If you’ve ever had back pain, you know just how frustrating it can be — and you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 60 to 80 percent of adults in Western countries deal with lower back pain. And because almost every movement your body makes engages your back in some way, this kind of pain can really put a damper on your activities.

Strengthening your back muscles is one way to help manage or even prevent non-specific back pain, along with improving range of motion.

But with the plethora of back exercises out there on the internet, you may be a little overwhelmed — especially if you’re a newbie. We’ve taken out the guesswork for you and put together a list of the 15 best back moves you can do for strength and performance.

First things first:

When we talk about your back, which muscles are we targeting? Primary muscles in the back include the:

  • lats, which are in the area below your armpits down the sides of your back
  • rhomboids, which are in the mid-upper back
  • traps, which run from your neck to your mid-back
  • erector spinae, a group of muscles that run along your spine

All of the exercises below target a combination of these muscles.

Start with 5 to 10 minutes of moderate cardio to get your blood pumping and awaken your muscles.

Next, do a 5-minute dynamic stretching sequence to prep your back for targeted exercises. These exercises are a great starting point.

If you’re a beginner, choose 3 to 5 of the exercises below and do 1 set of each, twice a week. Slowly, over the course of a few weeks, work your way up to 3 sets of each.

If you have experience with strength training , choose 3 to 5 of these exercises and do 3 sets of each, twice a week (or more).

Aim to hit all 15 of these exercises within a 2-week span to ensure your routine is well-rounded.

1. Resistance band pull-apart

A great exercise to kick off your back workout, the resistance band pull-apart is simple but effective. Choose a resistance band that allows you to complete 1 to 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps with good form.

Directions:

  1. Stand with arms extended. Hold a resistance band taut in front of you with both hands so the band is parallel to the ground.
  2. Keeping arms straight, pull band to chest by moving arms out to sides. Initiate the
    movement from your mid-back, squeeze shoulder blades together and keep spine straight. Slowly return to start and repeat.

2. Lat pulldown

You can complete a lat pulldown on a machine at the gym or with a resistance band. Pulling the weight from above your head down to your chest requires the lats, biceps, and even forearms to work, strengthening them all.

Directions:

  1. If you’re using a machine, position pad so it’s touching thighs. Stand up and grab bar wider
    than shoulder-width apart, then sit back down.
  2. Begin to pull bar down toward chest, bending elbows and pointing them toward ground. Engage upper and mid-back throughout the move. Keep torso straight, and don’t allow yourself to lean backward.
  3. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

3. Back extension

Back extensions target your core plus your whole posterior chain — in other words, the back side of your body. This makes them great for strengthening the erector spinae muscles and the entire lower back in general.

Directions:

  1. Lie down on an exercise ball with abdomen on the center of ball. Press the balls of your feet into the
    ground behind you to stay balanced.
  2. Extend arms forward. Bend first at waist, then slowly raise upper body toward sky. Engage core and glutes and keep feet on floor.
  3. Pause for a moment at the top, then slowly lower down.
  4. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

4. TRX row

Using your body weight and requiring balance and stability, the TRX row is super-effective. The great thing about it is that it’s suitable for people of all ability levels.

Directions:

  1. Grab TRX handles and walk under them, forming a tabletop position with arms extended. The more parallel your back is to the ground, the harder this exercise will be.
  2. Keeping back straight, row upward by pulling yourself toward ceiling. Keep elbows close to sides.
  3. Extend arms and return to start.
  4. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

5. Wood chop

A triple whammy for your core, arms, and back, the wood chop is a full-body movement. Use a dumbbell or medicine ball here — 10 pounds is a good place to start.

Directions:

  1. Grab dumbbell or medicine ball with both hands. Hold it overhead with arms straight.
  2. Rotate hips to the left and bring dumbbell or ball down to the outside of left knee in a sweeping movement.
  3. On the ascent, twist trunk back toward the right and, keeping arms straight, bring dumbbell or
    ball back up above the right side of your head in an explosive but controlled movement. This movement should mimic a chopping motion, hence the name.
  4. Complete 12 reps on each side for 1 to 3 sets total.

6. Good morning

Another lower back-targeting exercise, good mornings get their name because the movement mirrors bowing as a way to say hello. This exercise is more advanced, so start without weight to ensure you have the right form before loading on a barbell.

Directions:

  1. If using weight, safely mount a barbell on your shoulders behind your head. Position feet shoulder-width
    apart.
  2. Hinging at hips, soften knees and lower torso toward ground, stopping when it’s parallel. Your
    back should remain straight throughout this movement.
  3. Once you reach parallel, push through your feet and return to start. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

7. Quadruped dumbbell row

This exercise takes you back to the basics of the row, fixing many form issues, such as over-rowing at the top of the movement, overstretching the arm at the bottom of the movement, and compensating with your lower back. Do this exercise before completing any other rowing movements.

Directions:

  1. Start on hands and knees with a dumbbell positioned in each hand. Ensure your back is straight, hands are directly below shoulders, and knees are directly below hips.
  2. Row up with right arm, bending elbow and bringing dumbbell to armpit. Keep elbow tucked throughout the movement. You’ll notice here that if you row too far, you’ll lose your balance.
  3. Now slowly returning dumbbell to start position, and repeat on the left side.
  4. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps on each side.

8. Wide dumbbell row

Mimicking a barbell row, a wide dumbbell row allows you an increased range of motion and can help you address muscular imbalances. Choose light- to moderate-weight dumbbells to start — 10 pounds should work — and work your way up from there. If you have lower back issues, use caution with this exercise.

Directions:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing thighs, and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend knees slightly, keeping core engaged and neck neutral, and hinge at the waist until torso forms a 45-degree angle with ground. Allow dumbbells to hang down in front of you.
  2. Begin to row with elbows at a 90-degree angle, pulling them up toward ceiling. Squeeze shoulder blades together at the top.
  3. Return to start and repeat, completing 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

9. Barbell deadlift

Working the lower back, erector spinae muscles, hamstrings and glutes, a barbell deadlift requires back strength to effectively complete.

Directions:

  1. Stand behind barbell with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping chest lifted, begin to hinge at hips and slowly bend knees, reaching down to pick up barbell. Keep back straight and grasp bar with both palms facing you.
  3. Keeping feet flat on the floor push back up to a standing position. Your back should remain straight throughout the movement and your shoulders should be down and back.
  4. Return to the starting position, pushing your hips back and bending your knees until you bring the barbell back toward ground.
  5. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

10. Superman

Hitting your core, especially your lower back, Supermans are deceivingly hard, even though you’re technically lying on the ground.

Directions:

  1. Lie on your stomach with arms extended overhead.
  2. Engage your core and glutes, and lift your upper and lower body off ground as high as they’ll go without straining. Pause for 1 second at the top. Return to start position in a controlled motion.
  3. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

11. Single-arm dumbbell row

Stabilizing yourself on a bench to perform a single-arm row allows you to target those back muscles. Challenge yourself by adding some weight here — while remaining aware of your form, of course.

Directions:

  1. Position yourself on a bench so your left knee and shin are resting on it, as well as your left hand — this
    will be your support. Your right leg should be straight with your foot on the ground. Pick up the dumbbell with your right hand. Maintain a straight torso.
  2. Row dumbbell up, pulling elbow toward the sky while keeping it close to your body. Squeeze upper
    back as you bend elbow.
  3. Slowly lower back down to the start position. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps on each side.

12. Renegade dumbbell row

This move will challenge you by requiring you to hold a plank while you row, thus adding an extra core workout to your back moves.

Directions:

  1. Assume a high plank position with each of your hands on a dumbbell. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes, and your core should be engaged throughout the movement.
  2. Row with your right arm, pulling elbow toward sky while keeping it close to your body, then returning
    the dumbbell to the ground. Keep hips square to ground.
  3. Repeat with left arm. Alternate, completing 20 total reps for 1 to 3 sets.

13. Reverse fly

Targeting the rhomboids and traps as well as the shoulders, the reverse fly move strengthens those postural muscles that are oh-so-important to everyday health. Choose light- to moderate-weight dumbbells to start — 5 pounds should work — and work your way up from there. If you have a bad lower back, use caution with this exercise.

Directions:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, hinge forward at waist until torso forms a 45-degree angle with ground, allowing the dumbbells to hang in front of you, palms facing each other. Have a slight bend in your elbows.
  2. Engaging your core, lift arms up and out, squeezing shoulder blades at the top.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 12 reps.

14. Pull-up

A classic back exercise, the unassisted pull-up requires a lot of strength. Bring in reinforcements if you’re not there yet by using a pull-up band to work on the exercise.

Directions:

  1. Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, placing hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift feet off ground — or place them in the assist band — and hang from your arms, then pull your body up to the bar by bending arms and pulling your toward ground.
  3. Once your chin crosses over the bar, lower body back down.
  4. Complete 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.

15. Plank

Commonly thought of as a core movement, planks are really a full-body exercise. They recruit those deep back muscles — the erector spinae — to allow you to hold the position effectively.

Directions:

  1. Get into a plank position with your elbows and forearms on the ground and legs extended, supporting your weight on your toes and forearms.
  2. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe. Engage your core to ensure your hips don’t dip.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds and work your way up to to a minute, or even longer!

Strengthening your back has many benefits, the most important benefit being that it can help protect you from many forms of back pain. These exercises will provide everything you’ll need to function better and feel stronger.

Remember, as you progress in these exercises, continue to challenge yourself by adding weight or resistance, but do so cautiously and stop if you ever experience any pain during a movement. If you have a history of back problems, consult your doctor or a physical therapist before proceeding.


Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.