If you have been looking for the best back exercises for size and definition, you have come to the right place. We are going to go over what I think are the 8 best, and why that is the case.
Before we get into the exercises, I wanted to give you a little bit of background on what it will take to get size and definition. I used to be a scrawny 135lbs at 6’1”. Desperately wanting to put on size, I was willing to try anything to build muscle.
It turns out, a combination of working out and eating right was the ticket to gaining over 20 pounds of muscle in a year.
If you are looking to build size and definition, I recommend focusing on size FIRST. Your body fat percentage is what is going to determine your definition. Your calorie intake is going to determine your size.
Learn how to calculate your maintenance calories. Once you learn that, you can now focus on putting on size. There are a lot of gurus out there that will tell you that you can lose body fat AND put on muscle. It is simply not the case, and it is misleading.
You cannot build muscle in a caloric deficit!
Speaking of building muscle, take this opportunity to download our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). Stop trying to guess what workout plan you need, and let us do it for you. If you are looking to build muscle fast, this app is a no brainer.
What back exercises should you be doing?
In many fitness circles, you will find that there is an obsession with rep count and weight lifted. Yes, lifting heavy weights is going to produce the best results. But, it’s not as important as you think.
The most important thing to focus on is making sure your last 2 reps in any set are extremely tough. If you are struggling to finish the reps, that means you have the right amount of weight in your hands. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 reps for 4 reps, this rule holds true.
With that being said, we must now focus on what we consider the best back exercises for size and definition.
Pullup (4-8 Reps)
Pullups have literally been around since the beginning of time. I imagine that neanderthals would do pullups on the edge of a cliff in order to prepare for catching their next meal.
The thing is, they are still one of the best back exercises of all time. All you have to do is find yourself a pullup bar. If you don’t have access to a gym or a local park, you can always buy a door frame pullup bar from Amazon.
The grip we want to use here is palms facing away, and arms straight up, then out an inch or 2 on each side. Not too wide, not to close. Just a nice neutral grip. From here, pull yourself up as strong as you can, and pinch your back muscles together at the top. Then come down controlled.
Even after working out for the past 15 years, I still cannot get more than 8 reps of pullups in. They are still intense after all these years!
Barbell Bent Over Row (3-5 Reps)
Besides pullups, this was the first serious back exercise that I was introduced to. It is quite certainly one of the best back exercises for size and definition. I can personally vouch for this one.
Did I mention that when I built over 20 pounds of muscle in one year, I only worked out 3 days per week? The barbell bent over row is the first exercise that I added in my back and biceps day. That whole entire 3 day workout plan can be found in our app. It is called 3 DAY OVERLOAD. Don’t let the fact that it is only 3 days per week fool you. It is serious!
If you could only do one back exercise for the rest of your life, I would definitely recommend this one.
Seated Cable Row (6-10 Reps)
This is one of the 2 exercises in this list that actually require you to be in a gym. The apparatus that is used here would be too big and expensive to have in your home gym. I know that some of you might prove me wrong now!
Anyways, I have seen this done with many different grip attachments. But the one that I always recommend is the parallel grips.
This is one of those exercises that is easy to cheat on, so I highly recommend taking care to use proper form.
Start with the parallel grips in both hands and your arms straight forward. Keep your back straight and lean back only about 10 degrees. When you pull back, keep your arms tucked in by your sides, and pinch your back together at the end.
The key here is to not lean back or use your body momentum to pull the cable back. If you find yourself doing this, drop down in weight and start over.
Trap Bar Deadlift (3-5 Reps)
I know what you are thinking. Why in the world would I put a leg exercise in a list of the best back exercises for size and definition?
Deadlifts are great for legs, but they are also great for building a solid back. In fact, deadlifts in general are one of the best full body exercises in existence.
Also known as the hex bar deadlift, this exercise really puts the pressure on your whole body to perform. Your back and legs being the stars of the show. Be sure to keep your back straight here. And be sure to engage your back muscles the whole time.
Incline Bench Dumbbell Row (8-12 Reps)
Grab yourself an adjustable weight bench and some dumbbells. Set the bench on an angle of either 30 or 45 degrees. Lay face down with your head above the back, and pull your weights up. Be sure to pinch your back muscles together at the top.
Don’t let the simplicity of this exercise fool you. You will be burning by the end of it if you are performing it correctly.
Lat Pulldown (8-12 Reps)
This is the second exercise in this list that requires the fancy apparatus that you see in a gym. It can be overwhelming at first to see all those cables and bars. Don’t let it scare you away from the lat pulldown.
You will see the lat pulldown section under a wide bar and a short bench that has pads for you to slide your knees under.
After selecting your weight, stick your knees under those pads, and use your feet to push your knees hard against them. One of the most important things to note here is to keep yourself as planted as possible. You don’t want to be using your body weight to swing down the weight.
The more controlled you are doing this exercise, the better results you will achieve.
Wide Grip Pullup (4-8 Reps)
We already saw the benefits of doing regular old pullups. But wide grip pullups take it to another level. In fact, I can only usually do about 5-6 of these per set depending on how I am feeling that day.
Instead of going straight up from your body, simply just make a Y shape on the pullup bar. This will be more difficult than regular pullups, but they are essential for back definition.
One thing that I will tell you is that you shouldn’t go too wide here. You don’t want your wrists straining too much. Just get into a nice comfortable Y shape.
Alternating Dumbbell Row (8-16 Reps)
Grab yourself a pair of dumbbells and find yourself a nice open area. Bend at the waist and make sure that your back is straight and parallel with the ground. Using one arm at a time, pull back and pause at the top, squeezing that back muscle firmly.
All you have to do is alternate that on each side. This is almost like a bicep curl but for your back. It’s a great exercise for definition and size. Be sure to add these to your repertoire and you won’t be disappointed.
Main Point: Best back exercises for size and definition
It’s fairly obvious by now that this list covers all the back exercises that you need for size and definition. Focusing on building muscle first, and then worrying about definition is the best strategy.
Don’t forget to learn how to calculate your maintenance calories, and eat enough food to build those muscles.
You will not get anywhere if you just workout and not eat enough calories. I know this from experience. I spent 7+ years working out with minimal results. It wasn’t until I learned about calorie intake that I actually built muscle.
Now I have the size and definition that I want, and I am happy where I am. Commit to working out regularly. Combine this with eating right and multiply that over a long period of time, and you will find what you are looking for.