1. Standing T-Bar Row

We selected the T-bar row over a chest-supported version because you can pile on much more weight here, even though that typically translates into a bit of cheating through the knees and hips. For some, maintaining a flat back can be challenging, in which case the supported version is a better choice.

These aren’t squats, so keep your legs locked in a bent angle throughout. You also typically have a choice of hand positions and width. A wider grip will put more emphasis on the lats, while a neutral grip will better target the middle back (rhomboids, teres, and traps). This exercise is probably one of the easier rows to spot

2. Wide-Grip Pull-Up

t’s always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best. Wide-grip pull-ups are excellent for putting emphasis on the upper lats. A closer grip may allow for a longer range of motion, but it may be possible to load the wide-grip pull-up to a greater degree because of an optimized starting joint position. The biggest challenge here for most trainers is training to failure in the right rep range for growth, which is 8-12.

If you do pull-ups early in your workout, you might have to add a weighted belt. Of course, if you find them difficult, you can always use an assisted pull-up machine or a good spotter, or switch to the wide-grip pull-down, which is a solid substitute. If your shoulders are healthy, pulling behind the head is okay.

3. Bent-Over Barbell Dead-lift

This is probably the second-best back movement in terms of sheer weight you can lift. EMG research has suggested that hitting bent-over barbell rows will work the larger muscle groups of the upper and lower back equally, making this a great overall back builder.[2] Like the dead-lift, this is another technical move that requires excellent form but rewards you with a ton of muscle.

4. Barbell Dead-lift

This is technically more than a back exercise—it hits the entire posterior chain from your calves to your upper traps—but it’s the absolute best for overall backside development. Technique is uber-important with the dead-lift, but once you nail it, you can progress to lifting monster weights that will recruit maximum muscle, release muscle-building hormones, and help you get big.

5. Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

Just about everyone defaults to the close-grip bar on rows. If that sounds like you, you’ll find using a wide grip on a lat bar a nice change of pace because it shifts some of the emphasis to the upper lats. Wide rows mimic some back machines, so don’t do both in your workout unless you make some other kinds of changes, like grip or target rep range. You might even try flipping your grip—and going about shoulder-width apart—which better targets the lower lats as the elbows stay tighter to your sides.

7. Close-Grip Pull-Down

Since we’ve already covered the wide-grip pull-up, the wide-grip pull-down is too similar, so we opted for the close-grip handle for our pull-down selection. EMG research suggests that use of a close neutral grip activates the lats similarly to a regular grip, so you’re not missing out on any muscle fibers.[3] As mentioned earlier with pull-ups, a closer grip does allow for a longer range of motion and increased time under tension for the lats, which is great for building muscle.