Five of the best upper back moves


Do these five moves to build a strong and impressive upper back.

Joe Warner
13 Mar 2012

1. Bent-over row
It may be tempting to let the bench press dominate your workout, but concentrating on your pecs at the expense of your back can lead to a muscle imbalance that not only looks rubbish but also increases your risk of injury. This move works the opposite muscle group, the upper back (traps, lats, rhomboids and rear deltoids), as well as your biceps and abs, which help keep your torso stable. It’s overlooked by many, but should be a key weapon in your muscle-building arsenal.

  • Start with your core braced, your back straight and your shoulder blades retracted.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean forwards from the hips.
  • Grip the bar with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart, letting them hang at knee level.
  • Pull the bar to your sternum, retracting your shoulder blades to allow the bar to come up to your chest, then lower slowly to the start.

Form tip: Don’t shrug your shoulders and round your back if you’re struggling with the weight – this takes the emphasis away from the target muscles. It’s far better to lower the weight and maintain correct form.

2. Shrug
Shrugs have a limited range of motion compared with many other lifts, which means that you can go really heavy on the weights to help build big and strong traps and create wide shoulders.

  • Stand in front of two heavy dumbbells.
  • Squat down and securely grip a weight in each hand with a neutral grip.
  • Stand up, keeping your core braced and a natural arch in your back.
  • Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, keeping your arms straight.
  • Hold for a second at the top position before slowly lowering the weights back down.
  • You can also perform shrugs with a heavy barbell using an overhand grip just outside your hips.

3. Upright row
This move works both your traps and shoulders, building a strong upper back.

  • Stand tall holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  • Pull the bar up towards your chin, trying to keep your elbows pointing up.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the start.

4. One-arm row
Working one arm at a time helps encourage balanced growth, lessening the risk of injury.

  • Rest your left knee and hand on a bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand close to the floor.
  • Keeping your back straight, use your back muscles and biceps to row the weight up to your side, leading with your elbow.
  • Repeat on the other side. 

5. Seated cable row
Hitting your back muscles while seated allows you to go heavy and focus all your efforts on the target muscle groups, resulting in big muscle-mass gains.

  • Sit with a flat back and a slight bend in your knees, using a neutral grip to hold a double-D handle attached to the bottom pulley of a cable machine.
  • Ensure that there is tension in the cable before you begin.
  • Pull the handle to your sternum, keeping upper-body movement to a minimum, and squeeze shoulders together.
  • Return slowly to the start.

For more exercise tips and in-depth workout routines, get the magazine. Subscribe now and we'll give you five issues for £5.