When it comes to building a thicker back with stronger muscles, compound back exercises will get you more bang for your buck because these moves are not just content to stop with your back. They work multiple muscle groups at once! Efficient, right?
Today, we’ll focus on 6 compound back exercises that’ll have your whole back (and the rest of your body) screaming for mercy by the end of the workout!
Compound Back Exercise vs. Isolation Back Exercise
Nothing works in isolation. Actually, I take that back.
There are a few things that work in isolation, such as say…an isolation exercise. These exercises target just one muscle group, so for example, if you’re trying to work out your shoulders only, you might do a lateral raise.
If isolation exercises are the lone wolves of the workout routine, then compound exercises are the gregarious team players.
One works just one muscle group. The other–multiple at once.
Isolation exercises: An isolation exercise targets one singular muscle group–requiring movement at only one joint, which helps you isolate one specific muscle.
Example of isolation exercise: The bicep curl only works the bicep muscle and works just one joint: your elbow. During this motion, the rest of your body isn't doing too much work, making this an isolation motion.
Compound exercises: A compound exercise, on the other hand, is a physical activity involving the use of multiple muscle and joint groups working together.
Example of compound exercise: A deadlift, for example, works many different muscle groups simultaneously, such as your legs, lower and upper back, as well as grip strength.
Benefits of Isolation Back Exercises
While today, we’ll be focusing on compound back exercises, there are certainly some benefits to isolation back exercises that are worth discussing.
Isolation back exercises can help with injury recovery: Our bodies are amazing, and they work super hard to help when we recover from serious injuries. Oftentimes, our muscles that are not injured will overcompensate for the injured muscle, leading to imbalances. This is where isolation exercises shine: they help target very specific muscles that need strengthening, and they go to town on that muscle.
Isolation back exercises help you bulk up the size of that muscle: A bit of a no-brainer, I realize, but it’s worth a mention. When working the specific muscle you’d like to target in an isolation exercise move, you know you’re getting your money’s worth out of that movement to bulk up that particular muscle.
To use as more of an accessory: Your workout routine should not primarily consist of isolation exercises because these motions tend to be a bit easier, and you’re getting less bang for your buck when just working one specific muscle. One way to think about it is that you can use isolation exercises as sort of an accessory move to get that extra pump in a specific muscle you’re really trying to push.
Some isolation exercises for the back include:
Benefits of Compound Back Exercises
Isolation exercises have their perks, but let’s explore what makes compound back exercises so clutch!
Workout Efficiency: If your entire back workout consisted of isolation back exercises, you’d be at the gym all day. While isolation moves have their pros, ultimately, you’re gonna want to have mostly compound back exercises in your routine –if for nothing else—for the sake of time. Combining multiple muscle movements into one compound back exercise is a more efficient way to work out and will ultimately save you time.
Extra Calories Burned: Compared to isolation back exercises, compound back exercises help you burn extra calories, which makes sense since more of your body is moving and engaging during the exercise.
Practical Strength: If you think about it, your body’s natural movements are more similar to how a compound back exercise would work, engaging multiple muscle groups at once. Adding compound back exercises into your routine will help you with daily, natural movements that use your whole back, such as picking up your dog or wrestling on the floor with your kids.
Balanced Muscle Growth: While isolation back exercises tend to target just one muscle at a time, compound back exercises will help your back muscles develop in an overall balanced way, engaging them together.
Reduced Risk of Injury: By overtraining a specific area of your body with an isolation exercise, you may be more prone to injuries. On the other hand, by training multiple muscle groups at a time in a compound back exercise, you’re fortifying against injury by strengthening your body as a whole.
6 Compound Back Exercises for an Indestructible Body
Now that we know the difference between an isolation back exercise and a compound back exercise, let’s explore 6 of my favorite compound back exercises. I’ll explain how to perform each exercise as well as what makes it so compound!
1. Iliac Lat Pulldown
How to Perform an Iliac Lat Pulldown:
1. Pull a bench up to a cable station set to its highest position.
2. Place a D-handle on the top of the cable.
3. Set the bench to about a 60-degree angle.
4. Assuming your left arm is your weaker arm, place your right hand on the top of the bench and your right knee on the seat of the bench.
5. With your left hand, grab the D-handle.
6. Using your right hand for support, twist your body about 10-15 degrees to the side of your working arm.
7. Drive the elbow down (not back) toward your iliac crest, which is the bony part at the top of your hip bone. Your elbow should not come back further than your torso.
8. Slowly bring your arm slightly out and up–not right up against your ear.
Benefits of Adding an Iliac Pulldown Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
This one’s almost an isolation exercise due to its focus on the lats and single joint motion of the elbow; however, if you do this compound back exercise right, you’ll also engage your rear delts shoulders, and biceps, making it an effective compound back exercise for overall upper body strength and muscle building.
How to Perform a Pull-Up:1. Stand facing a pull-up bar.
2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width. Depending on your gym or machine, you may need to jump to reach the bar.
3. Lift your feet off the ground, bending your knees and tucking your feet behind you. You can stack your feet or keep them parallel to one another.
4. Let your body hang from the bar.
5. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull your body weight up, allowing your chin to touch the bar.
6. Slowly release your body to the starting position, and repeat.
Benefits of Adding Pull-Ups Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
Pull-ups are simple exercises that are consistently challenging. This is a compound back exercise because you’ll feel it in your elbow and shoulder joints simultaneously. You’re also working many muscles, such as the biceps, lats, rhomboids, and traps. On top of all this, your core also plays a stabilizing role during this motion. You can expect pull-ups to consistently kick your butt while providing you with a great compound back exercise!
3. The Farmer’s Carry
How to Perform a Farmer’s Carry1. Find a turf in a gym or an open space where you’ll have space to walk.
2. You’ll need to find a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells to perform this exercise.
3. Pick up the dumbbells or kettlebells.
4. Stand with an upright posture, shoulder back.
5. Walk forward, holding the dumbbells or kettlebells as you walk with your arms extended in a natural position. Your heel should hit the floor first and then your toes.
6. Once you’ve doubled back, place the dumbbells or kettlebells down again, and that’s a set.
Benefits of Adding a Framer’s Carry Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
As the name suggests, this motion mimics regular, daily tasks of carrying objects, and it’ll be great for building mad body strength! When you hold heavy weights in each hand, you’re activating multiple muscles in your arms, shoulders, and upper back.
When you add in the walking motion, your legs get involved too. You should feel this compound back exercise also working your quads and glutes as you take steps with the weights in your hands. You’ll also need extra grip strength for this as you carry the weights across a good amount of space.
4. TRX Suspension Row
How to Perform a TRX Suspension Row:1. Affix a suspension trainer/TRX straps to a high position on a stable fixture, such as a rack or cable machine.
2. Set the handles to just above your knees.
3. Grab the handles with a neutral grip, facing the fixture to which the suspension trainer is attached.
4. Lean back, extending your arms and allowing your weight to be held by the suspension trainer. The further back you lean, the harder this move becomes, so I recommend starting within a slight lean and working your way to having your body parallel to the floor.
5. Retract your shoulder blades before you begin.
6. Bend your elbows as you pull your body toward the handles.
7. Once the handles are pulled to the side of your chest, slowly straighten your arms again, leaning back into the starting position.
Benefits of Adding TRX Suspension Rows Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
It’s a moment of trust when you lean back, allowing the TRX straps to hold your body weight up, and you’re gonna feel this one just about everywhere, making it a great compound back exercise for your routine!
This motion primarily targets upper back muscles, like your lats and rhomboids. As you grip the TRX handles though, you’ll also feel it in your biceps and shoulders. With correct posture, your core will need to be sweating a little on this one as well. Oh, and last but not least: your legs will be doing some work too, as your glutes help you maintain balance and stability throughout this motion.
5. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
How to Perform a Single-Arm Dumbbell Row:1. Use a flat weight bench, table, or rack to support yourself as you complete this exercise. (We will focus on form when using a bench.)
2. Lay the dumbbell on the side of the bench (the same side as your weaker arm, so you can work this arm first).
3. Place your non-working hand flat on the bench. Put your knee on the same, non-working side on the bench as well.
4. Open your hips, planting the foot on your working side flat on the ground, slightly out from the bench.
5. Lean down to grab the dumbbell with your hand.
6. Brace your core and straighten your back by lifting up your glutes and puffing out your chest.
7. Retract your shoulder blade fully forward before starting this motion.
8. Pull the dumbbell back and toward your hips, bringing it slightly above your body.
9. Slowly lower to the starting position, letting your shoulder fully retract.
Benefits of Adding a Single-Arm Dumbbell Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
This one’s another full-body compound back exercise: starting with your supporting hand and knee on the bench. Your core must stay engaged during the motion of this exercise. The row itself targets the lats, shoulder, rhomboids, and traps. Your biceps also need to engage as they help you pull the bicep back toward your hip. If, as you heighten the weight, for this compound back exercise, you feel your grip slipping too fast, you may need to buy some grips to help you hang on to those dumbbells!
How to Perform a Deadlift:1. Start at a barbell station, and place the barbell on the ground.
2. With feet should be hip-width apart and close to the barbell, stand facing the barbell.
3. Maintain a straight back, bending at the hips and grasping the bar with an overhand grip. Bring your hips and butt back, allowing the barbell to just hit your shins.
4. Puff out your chest. Engage your core. Pull your shoulders down towards your hips.
5. Flare out your knees, so they touch your forearms.
6. Extend your hips and knees into an upright position, keeping the bar close to your legs as you bring it up with you.
7. Push your hips back and slowly lower the bar to the original position.
Benefits of Adding a Deadlift Into Your Compound Back Exercise Routine:
The deadlift is another compound back exercise that utilizes so many muscle groups and joints. This one’s popular for a reason: it truly is a full-body ordeal. It’ll work your posterior chain with a focus on the lower back. You’ll need to use your upper back for support, including your lats, traps, and rhomboids. For the hip extension motion, your glutes and hamstrings will engage. Your quads will support the whole motion, allowing you to lift the barbell from the ground.
Ready for a Compound Back Exercise Program?
As you seek to build a body that is indestructible through compound back exercises, don’t do it alone!
If, after reading about these moves, it feels a bit overwhelming to begin your journey of adding compound back exercises to your routine, might I suggest getting a little support along the way?!
When you sign up for our Back of Steel Back Strengthening Program, you’ll get instant access to a comprehensive lower back routine that will simultaneously strengthen your back against injury. We’ll see you there!