Here are two simple but effective back day workout routines for building muscle and strength. These routine are designed to help you develop a stronger, larger and more defined back. You can easily add this to your regular push pull legs (PPL) routine or bro split.
Looking to train back and biceps together? Check out our Back and Biceps Workout Routine.
Back day vs Upper body day vs Pull day
Split workout routines are the most popular way of training. A split routine allows you to achieve a high training frequency in your routine. This is because they work specific muscle groups on designated days, allowing you to alternate between different parts of your body without overtraining.
Following a split routine, you will dedicate one or more days in your routine to your back. You can either dedicate the whole day to back, or combine your workout with other muscle groups. Whether you train 3, 4, 5 or 6 days per week, you will need to decide which muscles to work on each day of your workout.
The Bro Split
The bro split is a 5 day workout routine that divides your training sessions to target a specific muscle group on each day. For example, Mondays might be chest day. Tuesdays, shoulder day, and so on.
A typical bro split might look something like this:
- Monday – Chest
- Tuesday – Shoulders
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – Back
- Friday – Arms
Bro splits are a simple and flexible workout routine, allowing you to safely combine different exercises without compromising recovery time. This makes them a popular choice for many strength training beginners.
It’s simple to add this back day routine to your bro split. This style of training also has the benefit that it allows you to easily tweak and modify the exercises you do, without risk of overtraining.
This way of training, however, has a major drawback. The fact you are hitting only one muscle group each day means you are minimizing your training frequency.
Upper body, lower body
Upper/lower workout splits sees you divide your body into two muscle groups: upper body and lower body. You then alternate between these on each day of your workout.
Upper body days are dedicated to chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, while lower body will be dedicated to your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
This solves some of the problems with the bro split, and allows you achieve a higher frequency. But, there’s no dedicated day for your back workout. And because your back is trained separate to your lower body, it can make it difficult (although not impossible) to include exercises like the deadlift into your program.
While upper/lower ensures overall upper body development, it might not offer the volume and intensity that a dedicated back day provides. This might result in less effective back development. There’s also a higher risk of overtraining if you do too much on upper body day, which could lead to injury.
Push pull legs
The push pull legs (PPL) routine splits your workout days into three types of workout, rather than two. These are:
- Push day – Chest, shoulders and triceps
- Pull day – Back, biceps and rear delts
- Leg day – Quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves
Pull day doesn’t strictly focus on your back since it also targets your biceps and rear delts. If you follow the traditional PPL, a back and biceps workout might be more suitable for pull day. Working back, biceps and rear delts together is beneficial if your goal is developing overall strength.
If you want to focus more on your back, you can temporarily replace the pull day with this back day workout. Or, you could further split out pull day into two days – one for a back workout, and another for your biceps.
Most people follow a PPL 3 days or 6 days per week, although it’s possible to do a 5 day PPL split by combining the second push and pull days.
Upper lower push pull legs (ULPPL)
If you train 5 days a week, you might find it difficult to use a PPL split, since they are normally trained 3 or 6 days per week. Instead, it may make sense to combine the upper lower split along with the push pull legs split. This is known as the ULPPL split.
The ULPPL (upper, lower, push, pull, legs) split divides your workouts into five types of exercise: upper body, lower body, push exercises, pull exercises and legs.
In this type of split, you work chest muscles both on upper body and push days, back muscles on lower body and legs day, etc. In other words, you hit each muscle group twice during the week, increasing the frequency and volume of your workout routine.
A typical ULPPL split will be structured like this:
- Day 1 – Upper body day: Chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps.
- Day 2 – Lower body day: Quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
- Day 3 – Rest day.
- Day 4 – Push day: Chest, shoulders and triceps.
- Day 5 – Pull day: Back, biceps and rear delts.
- Day 6 – Leg day: Quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
- Day 7 – Rest day.
If you are already following a ULPPL, you could consider replacing the upper body day or the pull day with this back day workout routine.
When we talk about back workouts, we are normally referring to training your upper back muscles. Your upper back consists of several key muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps) and rhomboids muscles. Together, these muscles help stabilize your body, and are key in any lifting or pulling motion. They also help you maintain good posture.
Latissimus dorsi (lats)
Your latissimus dorsi (lats) are large muscles that run along the sides of your middle-to-lower back. This is the largest muscle in your back and gives your back its distinctive V-shape.
Lats play a key role in pulling your arms down when extended above your head. Strong lats help with everyday activities and exercises like swimming and pull ups.
Being the largest muscle in your back, it’s important that your back day workout puts a lot of emphasis on your lats.
Your trapezius (traps) muscles are the large triangular-shaped muscles that extend all the way over the back of your neck and deltoids, extending right down to the upper middle part of the back. It is divided into three parts called the upper, middle and lower traps.
Your traps are responsible for moving your shoulders and assisting in the movement of your arms out to the side. Your middle and lower traps also help to retract and depress your shoulder blades.
Your rhomboids are muscles in your upper back that sit under your trapezius muscles. Your rhomboids are crucial for upper back stability and posture, and allow you to pull your shoulder blades together.
The rhomboids are made up of two muscles – the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor. Together, these muscles form the ‘rhomboid’ shape. The rhomboid major is the larger muscle, and sits below the rhomboid minor.
Rhomboids are much smaller than other muscles in your back. Your lats, for example, are the biggest muscles in your back and are much more powerful than your rhomboids. The lats help with pulling moves and everyday activities and exercises like swimming and pull ups. But while your rhomboids might be smaller, they play a critical role in stabilizing your shoulder blades.
Your erector spinae are a group of muscles and tendons that run along each side of your spine. This group of muscles is essential to maintaining good upright posture when standing, and also helps with the extension of the spine.
The Back Day Workout #1
This is our go-to back day workout routine. These exercises will fit well into many push pull legs routines. The idea is that you would train with this workout twice per week.
- Deadlifts – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Chin-ups – 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps
- Bent-over barbell rows – 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps
- Lat pulldowns – 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps
Deadlifts on back day or leg day
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that work your entire posterior chain – including your upper and lower back, as well as your leg muscles. You can argue either way whether you should deadlift on back day or leg day.
There’s a few arguments for including deadlifts on back day:
- Focuses on your back – Deadlifting on back day allows you to focus more on the muscles in your back. Being a compound exercise, deadlifts on your back day can provide a more well-rounded workout for your back.
- More time for recovery – Deadlifts are an intense exercise, and taxing on your CNS. So doing deadlifts on back day rather than leg day may allow more recovery time for your legs. This is particularly true if you are performing heavy squats on leg day.
Ultimately, whether you deadlift on back day or leg day depends on your fitness goals and how your body responds to different exercises. It’s a good idea to experiment with both approaches and see which one works best for you.
The Back Day Workout #2
This variation has more intensity and volume, and may be more suitable for a bro split where you train your back once per week.
- Bent-over barbell rows – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Wide grip pull ups – 3-4 sets of 10 reps
- Close grip lat pulldown machine – 3-4 sets of 12 reps
- T-bar rows – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell rows – 3 sets of 10 reps per arm
- Hyperextensions – 3 sets of 15 reps
Back day exercises
Why: The deadlift works your entire posterior chain – including your back muscles, as well as your leg muscles. In the back day routine, deadlifts are an excellent compound exercise to start with. Whereas other exercises may isolate specific muscles, the deadlift engages several muscle groups at the same time.
Safety: When performing deadlifts, proper form and technique is crucial to avoid injury, so beginners should start with a lighter weight (or even just the barbell) and gradually add weight as they become more familiar with the movement.
How to do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing forwards. Position the barbell with your toes underneath the bar, with your shins almost touching the bar. With proper form, squat down towards the barbell. With your knees slightly bent, hinge at your hips and sit back. Bend forward at your wait, reach forward and grip the barbell. Lift by pushing upwards with your legs, keeping the bar close to your body and your chest up. Straighten up to complete the lift, lockout, then lower the bar back to the floor, pushing your hips back, bending your knees and keeping them inline with your feet.
Read more: How to Do a Deadlift
Bent-over barbell rows
Why: The bent-over row primarily targets your lats, rhomboids and traps, making it an excellent addition to your back day workout routine. This is another key compound exercise you should perform early in your workout. This exercise also demands core strength and stability, so it can help improve your posture and reduce the risk of back injury or pain.
How to do: Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a barbell at hip level with an overhand grip. Bending at your knees, hinge at your wait to push your hips back until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Pull the barbell towards your chest, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body. Squeeze at the top of the movement, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Bent Over Barbell Rows
Why: Chin-ups target the muscles in your upper body, primarily your lats, as well as your bicep and forearm muscles. In the back day routine, chin-ups play a key role in developing width and thickness in your back. Pulling up with your own bodyweight challenges your lats significantly. Big lats helps you build out the “V-shaped” back.
How to do: Grab a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing towards you. Start by handing from the bar, with your arms fully extended and feet elevated from the ground. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, keeping your elbows close to your body. Squeeze at the top, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Chin-ups
Wide grip pull-ups
Why: Pull-ups are a similar exercise that also challenge your lats. This variation also engages your rhomboids, traps and shoulders. The use of a wide grip puts more emphasis on your lats, promoting greater width in your back compared to rows or regular pull-ups.
How to do: Grab a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away from you. Start by handing from the bar, with your arms fully extended and feet elevated from the ground. Pull yourself up towards the bar, keeping your elbows close to your body. Squeeze at the top, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Pull-ups
Lat pulldowns (including close grip lat pulldowns)
Why: By now you’re probably noticing a pattern… lats, lats and lats. That’s because your lats are the largest muscle group in your back. The lat pulldown is an exercise that further isolates your lats, but it also works your middle back and shoulders to some extent. If you’re aiming for a “V-shaped” back, lat pulldowns are a must. Doing these regularly will help widen and thicken your lats, giving your back a more defined and muscular appearance.
How to do: Sit at a lat pulldown machine. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands at shoulder-width apart on the bar. Pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your back straight and your elbows close to your body throughout the movement. Squeeze at the end of the motion, then slowly return the bar back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Lat Pulldowns
Why: The T-bar row primarily works your lats, rhomboids and middle and lower traps, making it another key compound exercise for your back day. Because the T-bar row activates multiple muscle groups at the same time, it can improve your overall coordination. It can also improve your functional strength because it mimics real-world pulling and lifting movements.
How to do: Position yourself over the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the V-grip handle. Pull the weight towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. Squeeze at the top of the movement, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do T-bar Rows
Why: The dumbbell row works your lats, rhomboids and traps in your back. It also works your biceps and shoulders. Dumbbell rows are a staple in many back day routines because they effectively target the large muscle groups in your back. A benefit of single-arm dumbbell rows is, because they work one side of your body at a time, they can help address any muscular imbalances you have.
How to do: Stand to the side of a flat bench. Place one knee on the bench for support, holding a dumbbell in your other hand. Use an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body). Pull the dumbbell up to your chest. Squeeze at the top, then lower back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Single-arm Dumbbell Rows
Why: Hyperextensions are great for working the erector spinae in your lower back. They also engage your glutes and hamstrings, so this exercise is less “upper body” compared with the others in the back day routine. Because they effectively isolate and strengthen your lower back, it’s worth including hyperextensions in your back day routine. This can help strengthen your lower back and core, improve your posture and improve your performance in other exercises.
How to do: Position yourself on a hyperextension bench with your thighs against the pad, and you feet under the support. Cross your arms over your chest and bend at your waist, lowering your upper body as far as possible. Keep your back straight throughout the movement. Then, using your lower back muscles, raise your body back to the starting position.
Read more: How to Do Hyperextensions
Always take a workout as a starting point, and adjust it to work best in your workout routine. If you are struggling with any of the exercises in this workout, there’s a few variations you might want to make:
- Assisted pull-ups – If you’re struggling with regular pull-ups, assisted pull-ups are a great way to work your back muscles as you build strength.
- Bent-over rows alternative – If you want to reduce lower back stress, seated cable rows make a good alternative to bent-over rows. This exercise targets the same muscles.
- Dumbbell deadlift – If your back day routine includes deadlifts, you can also switch to another variation of deadlift if it makes sense. If you find barbell deadlift too heavy, you might want to start with a dumbbell deadlift first.
Warming up before lifting weight is critical, since it prepares your muscles for strain and enhances blood flow to your muscles. Warming up reduces injury risk, and also improves the flexibility of your muscles and joints.
Avoid excessive fatigue
To avoid excessive central nervous system (CNS) fatigue, prioritize quality of your exercise and workouts rather than their frequency or volume. CNS fatigue can diminish your performance and slow the time it takes for your muscles to recover.
One way to prevent CNS is to start with priming exercises that warm up your muscles and prepares your body for the more vigorous workout.
Engage your core
Keep your core tight during the back exercises. This will help protect your spine and improve your overall form. This tip is particularly important for back exercises, since they often involve lifting heavy weight.