is just one example:

  • Day 1: Chest and biceps
  • Day 2: Quads, hamstrings, and calves
  • Day 3: StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout
  • Day 4: Shoulders and triceps

Five-Day Training Split

Splitting your body parts into five training days is affectionately called a “bro-split.” You work one major muscle group per session and can give it maximum attention. StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout easily fits into any bro-split, like this one:

  • Day 1: Chest and abs
  • Day 2: StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout
  • Day 3: Quads, hamstrings
  • Day 4: Shoulders and calves
  • Day 5: Biceps and triceps

These are just a few suggestions for implementing StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout into your training program. Feel free to use your own ideas to create your ideal training split for the best back workouts possible.

Read more:

>> The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

Track StrengthLog’s Home Back Workout in the StrengthLog App

If you follow this back routine consistently, you’re sure to put on lean muscle mass and gain strength, as long as you keep challenging your muscles. The key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is progressive overload: you increase the weight you use in your training or do more reps over time.

It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.

You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts (such as this one) are for premium users only.

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.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Good luck with your training!

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

If you enjoyed this workout, check out our other home dumbbell routines:

>> Arm Workout With Dumbbells at Home

>> Leg Workout With Dumbbells at Home

>> Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells at Home

References

  1. European Spine Journal Volume 15, Pages s136– s168 (2006). European guidelines for prevention in low back pain.
  2. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 187, Issue 5, May 2018, Pages 1093–1101. Exercise for the Prevention of Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials.
  3. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2015 Nov 9;1(1):e000050. The effects of a free-weight-based resistance training intervention on pain, squat biomechanics and MRI-defined lumbar fat infiltration and functional cross-sectional area in those with chronic low back.
  4. Sports Medicine – Open volume 7, Article number: 17 (2021). Posterior-Chain Resistance Training Compared to General Exercise and Walking Programmes for the Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain in the General Population: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
  5. Osteoporosis International Volume 26, Pages 2889–2894 (2015). Heavy resistance training is safe and improves bone, function, and stature in postmenopausal women with low to very low bone mass: novel early findings from the LIFTMOR trial.
  6. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Oct; 8(5): 617–629. The Role of the Scapula.
  7. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 7 – p 1805-1812. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.
  8. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  9. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Vol 1 No 1 (2021). Resistance Training Recommendations to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy in an Athletic Population: Position Stand of the IUSCA.
Photo of author

Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.