The 5 Best Exercises for a Stronger Back

Shane Barnard, JD
by Shane Barnard, JD
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The 5 Best Exercises for a Stronger Back

When it comes to strengthening the core, a strong back is often overlooked. We shift our focus entirely to the front of our bodies or our abdominals and forget that developing midsection strength and postural support should also involve the upper and lower back. Further, much of our days are spent sitting, looking at a computer, phone or other device with our bodies flexed forward. Building and maintaining a strong back can combat muscular imbalances and help maintain proper posture.

I recommend these exercises be performed as part of your total body strength program, so combine these moves with abdominal exercises or upper body strength training. Space out these workouts so you’re not performing these same moves on back-to-back days. Start by trying to perform 8-10 repetitions of each exercise and work your way up to 12-15 repetitions.

Major muscles worked: Latissimus Dorsi, Trapezious, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Teres Major

Warm up with torso rotations, side reaches or lateral flexion of the spine and cat-cow movements on the floor.


Lying down in a prone position with your arms crossed and your head resting on your hands, start by gently lifting your shoulder off the floor, extending your spine. You can keep your head relaxed on the back side of your hands for support to maintain a neutral neck. Slowly release back towards the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed and pulled down away from your ears throughout the range of motion. For an added challenge, simultaneously squeeze your gluteals to gently lift your legs off the floor. Keep your legs long and your feet relaxed. (Do not bend your knees or pull your heels towards your glutes.)

Bird Dog

Start in a prone position with your hands placed below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Simultaneously extend your right arm forward and extend your left leg back, moving slowly and maintaining your balance. Squeeze your glutes to lift your leg and pull your belly button toward your spine to activate the transversus abdominals to maintain stability. Be careful not to arch your back. Feel your scapula pull down as you reach the arm forward.

Single Arm Row (Bent Over Row/Plank Row)

You can stand with legs staggered or in a wide, stable stance. Flex forward at you hips, maintaining a neutral spine as you allow one arm to extend toward the floor. Keeping your arm in a neutral grip with your hand facing the midline of your body, row or pull the weight up, with your arm skimming the side of your body. Pull through a full range of motion while keeping your torso stable.

Bent Over Row (progression): For more of a challenge, you can do a bent over row using 2 weights at the same time. Still flex forward at your hips and maintain a neutral spine, but your palms will face your body. Pull the weights up, flexing your elbows and squeezing between your scapula (shoulder blades). You will use slightly different muscles for a bent over row.

Plank Row (progression): For an additional challenge, you can come to the floor for a plank row. Start on your knees and pull the weight up with your arm flexing and skimming your torso. Alternate right and left arm pulls. You can come up to your toes in a plank-like position for an extra bonus. Remember to pull your belly button toward your spine to maintain stability through your abdominal wall, and squeeze your glutes for extra support and stability.

Reverse Fly

Start in a standing position and flex forward at your hips. Help stabilize your hip-spine angle by keeping your knees soft, belly button pulled toward the spine and your hips slightly pushed back. Let your arms extend towards the floor, keeping your palms facing each other and the midline of your body. While keeping your head and neck neutral and elbows soft, start to squeeze between your shoulder blades and feel your scapula slide together as you lift the weights laterally.

About the Author

Shane Barnard, JD
Shane Barnard, JD

Shane is NASM, ACE, AFAA and USATF certified and the creator and founder of the Urbankick format and instructor certifications, co-founder of Urbanplay, a non-profit health and fitness education program for youth, and a business partner at Studio360. With over 20 years of fitness experience, she is a nationally recognized presenter and currently teaches at Crunch, Fitness SF, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she is a health coach. Shane is a CEC provider for ACE and AFFA and an honored ambassador for lululemon. You can work out with Shane and Urbankick anytime, anywhere at