The best way for your Upper Back

Piotr Leniart

There are a few different exercises out there that will improve your back. From lateral pulldowns to deadlifts, the focus is to get wide at the top, narrow at the bottom, and thick all throughout. From an aesthetic standpoint, nothing looks better than that big V-taper in a form-fitting shirt.

It's not so easy!

Pull-ups and pull-downs will work the lats hard. Deadlifts do work the entire back, and really put emphasis on the lower back to get it nice and tight. Don’t neglect two key areas back there, though. The rear delts put a cap on that “V”, and the mid-back region between the shoulders blades should really pop, too.

Here are a few “simple” exercises to really hammer that upper back and work those often neglected areas.

Inverted Rows

Inverted Rows Technique
Inverted Rows Technique

You may do seated rows, bent-over rows, and T-bar rows, but have you ever done a truly inverted row? This exercise isolates the upper and middle back region, squeezing together the shoulder blades using as little as your own body weight. This often-overlooked exercise may be a bit taboo due to many newbies giving it a go, but it’s truly a great way to hammer your back.

To do an inverted row, use a Smith Machine or similar – anything that has a bar that you can place about 3 feet off the floor and hang from while facing skyward. Begin by laying on the ground and reaching up to the bar. Grab it at a bit wider than shoulder-width (you can vary this later by going wider), and pull yourself up by rotating on your heels. Pull up, lower down, repeat.

If that seems easy, set up a bench far enough away that you can rest your heels on it. Your head will now be lower than your feet and will add your body weight to the exercise. Master that one, and have a buddy start stacking plates on your abdomen.

For each rep, pull up so that your chest is touching the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat this for your desired number of reps and sets. If you want, you could also do a burnout at the end by going as fast as you (safely) can go and really work those mid-back muscles.

Mid-back Shrugs

For these, you’ll need dumbbells and an elevated bench. Ideally, you’ll want to lay facing the ground and be elevated enough that you can reach downward with fully extended arms and pull your elbows straight up and be in-line with your shoulder blades. The motion is very simple, but you won’t actually be bending your elbows to “pull”, but rather just lift the weight off the ground a few inches to “shrug” it.

To perform a mid-back shrug, lay down on the bench facing the ground. Pick up dumbbells in each hand and squeeze your shoulder blades together. This will raise your arms, hands, and the weight off the ground just a few inches.

Hold for a few seconds, and release.

Mid-shrugs can be interesting alternative for typical shoulder press
Mid-shrugs can be interesting alternative for typical shoulder press

The higher the angle of the bench, the further up your back you will be working. The idea here is to not work the trapezius muscles, but rather to use the rhomboids to move the weight. If you find that you are still pulling the weight up with your arms and that your elbows are bending, you’re doing it wrong! The movement is small, but mighty and will have a big effect on building a more complete back.

Rear Delt Flyes

You’ve worked hard to build boulder shoulders, now it’s to make sure that they’re looking amazing from behind. Neglecting your rear delts is a major flaw and something that’s quite simple to overcome. Rear delt flyes follow the simple pattern of flapping your arms with weights on the end but are often neglected and cause an incomplete “V” shape.

Doing rear delt flyes is simple, but can be challenging if you are not used to the exercise. These can be done with dumbbells, plates, bands, or even on a cable machine if the setting allows. For the sake of instruction, we’ll go with dumbbells.

Bending at the knees, bend over and face the ground, keeping your back straight. Hold the dumbbells in your hands, bend your elbows slightly, and raise your hands wide, bringing the weight up in line with your shoulders as high as you can. At the top, squeeze! Slowly lower the weight and repeat.


Add in these three simple exercises to make a world of difference in your overall back shape and performance. It’s never good to neglect your body just to focus on what will have the most visual impact. Often enough, the small details count for a lot more than you think!

Tags: back, pull up

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