Did you spend this past beach season wondering how some people seem to have chiseled, Greek-god-style back muscles while your back situation seems a little…underwhelming?
For real though, we all compare ourselves at times–for better or worse–and before we even begin to explore how to build back muscle using barbell back exercises, let’s start with a healthy perspective: there isn’t one “right” way for a back to look, but if you’ve decided that you want to add muscle to your back while also building strength and shielding against potential back injury, you’re in the right place, my friend.
Anyone can build muscle on their back, and fall is an excellent time of year to start bulking up for next summer! Whether your personal goal is for aesthetics, back strength, or injury prevention, getting educated about barbell back exercises that actually produce results is the first step to having a healthy, toned back.
Back Exercises With a Barbell Are Where It’s At
Tons of back workouts involve the use of a barbell. While barbells can be an intimidating piece of equipment for someone new to working out, they produce great results for building back muscle. And trust me, they’re not as scary as they look.
Benefits of Barbell Back Exercises
Back exercises using a barbell are some of the most effective exercises at lighting up your back.
- Build a bulky back: It doesn’t get any better than deadlifts and rows to help grow your back muscles. If muscle building is your prerogative, back exercises with a barbell will be your ticket to success!
- Get stronger faster: Many people like to focus on building arm strength, but your back muscles make up a huge portion of your body. Work these muscles with barbell back exercises, and you’ll see improved body strength that will help you perform daily tasks with ease.
- Rock solid core: As you’ll find out when reading about each exercise below, most barbell back exercises require you to brace your core and engage your core muscles, making it ideal for overall stability.
- Kick Back Injury in the Butt: Literally. (You'll be working your butt with the hip thrusts below!) A stronger back means you’re less prone to back injury. Your glutes, lower back, and upper back all need regular engagement to remain healthy and strong. By performing the barbell back exercises in this article with proper form, you’re shielding yourself from potential back injuries.
Today, we’ll be talking about 6 stellar back barbell exercises that’ll get you that solid, barn door back you’ve always wanted! You’ll leave this article feeling confident in how to use a barbell for back muscle growth, strengthening, and injury prevention.
Along the way, I’ll add in some of my own tips and hints that will have you feeling confident and gym-ready for prime barbell back exercises!
6 Barbell Back Exercises to Bulk Up Your Back!
How to Perform a Deadlift:
- At a barbell station, place the barbell on the ground.
- Stand, facing the barbell station. Feet should be hip-width apart and close to the barbell.
- Keeping your back straight, bend at the hips to grasp the bar with an overhand grip. By bringing your hips and butt back, your shins should just hit the barbell.
- Your chest should be puffed out; your core should be engaged; your shoulders pulled down towards your hips.
- Flare out your knees, so they touch your forearms.
- Pull the bar upward, keeping close to your legs as you extend your hips and knees to go into an upright position.
- Push your hips back and slowly lower the bar to the original position, keeping it close to your legs.
Benefits of Adding a Deadlift Into Your Barbell Back Exercise Routine:
Of course, we have to start with the deadlift. This one’s a classic, and it is for a reason. The hip-hinge motion of this exercise means it targets your lower back, but this barbell back exercise isn’t content with just a few muscles worked. You can expect a full-body workout when you commit to adding deadlifts into your barbell back exercise routine. Your spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, traps, lats, and forearms will all get their money’s worth with this one (you can also read more about compound back exercises).
Because deadlifts are a lower barbell back exercise, it is super important to maintain proper form throughout the entirety of this exercise. That’s why I recommend a personal trainer or a trained set of eyes on you when you first start adding these into your routine. When done right, the deadlift will help you get a ripped back while also bulletproofing your lower back against potential injury.
2. Bent-Over Barbell Rows
How to Perform a Bent-Over Barbell Row:
- At a barbell station, place the barbell on a rack about knee-height.
- Grab the bar with a wide overhand grip.
- Take a few steps back from the barbell rack.
- Pull your pelvis back, puff out your chest, and engage your core for the best support against injury.
- Keeping your back straight, push your hips back, slightly bending your knees as you lower the bar. While you do so, push out your shoulder blades to fully stretch out your lats.
- Keep the bar against your legs as you lower it, bringing the bar to just below the knees.
- To lift the bar, drive your elbows up, bringing the bar towards your chest.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together while performing this motion, slightly arching your back. Your elbows should be perpendicular to your body, forming a 45-degree angle.
- Slowly lower the bar to the starting position.
Benefits of Adding Bent-Over Barbell Rows to Your Barbell Back Exercise Routine:
Another favorite, the bent-over barbell row taps into the importance of pulling weight while in a hip hinge. This motion is clutch for getting your back chiseled and strong. This barbell back exercise also works your upper back, lats, and rear deltoids. Improved posture is a direct result you’ll see if you prioritize adding this barbell back exercise into your routine.
3. Barbell Hip Thrusts
How to Perform a Barbell Hip Thrust:
- You’ll need a bench and a barbell for this barbell back exercise.
- Sit on the floor by the bench, and hoist your back up against the bench, so the bench is hitting you just under your shoulder blades.
- Roll the barbell over your legs and up to your hips. For extra comfort, you can add a pad to the bar.
- Place your feet flat on the floor with your shins vertical. They can be shoulder-length apart, but you can play around with the stance that works for you–wherever you feel it most in those glutes!
- With the bar on top of your hips, drive your hips up, placing them in a straight line with your shoulders and head.
- Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat.
Benefits of Adding Barbell Hip Thrusts Into Your Barbell Back Exercise Routine:
If you're looking to tone up your butt, this is a great barbell back exercise for you. This exercise isolates the glutes, and by doing so, you’ll increase explosive power for weightlifting, running, and other activities. Your hip extensors also get a good stretch here, which will improve hip mobility and function.
4. Barbell Shrugs
How to Perform a Barbel Shrug:
- For this one, you can decide whether you want the barbell to be on the floor or on a middle setting of a rack: your preference!
- Stand facing the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your arms straight, and lift your shoulders up and back, squeezing your traps as you do so. The best visual I’ve heard to help with this motion is to imagine trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. Pause for a few seconds at the top.
- Lower slowly, and repeat.
Benefits of Adding a Barbell Shrug Into Your Barbell Back Exercise Routine:
Similar to the hip thrusts, this barbell back exercise is great because it targets a very specific muscle: your traps. So, if you know this is an area that you want to strengthen, this barbell back exercise will get you results!
Why would you need to strengthen your lats, you ask? Several reasons, such as supporting your head movements, posture, torso bends from side to side, and shoulder mobility. 10-15 reps is ideal for this move; this means more reps and lighter weight to avoid injury. As soon as you feel yourself losing form due to the weight, you know it’s time to lighten that load.
5. Meadows Rows
How to Perform a Meadows Row:
- For this barbell back exercise, you’ll need a landmine machine–a metal tube on the floor, which can attach to a barbell. Once a barbell is attached, the pivot system will allow you to move the barbell around in any direction, giving versatility of motion. You can then load the weight onto one end of the barbell.
- Beginning with your weaker arm facing the barbell, stagger your feet apart.
- Keeping your core tight and back flat and slightly bending your knees, hinge at your hips to reach down and grab the weighted end of the barbell.
- Pull the barbell toward your hip, flaring out your elbow and squeezing your lat and rhomboid muscles at the top of the motion.
- Slowly lower the bar to the starting position, letting your arm fully extend. Repeat.
Benefits of Adding Meadows Rows Into Your Barbell Back Exercise Routine:
Dubbed by some as the single best exercise for overall muscle growth, this is not your most run-of-the-mill barbell back exercise, but it’s gonna be worth your attention.  Because of the single-arm motion, it isolates each lat, helping you ensure a balanced back.
Your lats will be on fire with this barbell back exercise as well as your rhomboids (the muscles located between your shoulder blades). Additionally, it’ll activate your traps, posterior deltoids, and erector spinae, making this a great choice for getting a wider back as well as working your core.
6. Pendlay Rows
How to Perform a Pendlay Row:
- With the barbell on the floor, walk up to the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at the hips, keeping a flat back and bending your knees.
- Grip the bar overhand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Bring the bar to your chest, keeping your elbows tucked and retracting your shoulder blades.
- Slowly lower and return the bar to the ground. Repeat.
Benefits of Adding Pendlay Rows Into Your Back Barbell Exercise Routine:
A close variation of the bent-over barbell row, this barbell back exercise targets muscles in your posterior chain: primarily your lats, rhomboids, and traps. Inherently, pendlays require more power than the bent-over row because you will be lifting the bar off the ground each rep. While I recommend using bent-over rows more for muscle growth, pendlay rows are best for building strength and power.
Need a Little More Support on Your Back Exercise Journey?
Back of Steel Lower Back Strengthening Program
If you’re like me, you know you tend to just do better with a little accountability when it comes to working out. That’s why I consistently use workout programs to spice up my workout experience with routines and tips from pros.
Let me introduce you to Back of Steel–our back strengthening program.
With this strength and resilience training program, you can say a “heck no” to lower back pain stopping you from pushing it in your back routine. You’ll feel confident knowing that you can, in fact, work out your back without causing damage to it.
Already have a workout routine?
Not a problem.
This 15 minute per day 3 day workout plan can stand on its own or work as a complementary routine for an existing back workout. You’ll end this program feeling educated on exercises to strengthen your lower back and protect it from injury–and what’s even better–you’ll have an iron-strong lower back to boot!
The QL Claw
Also, while you’re at it, you may as well check out our at-home massage therapy tool, the QL Claw.
Spoil yourself after a barbell back exercise by literally just lying down on the QL Claw. You’ll feel it release nearly every muscle in the body–from your hip flexors to your glutes to your pecs and shoulders.
What’s also great is that it’s portable and can easily fit in a gym bag. It’s the perfect way to end a day of going hard in the gym with your barbell back exercises!