The Best Back Exercises For Mass
Back training in recent years has truly become a lost art that not many seem to care about. It’s sad to see that even at the professional level, athletes also neglect the importance of back training. The best back exercises for mass will always be the classics; there’s no way around it. If you want to build a back like Dorian Yates, Arnold, or Ronnie Coleman – you need to learn to train like them.
I’ve stressed this many times in my other articles, but I can’t say it enough; free weight training is the key to building a physique. I’ve never seen a bodybuilder with a good back that doesn’t train it with free weights. I’ve also never seen someone built a world-class back on machines alone. Even Phil Heath who is famous for training with machines; built his back by using free weights.
Deadlifts and Rack Pulls
The king of all back exercises will always have to be the deadlift. I’ll be the first one to admit that the deadlift can be a very dangerous movement when not performed correctly. With that being said, if the execution is perfect, its positive impact on a physique can’t be replicated by anything else. Deadlifts don’t only build thickness and density – they develop strength, explosiveness, and core stability.
The best backs in the history of bodybuilding were built with deadlifts. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman are just a few names worth mentioning. If these men gave us the blueprint, why not take a page out of their book and try it? Deadlifts won’t make your waist bigger, and you don’t need to go extremely heavy to see results; Dorian used to do them at the end of his workout with “lighter weight”.
The second best back exercise for mass has to be the rack pull. A lot of lifers actually prefer it over the deadlift and I can see why. Whereas the conventional deadlift uses the legs, glutes, and your entire back – the rack pull limits its range of motion to just the back. You can also obviously go heavier and get a better contraction at the top. Rack pulls are “easy” and actually pretty fun to do; deadlifts aren’t.
Barbell, Dumbbell, and T-Bar Rows
Rowing movements are absolutely necessary and crucial for developing the lats. Deadlifts and rack pulls will build density and thickness but you also need width. If you want to create a v-taper and be wide as a house, you need to row; there’s no way around it. The best exercises for doing this will always be Barbell and Dumbbell Rows; you could also make a case for t-bar rows.
Barbell rows are a classic, I think that we’ve all seen videos of Ronnie and Dorian going extremely heavy on them. Depending on how you perform this movement, you can target and focus on different parts of the back. This is an exercise that everyone does differently; a lot of people bend over quite a bit while others prefer a more upright position. You can also go back and forth between a traditional and an underhand grip.
Dumbell rows are just as good as barbell rows. Using dumbbells will allow you to work each side of your back independently and use a different type of range of motion. The muscle contraction is very different, and the stretch at the bottom is what makes it a fan favorite. If you want lats that hang, you won’t want to skip this one.
Lastly, T-bar rows couldn’t go unmentioned. Even though to the naked eye they may appear to be an easy exercise; the execution and proper form are pretty hard to get right. I think that this exercise is probably just as dangerous as the deadlift. It’s pretty common for beginners to go way too heavy, pull with the wrong muscles, and get injured. If done properly, they can add a lot of size to your lats.
Dumbell Pullovers and Upright Rows
The last two exercises are finishers, or as I like to call them – the cherries on top. One of the last exercises that I like to finish my back workout with are upright rows. Even though this exercise is a staple for shoulder training – I personally also love to do them towards the end of my back workout.
Upright rows don’t just target the delts, they also work the traps and middle upper back. By the time you reach the end of your workout, your back is already fatigued (traps included) – adding upright rows at the end will finish them off while building size and thickness in that region.
The last exercise that is absolutely necessary for building a massive back is the dumbbell pullover. This movement is the perfect finisher because of the stretch. There’s no need to go extremely heavy and the feeling is unlike any other.
Dumbell pullovers are also an incredible way to work on expanding the rib cage and tightening the midsection. If you’ve ever wondered why classic bodybuilders could hit a vacuum pose so easily; it’s because they never skipped this exercise.
So there you have it, these are probably the best back exercises for mass in existence. Free weight movements will always be the bread & butter, no matter how you slice it. Machines can be useful in certain cases but they will never help you build shape, size, and density like the exercises that were covered in this article.
If you look at most modern top level bodybuilders, their backs are pretty underwhelming. Most of them only train with machines and blame their lack of progress on genetics. Dorian Yates has said on multiple occasions that there are many bodybuilders out there with the potential to build a great back – but they don’t because they lack his training mentality.