The back has gotta be one of the most aesthetic and — when developed — impressive looking groups of muscles there is.
Just remember though: these exercises have to be done alongside a good diet and sleeping regimen. You won’t gain mass if you don’t eat a surplus of calories, or rest appropriately.
1. The Pull-up
The pull-up is one of the toughest but most effective exercises you can do for your back overall. If you do pull ups two times a week, you are step closer to get those lat wings you always wanted.
Try hitting a minimum of 4 sets of 10-12 reps. You also want to make sure you do Progressive Overload — so each set you have to increase the difficulty, even only slightly, by either doing more reps, resting less (aka increasing density), or increasing the amount you have to lift.
2. The Seated Cable Row
You need to get that mind-muscle connection when you doing doing barbell or dumbbell rows.
Cale rows, like every exercise really, is about form.
I personally don’t think you should be letting the cable go all the way to the start and then heaving it back like you would on a rowing machine. The most effective method I’ve found is controlled pulls, where you retract your scapular on the concentric phase of the exercise. Keep your back straight and your eyes forward. You can even try doing one-arm rows to focus each lat individually.
If you’re a beginner then go for 4 sets of 8-12 reps with Progressive Overload. Once you get comfortable with it, then you’ll need to increase the weight or reps to keep the progress.
3. The Deadlift
Deadlifts are the second most difficult compound movement (the first being squats) ever. The difficulty is literally in the name. Deadlifts are absolutely imperative for building a bigger and stronger back, and with proper form, that’s exactly what you’ll do.
The best thing about deadlifts is that they use pretty much all of your muscles aside from your chest, so you’re working much more than your back. That’s a double-edged sword though, because the next day you’re going to be wrecked, so choose your deadlift days appropriately.
Unlike with pull-ups, you can do deadlifts on pretty much any weight, but just remember Progressive Overload. Technique is the most important part of this, so do your research, and make sure you maintain that spine neutral, chest out, lats flared, core engaged, then lift.
4. The Lat Pulldown
The best thing about them is that there’s a wide variety of techniques you can employ to do this exercise and hit a different back parts.
You can use a standard lat pulldown machine with a wide grip bar (which you can pull down to your chest or behind your neck), or try one-arm pulldowns with cables using different grips.
You can change it up a lot, but just keep your form in check at all times. Engaging those lats — mentally focusing on working them and using the correct technique for each movement — is crucial to getting them bigger.
5. T-bar rows
While I find it tough to engage my lats properly on these, I still recommend them as the best exercises for your back as a whole. When your form is on point, you can feel it hitting all aspects of your back. The only downside to this exercise is that you can’t just walk over to a barbell and do it. You need a specific area/equipment to do this exercise properly. Most gyms will have them though. It’s possible to improvise with an ordinary barbell, but it just never feels right when I do.
Like with most exercises, a straight back is paramount for safety and proper muscle activation.