Maintaining a healthy upper back requires a balanced diet and a combination of flexibility and strength exercises to keep it in tip-top condition. The eight exercises below will help you build that lean, healthy upper back while toning your muscles.
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Anatomy of The Upper Back Muscles
To begin with, we’ll spend some time discussing the anatomy of the upper back muscles, as knowing this is essential when trying to strengthen them. The upper back muscles include:
Between each of these muscle groups is a layer of fibrous tissue known as the deep cervical fascia (DCF) and an underlying layer of mucoid connective tissue known as the anterior funicular fascial sheath (AFSS). These two layers together form the deep cervical fascia (DCF).
There are a number of layers in the back muscles:
- Superficial layer: This layer lies directly under the skin and contains connective tissue (such as collagen and elastic fibers).
- Middle layer: This lies on top of the deep layer and contains blood vessels, nerves, and spongiosa.
- Deep layer: This lies on top of the superficial layer and contains blood vessels, spinal nerves, and spinal cord. This is also known as the retinaculum.
The upper back has three different layers to it, which means there are plenty of muscles to target. This means you can really work your upper back in a number of different ways.
Benefits of Upper Back Exercises
Most people are unaware but our backs are actually one of the most important body parts in general. Strong pectoral muscles can also help shoulder joints stay healthy and strong. The upper back also gives much-needed support to shoulder blades which can result in minor injuries.
Upper back strengthens are highly beneficial for the neck, spine, and the all-important internal organs. The internal organs include the bladder, stomach, liver, and lungs. Weak muscles could pose serious health issues for people 25 years or older. Crossfit can also help to strengthen your upper back muscles which are especially important if you want to lose weight or gain muscle mass.
Besides making your abs look more attractive, they will also protect your spine from being injured. Also, having strong upper back muscles will make everyday movements much easier. Strengthening your pectoral muscles can also improve your overall athletic performance.
When doing core strengthening exercises always make sure you work on your upper back as well. Doing so will help you develop a strong, defined mid-section.
8 Best Exercises for a Strong and Healthy Upper Back
It is very important to choose exercises that are not only suitable for you but also match your physical abilities. This is especially true with upper back exercises because strong muscles are needed for good posture. The exercises below are for beginners, but you can increase the difficulty over time.
This is the first exercise you should do to strengthen the muscles in your upper back. It targets your rhomboids, an area that’s often neglected in training. You can perform seated or standing upright rows, either with a dumbbell or a barbell. The dumbbell version is usually more effective because you can do it from a wider range of angles. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked close to your body as you row, and squeeze at the top for a two-second count. Your hands should be about as wide as your shoulders. Pull down with your elbows, not your hands – you should feel the effort all along the upper back.
If you perform the upright row incorrectly, you could strain your shoulder instead of making it stronger. Make sure you keep your elbows tucked close to your body throughout the motion, and don’t use momentum to help you lift the weight.
Bent-Over Reverse Fly
Another exercise that can help to isolate the muscles in your upper back is the reverse fly. This exercise is great for dynamic mobility of your shoulder blades, which are often injured in people who are sedentary.
When you do this exercise, you should either stand or lean forward while holding a dumbbell in each hand. It is important to make sure that your knees are slightly bent and that your torso remains parallel to the ground. Hold the dumbbells with one hand across your chest and the other arm out in front. Then, bend both arms at your elbows and slowly extend them as far as possible behind you. Keeping the weights close to your body will also help to strengthen the muscles in your upper back. Make sure not to go too low or you could strain your neck and back muscles.
This is one of the best exercises for toning your upper back. You will need a cable or machine that allows you to do a wide variety of different exercises, but the basic idea is the same: a resistance band goes around a cable, and you pull it towards your body. The end result is an extremely effective upper back exercise.
One example of this is pulling your body up onto the band (or pulling with your elbows behind your back). Notice that this basically works the same muscles that you would use when pulling anything heavy towards yourself.
This exercise is great for strengthening both your upper and lower back. It works the muscles that help you raise and lower your arms, as well as those that stabilize your torso. It also helps you develop a good posture and makes you look ripped.
A great way to increase your upper back strength is to incorporate handstand push ups into your workout routine. It really makes your muscles burn, and it’s a great exercise to shape and tone your upper body.
To get yourself started, you will need to make sure you can do at least 10 pushups, and you should also warm up by doing some stretches. If you cannot do pullups yet, begin by using a chair or a set of bars to hang from. As your muscles warm up, use the chair less and less until you are ready for the bars.
Pullups will get your upper body toned and muscular quickly because they use a wide variety of muscles to perform this movement. This is a compound exercise which means that many different muscles are being worked at the same time.
Dumbbell Renegade Row
This is an amazing exercise that works your back, abs, and obliques. Set up for this exercise by placing the dumbbells on the floor about fifteen feet in front of you while lying on your stomach. Then lift yourself off the ground while supporting your upper body with your arms while keeping your core tight. Once you are stable take one arm at a time to reach for the dumbbell while keeping your core tight and performing a row movement. Make sure you are not arching or rounding out your back when you row to avoid injury.
It’s a good idea to perform this exercise with each arm at least once each week so remember to start with light weights and work up. You can also add a movement where you rotate the dumbbell while you row it.
Tip: If you have a hard time doing this exercise while lying on your stomach try lying on a bench or chair with your feet on the floor and performing the exercise from there. This will allow for deeper rotation of your body which is crucial to building bigger traps, but be careful when you do this exercise because the bad form can lead to injury.
Plank Arm Raises
This exercise will strengthen the muscles in your upper back and your arms and abs. Get into a push-up position, resting on your toes and forearms. Keep your body straight and hold for 15 seconds. Then lift up one arm, hold it for 15 seconds, then lower it and lift up the other arm, holding it for 15 seconds before lowering again. Repeat 3 times on each side.
You should: Lift up and hold your body up in a straight line with your wrists underneath your shoulders and knees under your hips. Don’t let your hips sag, and keep the rest of the muscles in your body relaxed (don’t overdo it).
You should not: Let yourself stack one elbow on top of another. Your elbows should be placed directly under the shoulders, and not stacked one on top of another.
Begin by lying on your stomach. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and then raise both arms and legs off of the ground, approximately one foot and hold for one to two seconds before returning to the ground. If you experience any neck pain, you may keep your head closer to the ground. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. If you are in need of a more challenging exercise, this can be altered by lifting the opposite arm and left right arm, left leg and alternating. Again, if you experience any neck pain or discomfort, you can keep your head and face closer to the ground. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Note: This exercise is designed to increase the strength of your upper back which in turn will help to protect your lower back. However, If you are suffering from back pain, it is not recommended to do Superman exercises.
This exercise is one of the most powerful exercises you can do for your upper back. The kettlebell swing works all around your body, especially the upper back. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together as this will engage your trapezius muscles more.
Note: Do not lift the kettlebell from a downward angle as this will engage your biceps too much. The best way to do a kettlebell swing is by dropping down and then using a hip action to bring it up to shoulder height., because it activates all of your upper back muscles. It’s also a great cardiovascular exercise, which is why I like it so much. The kettlebell swing not only works your upper back muscles, but also your core and shoulders as well.
This exercises are designed to strengthen your upper back. We all have upper back weakness, but it’s not something that is easily fixed. If you are looking to prevent or better understand your upper back issues, we suggest that you try the following exercises throughout the week. They are very simple and do not take much time to complete so they can be done throughout the day.
Do push ups work the upper or lower part of your back?
Push ups mainly work the upper part of the back. However, if you bring your hands out wider than shoulder width, they also work your chest muscles.
Should I use a broomstick or a barbell in my upper back exercises?
Many people have weak upper backs, so it’s best to use a barbell for any exercise that involves raising your upper body. Doing pushups with a broomstick might be fun, but you won’t work your upper back as much as you will with a barbell.
Should I use weight machines or dumbbells for better upper back development?
It’s possible to get a good upper back workout using dumbbells and doing exercises like pushups and pull ups. However, weight machines like the V-Bar and lat pull down machine are designed for this, and will give you a more complete workout.
Are there any good ‘upper back’ exercises that do not involve weights or machines?
There are many different upper back exercises that you can do without weights or machines. For example, you can use body weight exercises that focus on overhead strength, like the one-arm row.
How do you know which exercises are the best for you?
You could try many different exercises for upper back exercises, but the one which works the best for you is the one that you find easiest to do. If you can’t do a push-up due to a shoulder injury, then try a modified version of push-ups. If you can’t do a pull up or a lat pull down due to a shoulder injury, then try an assisted version.
Should women use the same exercises as men for strong backs?
Women need to develop muscle strength, endurance and flexibility for effective functioning of their bodies. Therefore they should use the same exercises as men for strong back development.
How often should I do upper back exercises?
Ideally you should do them at least three times a week. You can do upper back workouts two or three days a week, and then do chest and shoulder workouts the other days.
How long will it take to see results with upper back exercises?
It depends on you, but generally you might see results after about 4 weeks of doing upper back exercises regularly.