12 Best Back Exercises For Mass (With Workouts)

September 30, 2021

When it comes to building the V taper and power look, the muscles of the back are what will get you there. Not through multiple sets of “pumping” machine weights. But through hard and heavy compound exercises that will build you a dense barn door back.

If you are struggling to build your back, it often comes down to being able to effectively activate your lats and lifting with enough volume. The back can handle a beating so training it 2-3 times a week is a must when looking to maximize the size of the back.

But first, we need to identify which muscles of the back will give us the V taper and power look.

Anatomy Of The Back

The back consists of 40 muscles. But most of them aren’t important for those who are just looking to build a back that will force you to walk sideways through doorways. So, if the size is the prize, then I'm going to keep this very, very simple.

Anatomy Back

These are the main muscles you need to focus on when back size is the number one goal. The latissimus dorsi (or lats for short), the traps (upper, mid, and lower), and the erector spinae which are the two columns of muscle on either side of your spine.

I have extensively covered building bigger traps previously so only the main big bang for your buck exercises will be presented here regarding trap development.

The lats perform adduction of the arm (e.g. the downward portion of a lateral raise is adduction of the arm), extension of the shoulder (if your arms are overhead, lowering your arms directly in front of you), and internally rotates the arm.

The upper traps elevate and rotate the shoulder blades upwards. The middle traps help retract the shoulder blades (bring them together). And the lower traps depress (move them down) and inwardly rotate the shoulder blades.

The erector spinae flexes the torso (e.g. side bends) to either side and extends the torso (e.g. back extensions). They also stabilize the spine during heavy supporting movements like deadlifts.

If you can effectively target these muscles in your back workouts, you’re on your way to building a big, dense back.

Best Back Exercises For Mass

These are the 12 best back exercises you can do to build tremendous slabs of muscle on your back.

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown

If your goal is to maximize the size of your back, start your workouts with this exercise. While this may not be a back-building exercise, it will warm up your lats and allow you to "feel" them work through the entire range of motion.

This is important as many lifters aren't able to feel their lats working when performing back exercises. This is a big problem as it turns the exercises into more arm than back. So, to perform this correctly, set up a cable attachment at the top of the column. Alternatively, you can use bands that can give you an even stronger contraction as the resistance increases as you pull down.

Bend over to approximately a 45° back angle and with your arms relaxed, pull toward your hip without bending your elbows any further. The trick here is to keep your hand open so you reduce the involvement of the forearms.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 x 10-20 reps

Rack Pull

Rack pulls can be an awesome overall mass builder for your back. It'll overload every muscle in your back isometrically. 

There's a big difference between someone who has trained their back using heavy compound lifts and another who has used "pumping" isolation exercises.

The heavy compound exercises thicken the upper back, traps, and erector spinae that isolation exercises don’t give. That is why the rack pull is such a great back builder. Use straps when doing these so your grip is not your limiting factor.

To overload the back, start with the rack pull from the knees or just above the knees. This will allow you to use the heaviest load while still having to support the load in a bent-over position.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 x 4-8 reps.

Snatch Grip High Pull

If there is one exercise, I'd pick to build an impressive upper back, it would be the snatch grip high pull. Nothing will make your traps sorer or light your back up as this exercise will. You can do these from blocks at the knee or from the floor.

Going from the blocks places less stress on your lower back. If you want overall back development, perform them from the floor. Use straps for these so your grip isn’t a limiting factor. To maximize the effectiveness of the snatch grip high pull, make sure your elbows point out to the side while keeping a big chest.

This will make sure the bar stays as close to your as possible when performing the high pull portion of the lift.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 3-5 reps.


Pull-ups are an awesome exercise to bulk up the lats. In fact, they activate the lats to the greatest extent compared to any other back exercise [1,2]. This goes for both the chin-up (underhand grip) and pull-up (overhead grip). I would beg to guess that the neutral grip pull-up also follows a similar trend.

So, mix up your grips as it will also help with overall elbow health. Secondly, half reps will kill your aspirations for a massive wide back. We know that a full range of motion is generally better for hypertrophy as you take advantage of the eccentric contraction as well as maximizing mechanical tension and time under tension [3].

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 5-15 reps.

Lat Pulldown

Can’t do pull-ups? No problem. The lat pulldown shows similar lat activation compared to the pull-up especially in those who can’t perform 10 or more pull-ups [2]. You can use any of the grips for the pulldown but I prefer the overhand and neutral grips as they give you the best stretch at the top.

If you want to take the lat pulldown to the next level, have your training partner push down on the stack at the top of the movement to emphasize the stretch.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 10-20 reps.

Barbell Row

The barbell row heavily activates the erector spinae and middle traps far greater than other back exercises [1]. This study also stated that “if a person had to choose one exercise, the bent-over row would be the best option, as it activated three of the five back muscles to the greatest degree and was the second-best exercise for the other two muscles.”

Safe to say, don’t skip the barbell row. The barbell row is performed bent over with the barbell suspended from the floor for the entire set. I prefer to perform the barbell row from the floor as you get a better range of motion and contraction.

Pull the bar to your belly button as that will target your lats versus pulling to your upper abs which will target more of your upper back.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 8-15 reps.

Seated Cable Row

If you suffer from lower back problems, then the seated cable row can be your saving grace for back development. It trains all of the back muscles without the lower back stress that is present during bent-over row variations [4].

When performing the seated cable row, lean forward slightly by letting your shoulders be pulled forward and slightly rounding the upper back. This will put the lats under the greatest stretch. Then, create a big chest as you row so you can pull the shoulder blades back.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 8-15 reps.

Bench Pull

Another rowing variation that removes the stress on the lower back. The bench pull (also known as the seal row) can help you load heavy rows without being limited by your lower back. It purely isolates your upper body pulling muscles.

A barbell is a great option for the bench pull but your range of motion will be limited. Cambered style bars or dumbbells can be substituted to get the fullest range of motion and peak contraction of the back at the top of the movement.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 8-20 reps.

Kroc Row

The Kroc row was made famous by Janae Kroczaleski (formerly Matt Kroczaleski) when he had maxed out the available dumbbells for rows. So instead of increasing the load, he would increase the number of reps aiming for personal records.

For the exercise to be a Kroc row, it needs to be 20+ reps and heavy enough where you need to use some body English.

This is what makes it different from a 1-arm dumbbell row. For pure back development, use straps so you can load this heavy without your grip giving out. This will pack meat on your bones.

Recommended sets and reps: 1-3 x 20-30 reps.

DB Pullover

The pullover is the exercise that will put your lats under the greatest stretch. It’s the perfect exercise to place at the end of your training to restore and even gain mobility in the shoulders. I like the dumbbell variation as it feels the nicest on the wrists and shoulders.

Don't start with your arms directly vertical. If you want to maintain tension in the lats, start with arms pointing slightly behind your head. Lower the dumbbell with your arms slightly bent until you reach the end of your stretch tolerance. Don’t go too far as you can cause an injury.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 x 8-15 reps.

Meadows Lat Stretcher

My other favorite lat stretching exercise courtesy of the great John Meadows. No amount of foam rolling and passive lat stretches will improve your shoulder mobility. This exercise will do it instantly. Importantly, perform these at the end of your workout when you are fully warm.

Because you get such a huge stretch and range of motion, you can spur some extra muscle growth.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 x 8-15 reps.

Back Extension

The final piece of the building back mass puzzle is the back extension. Both the 45° and 90° back extensions work well. The 90° is best for targeting the lower back and is more accessible. You can level this exercise up and perform a twist with the back extension to get even greater erector spinae activation.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 x 10-20 reps.

Best Back Workout For Mass

Now you have the best exercises to build a big, wide back. Here is the best back workout for mass split over two separate days. These two days could be part of your push pull legs routine.

Day 1




A1) Straight Arm Lat Pulldown

3 x 15


B1) Rack Pulls

4 x 5


C1) Bench Pull

4 x 8


D1) Lat Pulldown

3 x 12-15


E1) DB Pullover

3 x 10


Day 2




A1) Snatch Grip High Pull

4 x 4


B1) Pull-Up

5 x 5-10


C1) Kroc Row

2 x 20

10 RPE

D1) Back Extension

3 x 15-20


E1) Lat Stretcher

3 x 10



1. Holly Edelburg, B.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Attila Kovacs, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D., with Daniel J. Green. ACE-SPONSORED RESEARCH: What Is the Best Back Exercise?

2. Hewit, J. K., Jaffe, D. A., & Crowder, T. (2018). A comparison of muscle activation during the pull-up and three alternative pulling exercises. J. Phys. Fitness, Med. Treat. Sport, 5(4), 1-7.

3. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

4. Ronai, P. (2019). Do it right: The seated cable row exercise. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 23(4), 32-37.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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