11 Compound Back Exercises That Can Help Build Your Upper Body Muscles
Why waste precious time on isolation exercises when compound back exercises can help you to build and strengthen your upper body muscles much more quickly.
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Compound back exercises work several muscles simultaneously, making it possible to achieve your fitness goals in a much shorter period.
Compound exercises will allow you to use your time efficiently. Thus it can benefit those who struggle to make many hours available for fitness training.
Including compound back exercises in your training regimen can help you burn more calories, boost flexibility and strength, and build muscle mass quickly.
Muscles that Compound Back Exercises Target
Your back contains several muscle groups, many of which compound back exercises can target and build for strength and muscle mass. The muscles include the
- Latissimus Dorsi or lats,
- Trapezius or traps,
- Deltoids or delts,
- Rhomboids, and
- Erector spinae
Top Compound Back Exercises For Strength And Muscle Mass
Include these compound back exercises in your fitness schedule to help build muscle mass and improve your strength and fitness.
Pull-ups are some of the best bodyweight compound back exercises that work many body muscles, including those in your upper body.
There are a few variations to pull-ups, and the distance between your grips can help your target different muscle groups.
You can add weights to make the movement more challenging.
Pull-ups can be very demanding on your muscles and may require good balance and coordination to get them right.
The exercise involves reaching out to grab an overhead pull-up bar and pulling your body up to get your chin to the bar.
Beginners can start with some pull-up alternative exercises to help improve their grip strength and condition other muscles before trying the movement.
Novices can also use pull-up assisted bands as part of their training to master the classic movement.
Pull-ups are some of the best compound exercises for targeting the latissimus dorsi or lats, the large back muscle. The movement will also work other muscle groups, including the chest, shoulders, and upper back, and build core strength.
Target Muscles: Lats, upper back, abs, shoulders, biceps
Steps to follow to do pull-ups are available here
Bent Over Row
The bent-over row is one of the best compound exercises for mass and strength. Some consider bent-over rows one of the best muscle-building back exercises to include in your back day training.
The exercise targets the lower and upper back, especially the lats, rhomboids, and lower back, as well as the glutes, spinal erectors, and hamstrings.
The movement will also target and strengthen your biceps and core muscles.
You will need a loaded barbell for the exercise. But a pair of dumbbells will also be good.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lower back, lats, abs, shoulders, biceps
NB: Do not attempt the barbell bent-over row if you have back issues.
Steps to follow
- Grasp a loaded barbell with a pronated grip, i.e., with your palms facing down.
- Hinge forward at the hips until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your head up and your back straight.
- Stretch your arms to make them perpendicular to the floor and your torso, and allow the barbell to hang directly in front of you.
- Breathe out and slowly pull the barbell up toward your navel.
- Continue pulling the bar up until it touches your body.
- Squeeze your back muscles and pause for a moment
- Inhale and lower the barbell to your starting position slowly and under control.
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets per session
The lat pulldown is one of the most popular compound back exercises in many commercial gyms.
It is one of the best exercises for targeting the latissimus dorsi muscles. Aside from the lats, the exercise will also work your biceps and middle back.
Using a cable machine for the exercise allows you to apply continuous tension to the muscles, helping to achieve better results.
There are a few variations to the lat pulldown compound back exercises allowing you to target your muscles from different angles
Target Muscles: Lats, upper back, shoulders, abs, biceps
Steps to follow to do lat pulldown exercises
Aim for 8-12 reps per set and 2-4 sets in a session
The shotgun row is one of the best compound back exercises that allows you to target and strengthen the lats.
It is a single-arm exercise that can make it possible to work the muscles on each side of your body independently, helping to correct any weakness
Aside from your lats, the exercise will work your rhomboids, and core muscles. Using heavy weights allows you to target your core muscles as well.
Incorporating shotgun rows into your fitness regimen can help you build a more symmetrical physique and strength.
You will need a cable machine at home or in the gym for the exercise
Target Muscles: Lats, upper back, shoulders, abs, biceps, traps
Steps to follow for the shotgun row exercises
For best results, aim for 8-15 reps per set and 2-4 sets in a session
Single-Arm Seated Cable Row
Seated cable rows allow you to train and strengthen your upper back muscles, such as the lats, traps, rear deltoids, and rhomboids
You will need a cable machine for the cable row compound back exercises, making it possible to apply continuous tension to the muscles.
A cable machine also allows you to target your back muscles from different angles for superior results.
You can use various handles and grip widths to enable you to target different muscles of the back.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lats, biceps, shoulders
The T-bar rows allow you to build a thick and densely muscled back
The exercise uses a neutral grip and allows you to pull the loaded bar upwards with both hands, making it possible to load more weight.
The T-bar row is one of the best compound back exercises for building muscle mass without much stress on your shoulder joints. Thus it is suitable for those who have issues with their shoulders
It allows you to target various back muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, and middle trapezius. it also works your forearms and biceps brachii.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lats, shoulders, abs, biceps, lower back, traps
Steps to follow for the T bar row exercises
The Pendlay row compound back exercises are some of the best for building and strengthing the upper back muscles.
You begin each rep by pulling the barbell from the floor, which removes the stretch muscles and compels you to pull forcefully with a bent-over spine.
The exercise also requires you to stop dead during the movement, allowing you to pull the weight to your body. That makes it possible to build power and explosiveness. A distinctive feature that is not available in other row exercises.
The Pendlay row allows you to build mass and strength in your back muscles. It will also strengthen your core muscles.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lats, shoulders, abs, biceps, lower back
Steps to follow to do the Pendlay row exercises
Repeat 5-8 reps per set and 3-5 sets in a session for best results.
Meadows Row is one of the unilateral compound back exercises that allow you to target muscles on each side of your body independently. That can help build a symmetrical physique and strength.
Aside from your back muscles, the meadows rows can help work your biceps and build grip strength.
The exercise uses a landmine setup at an angle that reduces the stress on your shoulder joints while maximizing the tension on your upper back, lats, and shoulders.
The staggered stance and slight incline in your body when doing the meadow row exercise allow you to target your upper back and lower lats much better.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lats, shoulders, abs, biceps, lower back
Steps to follow to do the Pendlay row exercises are available here
The renegade row, aka plank row, targets the upper back and the core.
The exercise combines a dumbbell row with a plank and is one of the best compound back exercises for boosting anti-rotational core strength to improve balance and coordination. Increasing anti-rotational strength can help keep your spine aligned, improve your functional fitness levels, and reduce the risk of low back injuries.
Aside from the lats, renegade row targets and works other muscles, including the rhomboids, biceps, shoulders, and forearms.
The exercise requires a good level of abdominal and core strength. Thus beginners should first master the plank pose and should be able to hold their body in that state for at least 60 seconds before attempting the renegade row.
You will need a pair of hex dumbbells for the renegade row compound back exercises.
Target Muscles: Upper back, lats, shoulders, abs, biceps, lower back, chest
Steps to follow to do the Renegade row exercises
The sled row is a total body exercise that targets the posterior chain muscles, including the lats and the erector spinae of the back.
They are some of the best strength-building exercises to include in your fitness workout.
Target Muscles: Upper back, middle back, lats, shoulders
Steps to follow
- Attach two straps or ropes with handles to the sled and load it with the appropriate weight.
- Face the sled, grab the handles in each hand, and move backward to create tension in the rope.
- Extend your arms, bend your knees and hips, and keep your chest and head up
- Row the handles and pull the sled towards you by flexing your elbows and retracting your shoulder blades.
- Take a few steps back to put tension in the rope again, and repeat.
- Continue the cycle for your desired reps, time, or distance
Incline Bench Dumbbell Row
The chest-supported incline dumbbell row is an effective back building and strengthening exercise for your training regimen.
You will need a pair of dumbbells and an incline Weight Bench for the exercise.
Supporting your chest on an incline bench removes some of the pressure off your lower back and removes any issues with stability. That allows you to isolate and work the muscles, making it some of the best compound back exercises.
Target Muscles: Upper back, middle back, lats, shoulders, biceps
Steps to follow to do the chest-supported incline dumbbell row
Steps to follow
Final words from LiveLIfe
Compound back exercises are time efficient and allow you to build and strengthen your upper body muscles much more quickly.
Incorporate these into your back day, upper body day, and strength training exercises to help you to achieve your fitness goals efficiently.
- Edelburg H, et al. (2018). ACE-Sponsored Research: What is the best back exercise?
- Crockford J. (2015). 4 Moves to help you master the pull-up.
- Smith S. (n.d.). Tips for better pull-ups.