Back Exercises

Select from the links below to view specific exercises to strengthen the back muscles. For prevention of back injuries and back pain then core strengthening and pilates type exercises are often recommended. It is important to get advice before doing back exercises as back injuries could be made worse by doing the wrong exercises.

Bent Over Row

This exercise works the rhomboids, trapezius and biceps brachii and is similar to the single arm row. It is important that good posture is maintained throughout. Keep the back still and pull bar into stomach.

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Teaching points

  • Position yourself with a wide stance, knees bent and hips flexed forwards.
  • Hold the barbell with straight arms, at around knee level with the hands just wider than your knees on the bar and pronated (palms facing down).
  • Keep the back still as you pull the bar in, towards your stomach.
  • Return the bar back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout.

Variations & progressions

  • Perform with the hands in a supinated position (palms facing upwards).

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Seated row with a resistance band.

Dorsal Raise

The dorsal raise is a form of back extension exercise which works the extensor muscles on either side of the spine.

Teaching points

  • Lay on your front with your arms bent and fingers on your temples.
  • Slowly lift your chest and stomach off the floor, keeping the hips and legs still.
  • Hold for 2-3 seconds before slowly lowering the upper body back to the floor.
  • Movement should be coming from your lower back only.

Variations & progressions

  • Extend your arms out in front of you to add extra weight to lift.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Superman.
  • Back extension with a swiss ball.

Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover works a number of major muscles in the upper body, including the Pec Minor and Latissimus Dorsi, as well as the Triceps.

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Teaching points

  • Lay on your back on a bench with your feet on the floor.
  • Hold one dumbbell between both hands, with the palms facing each other and arms straight above your chest.
  • Lower the dumbbells over and behind your head, with a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Keep your abdominals braced throughout to avoid arching your back.
  • Lower to as far as you are comfortable and then reverse the movement.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Pullover with a resistance band.

Good Morning

The good morning exercise is so named because it resembles bowing to say good morning to someone. It is a very hard exercise on the back especially so should not be performed by anyone with back problems.

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Teaching points

  • Start with the bar across your shoulders and behind your neck, gripping it just wider than shoulder width.
  • Start with your feet shoulder width apart, back upright and chest held high.
  • Allow the knees to bent slightly as you hinge forwards from your hips.
  • Maintain the arches in your back throughout the movement.
  • Once you have reached your full range of motion (dependent on hamstring flexibility), slowly return to the start position.

Variations and progressions

  • Perform with a straight leg, allowing no degree of knee flexion. This places more emphasis on the Gluteus Maximus.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises


Resistance Band Pullover Exercise

The pullover exericse strengthens the Latissimus Dorsi muscles which are found on either side of the mid to lower back and attach to the upper arm.

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Teaching points

  • Attach the centre of the band to a fixed point close to the floor.
  • Lay on your back with the attachment behind your head.
  • Hold the ends in your hands.
  • Start with the arms straight, above your head and pull your hands forwards, over your head towards your waist.
  • Return to the starting position.

Muscles Worked

Alternative exercises

  • Dumbbell pullover.
  • Lat pull down resistance machine.

Single Arm Row

 width=The single arm row works the muscles around the shoulder blades. Really focus on using the shoulder blade to initiate the upwards movement..

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Teaching points

  • Place one knee and the same hand on a bench with the other foot on the floor and dumbbell in the other hand.
  • Lean forwards so that the spine is straight and approximately parallel to the floor.
  • Pull the dumbbell upwards, towards your chest.
  • Do not allow excessive rotation of the back, or shoulder elevation.
  • Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position under control.

Variations & progressions

  • Perform without a bench with the feet wide apart, knees bent and hips flexed forwards.
  • Maintain good alignment throughout.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Bent over row.
  • Seated row with a resistance band.

Straight Leg Dead Lift

The straight leg deadlift is also sometimes known as a stiff-legged deadlift or Romanian deadlift. It targets the hamstrings and back muscles.

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Teaching points

  • Stand with the feet shoulder width, holding the bar at thigh level, just wider than shoulder width with the palms facing backwards.
  • Before starting the exercise ensure your lower back is arched and you are holding your chest up high.
  • Keeping your legs straight, bend from the hips so you push your buttocks back, and then bend from your waist until your upper body is parallel with the floor (or as far as you can manage comfortably).
  • Reverse the movement to bring your upper body upright.
  • This exercise places more emphasis on the hamstrings than the regular version.

Variations and progressions

  • Perform using two dumbbells.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

      • Dead lift.
      • Good morning.

Swiss Ball Back Extension

The back extension exercise works the muscles on either side of the spine. Performing the exercise on a swiss ball also works the core muscles as they need to stabilise the body.

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Teaching points

  • Lay with your stomach and chest in contact with the ball, with the toes on the floor.
  • Raise your chest up off the ball.
  • Slowly lower back down to the starting position.

Variations and progressions

  • To make the exercise easier, perform it with the knees bent on the floor.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Dorsal raise.
  • Back extension machine.

Upright Row

The upright row can be performed with a barbell or two dumbbells. It works muscles in the upper back, shoulder and the Biceps.

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Teaching points

  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Hold the bar near the centre, with the hands closer than shoulder width and the palms facing you.
  • Pull the bar up towards your chin.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Variations & progressions

  • Perform with a dumbbell in each hand.

Muscles worked

Alternative exercises

  • Bent over row with a resistance band.