Top 5 Exercises For A Killer Back

By Molly Galbraith

If you've been in the gym any length of time, you might have noticed that people looooove bench pressing.  In fact, anytime a guy finds out that you're "into lifting" he probably asks,

"Oh yeah?  So how much ya' bench?"


While there's nothing inherently wrong with the bench press, there's just something so cool about building a strong and sexy back. Sure, if you're benching properly, you're using your back a ton, but stick with us here!

killer-back-marianne-ggs-blue-tank-450x338Maybe it's because a killer back is not that common, or maybe it's because you can feel people staring in awe, or maybe it's because you simply feel so darn powerful being able to row or pull up your bodyweight or fling heavy dumbbells around.

Whatever the reason, having a back that turns heads (especially your own, when you look in the mirror!) is awesome, and we are going to help you get one!

Keep in mind that a well-rounded program will include a mix of vertical pulling movements (like pull-ups and chin-ups) and horizontal pulling movements (like dumbbell row and cable row).

Here are our top five exercises for a killer back.

1. Pull-ups/Chin-ups

There's no disputing that when it comes to building a killer back, pull-up and chin-up variations are where it's at.  In fact, we love these so much, that GGS Advisory Board Member Karen Smith, wrote a whole article called How To Do A Pull-Up: Everything You Need To Know to help you get your first one.

Keep in mind that technique is super important as well, so check out our friend Eric Cressey's video below, and he will help you clean up your technique:



What about if you can already do them and want to do more?  We love Pavel's Fighter Pull-up Program which has programs for people who can do 3, 5, 15, or 25 pull-ups.

GGS Pro Tip: Volume is the name of the game when it comes to increasing your pull-ups. Do them often if you want to improve!

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts... you know we love 'em!

In fact, we consider deadlifts (and their variations) to be The Most Powerful Weapon In Your Lifting Arsenal. And yes, they build incredible strength and muscle in your upper and lower back, so we had to give them the number two slot. If you're not sure how to perform a deadlift correctly, the article linked above will be very helpful, as will this article from Mike Robertson, which is one of the most comprehensive articles you'll find on deadlifting. Also check out the video below to help you keep your lower back feeling solid while you deadlift, which can be an issue for a lot of women.



GGS Pro Tip: When deadlifting, instead of picking the weight up, think about pulling it back.  This will keep your weight on your heels, engage your hamstrings and glutes more, and prevent the bar from drifting away from you.

3. Inverted Rows

We love this exercise because it's one of the few horizontal rowing variations where you are manipulating your own body weight. Plus, it's a completely scalable exercise that's great for beginners all the way through to very advanced lifters.  If you want to know even more about why we love it, check out the Exercise Spotlight article we did here. We include why we love it, and how beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters can all use the inverted row in a safe and challenging way.

And check out this video to see exactly how to perform one correctly.



And if you're looking for more ways to progress the inverted row once you've mastered it, check out this article by Eric Cressey, 10 Ways To Progress Inverted Rows.

GGS Pro Tip: Make sure you're not shrugging with your upper traps or pulling your elbows too far past your shoulders when performing this exercise.  The name of the game is scapular retraction and depression (i.e. pulling your shoulder blades back and down.)

4. One Arm Dumbbell Row

We love the One-Arm DB Row, but it's a tricky one.  It looks simple, but it's rarely performed properly.  When performed properly, it's fantastic for building muscle and strength in the upper back, namely your lats, rhomboids, and lower traps, and you'll get some fantastic anti-rotation core training from this exercise as well.



There are several variations of this row, which you can see above, annnnd if you wanna completely rebel and do an insane variation of the DB row, try a Kroc Row. Just keep in mind that this one isn't for beginners!

GGS Pro Tip: You're much better off starting with a lighter weight and nailing your form on this exercise than starting too heavy, as this exercise is very easy to perform incorrectly.

5. Face Pulls/Band Pull-Aparts

OK, so we couldn't decide between these two exercises. We love them both. Both of them are great accessory movements that can be done often with very high volume and they are unlikely to leave you feeling sore (unless you're doing them for the first time). You can use multiple grips with these exercises and emphasize slightly different muscle groups which you can see below.



Switch your grip up as you see fit, or if one particular grip feels much more comfortable and effective, you can stick with that grip.

GGS Pro Tip: Make sure you keep your ribs down and your core braced while you pull your shoulder blades together and >SQUEEZE< hard.  You want the movement coming from your shoulder blades gliding over your ribcage and not from your back hyperextending and your ribs flaring. 


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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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