Though a big chest, shoulders, or arms are all nice to have, it’s a monstrous upper back that makes your upper body truly stand out and look thick and powerful. If you want to boost your physique to the next level, you’re going to have to invest some serious effort into your lats, rhomboids and traps. Here is the best upper back workout for accomplishing this goal:
Though it is also a lower body exercise, and though it doesn’t actually involve any pulling with the arms the deadlift is the BEST possible exercise for the upper back. It allows you to use more weight than any other movement in the gym, and the stretch and contraction it requires from your traps and lats make it the best movement you can put into your upper back workout.
When performing the deadlift, you should focus on very heavy weights and low reps. For building my back, I like to stick with the 4-6 rep range for my main work set, and then drop the weight a little bit to do a down-set of 8-10 reps.
2. Barbell Rows
This is the second-best exercise for the upper back workout, and probably the best rowing movement that you can do. Like the bench press and other heavy pressing exercises, the barbell row allows you to use very heavy weights to stimulate muscle in your upper body.
You should use pretty low reps with this movement, as well. Using straps and a belt if necessary, work up to a top set of 8-10 reps. Don’t be afraid to put a little bit of body English into the exercise, as well. As long as you still feel your back doing most of the work, you’re good.
3. Parallel-Grip Pull-Ups
Most people like to focus on wide-grip pull-ups, but I find that a close, parallel grip builds the widest lats possible. Put these in your upper back workout to build the widest lats possible.
Use straps if you need to, but try relying only on your own grip to keep hold of the pull-ups bars. Once you can do around 10-15 bodyweight pull-ups with decent form, starting adding external weight via a pull-up belt.
Like the previous two exercises, work your way up to one top set, this time doing around 6-8 reps. After this set, drop the weight and do a high-rep set with just your body weight.
4. Chest-Supported Rows
Your back should be pretty fatigued by this point in the upper back workout, but you’ve still got two exercises left! Head on over to your favorite chest-supported row machine. In case you don’t know, these are machines that allow you to row with your chest against a pad, so that the movement is strict and your lower back is uninvolved.
My favorite is the Hammer Strength variety, but you can use whatever machine you want. Do 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, and try to keep your form strict and controlled. Really feel your back working. Also, try not to use straps. You need to get some good grip work in somewhere.
5. Underhand Pull-Down Machine
Most gyms have a machine pull-down that allows you to use an underhand grip. If yours doesn’t do either under-hand grip chin-ups or pull-downs. The goal here is to do another vertical pulling exercise, but this time with an underhand grip.
Load up a decent amount of weight, and do 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, just like with the chest-supported row. This is your last back exercise, so make sure to get a good contraction and burn going in your lats. When you are done, aggressively stretch your lats for a few minutes to get some good blood flow in there.
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