Back Exercises
  • Upper Back Exercises (Forms, Variations, Tips)

    01 Jun 2021

    Remember: all information, content, and material of this website is just for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or your healthcare provider/personal fitness trainer.



    Editor-in-Chief of the Approved By Coach

    Generally, people started to be more concerned about their overall health during COVID 19 pandemic. Some of the apartments are reorganized and even transformed into little home gyms. Those who take their health seriously, make space so at least one part of the room can be used as an exercise spot or corner.

    For example, we started to worry about all the extra pounds gained during the lockdown. Yeah, at first glance it might not seem much, but if you keep gaining weight without losing it will all eventually lead to obesity. And that is a serious health problem, especially nowadays. That’s because obesity is directly linked to not only the risk of heart disease but also diabetes type 2. And diabetes can make the COVID-19 symptoms a lot severe, as it weakens the immune system. It’s like a domino effect, everything is connected. And yeah, while it might sound like a hypochondriac speech, there’s no harm in being concerned for your health, and strive to improve it however we can.

    So if you haven’t been active so far, now is the right moment to move from the couch and drop that bag of chips. It wasn’t easy for us when we were starting, either, so we know how you must feel! But if we could do it, so can you! Okay, we already worked out a bit before. But the difference is that in the past, we didn’t do upper back muscles exercises. We learned about the significance of this type of workout only several months ago. And, we have to tell you plenty of things became much clearer after that. Like, we understood why we encounter difficulties with some training and other daily tasks even if we are going to the gym relatively regularly. Thus, we’ve decided to share all our findings and bring you this little upper back exercise guide!

    Why is it Important to Work Upper Back?

    Why is it Important to Work Upper Back

    Upper back exercises are vital for all who spend their working hours in a sitting position. For example neck and upper back pain are pretty common for those who work online. Pain in the back also starts to appear more often among the younger population, because they often overuse smartphones and tablets. And seeing how back pain is not only uncomfortable but could also lead to some serious issues, it’s essential to start working on this problem ASAP.

    It’s never too early to start exercising. On the contrary, we insist that you start the training with all members of the family. That way, kids can have routine and healthy habits from an early age, which will help them later in life.

    There are plenty of benefits of the upper back workouts. However, there’s one thing we must make clear first: always do warm-ups! These are always a must before any exercise, as they help prevent injuries and muscle soreness. All good? Okay, now we can move forward.

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    You can practice upper back exercises to strengthen your upper back and improve posture, tone your back muscles and decrease pain in the neck, shoulder, and back area. It should be enough for the beginning. However, indirect benefits are also exciting, and you shouldn’t underestimate them. Let’s see what can happen if you practice upper back exercises in the long term:

    Indirect benefits from upper beck workout can improve stability, prevent spine deformation and increase core strength. Medically, it is proven that exercises also improve mental health and reduce stress. That’s because while you train, your body releases the hormone endorphin that increases the feeling of happiness. Some even compare claim that endorphin is better than morphine, which works as pain relief. Now that’s some fantastic motivation, isn’t it?

    Apart from all of that, did you know that upper back exercises can help that pain from the upper back, neck, and shoulders disappear? It’s possible, and even medical experts suggest physical exercise for reducing the pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. You need to put in extra effort, patience, and persistence, but results will come eventually.

    We’d say all this is a pretty good reason to add some upper back workouts to your life, don’t you think? Then let’s take a look at some of the most amazing and effective upper back weight exercises, so you can see the maximum result in a short period.

    Best Upper Back Exercises

    Now, the best upper back exercises are the ones that activate different groups of muscles and strengthen back, neck, and shoulders muscles. There are many of them there, sure, but we wanted to give you the upper back and shoulder workout that you can easily practice at home with some extra help from dumbbells or gym machines.

    These best upper back exercises are:

    Crank The Mower

    Crank the Mower is the official name of this upper back muscles exercise, but some also call it One Arm Row. The great thing is that you need only one dumbbell. For upper back weight exercises, you can additionally use knee wraps for more stability, but only if you are not good at balancing.


    We motivate you to create routine rituals, especially for your exercise time. Preparation for some people seems like a useless thing. However, it can help you to create good feelings about doing exercise.

    Light Meal

    First, you have to eat before exercising. That will give you a good energy boost, help burn more carbs (allowing you to lose weight), and will make your workout so much more effective. And while you can exercise on an empty stomach, we’d still say it’s more effective to grab some light meal at least 40 min before workout. And by “ light meal”, we mean oats, bananas, protein shakes, and smoothies. Plus, you can eat some proteins, as it will be very beneficial if you want to grow muscles. But again, don’t overdo it!

    Create Positive Atmosphere

    Make the most fun from your exercise time. During the exercise sessions, you should feel as good as it is possible while you’re sweating. Plus, you can and probably should play some music, to skyrocket your results. Adding some scented sticks into the room, to help relax. And if possible, do the exercises at the same part of the day. It will also help you to incorporate exercise into your everyday routine.

    Practical Necessities

    Prepare everything you need during the training in advance so you don’t interrupt your sessions.

    We would strongly suggest having water with some mint or electrolyte drink, a little towel, dumbbells, and exercise floor mats. It should be the basic staff, and additionally, you can include more gadgets like a smartwatch and knee sleeves, pull-up resistance bands, or wrist wraps.

    Warm-up and Stretches

    We will be persistent in repeating that warm-up exercise is of great importance for any training. It may seem a little bit boring, but we feel responsible to point out that warm-up is an absolute must.

    You can find videos with 5 minutes of warm-up exercises and stretches, so you can’t complain it’s a burden. When aware that warm-up and upper back stretches can prevent sciatica, you have to take them seriously.

    Some of the stretches are even adjusted for the office environment so you can do it in a sitting position on the office chair, for example. When you get into it, you will like it and even do some of it during short breaks at work.

    How to Do It?

    Now, let’s move to the actual upper back exercises. The first exercise we choose is basic and created for beginners. But it’s useful for any level of training and also has a variation for advanced levels.

    We suggest that beginners start with a less weight dumbbell at first. If you start with a weight that puts too much pressure on your muscles, then you can be at risk of ripping the muscle tissue. So take it easy and gradually increase the load.

    With less weight, after some period, you may feel when the exercise becomes too easy. That should be the indication to continue with a more powerful dumbbell.

    • Step 1
      Crank The Mower exercise step 1
      Make a step and put the leading leg in front. Put the hand next to the leading leg to the thigh. It will give you additional support and more stability. Take the dumbbell with a hand next to the leg in the back and slightly bent forward.
    • Step 2
      Crank The Mower exercise step 2
      Start to roll and pull back on the elbow. Do as many repetitions as you can, and as a beginner, you don’t even have to count. Do it at a pace that you feel comfortable. Change your hand when you get tired.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    Do’s Don’ts
    • Pull back on the elbow
    • Keep your shoulders square
    • Keeps abs tight
    • Pulls backs on the hand
    • Shoulders bent forward
    • Let abs loosened

    Crank the Mower Variations

    We will show you two variations of this exercise for those of you that require more intense options. An additional warning is to pay attention to breathing. When you do the step that requires more effort, you should exhale.

    • Variation 1
      Legs should be shoulders width apart. Put the freehand (one without a dumbbell) on the back and start to roll. In this position, you will feel a little bit more tension in your muscles. Plus, it will give you better results.
    • Variation 2
      You can also do this Crank the Mower with two dumbbells. It requires more stability, and we suggest doing it after you become an expert on previous variations. For this variation, we also highly recommend wrist wraps.

    Dumbbell Bent Over Row

    For the second exercise, we choose Dumbbell Bent Over Row. This exercise, if done properly, will strengthen different groups of muscles, and that’s why we like it so much. To be more precise, it will work trapezius, rhomboids, and lats along with biceps. Plus, this upper back exercise gives fantastic results: improves body posture, strengthens the core, as well as the upper and middle back.


    Warm-up is an ultimate must, don’t forget it. It can last only five minutes, but it will spare you from some accidents. As mentioned before, we suggest that you prepare a protein drink in advance. That will increase your workout endurance.

    How to Do It

    A little reminder: first, choose dumbbells with a weight that can challenge you. Also, make sure to breathe properly throughout an entire workout: exhale when you pull the dumbbells up and breathe in when you put them down. And don’t make a fuss about the number of repetitions. You will get better results if you do the exercise in three sets with as much repetition as you can. So feel free to make small breaks in between sets.

    • Step 1
      how to do Dumbbell Bent Over Row step 1
      You should be in a slightly bent position. Your upper body and legs should form a 45 degree angle.
    • Step 2
      how to do Dumbbell Bent Over Row step 2
      Pull back from the elbow while exhaling. Try to do it without swinging the upper body.
    • Step 3
      how to do Dumbbell Bent Over Row step 3
      Breathe in while you lower the dumbbells. You should stay in a bent position until you finish the reps. Do it in your rhythm. Remember it’s better to do it properly than to do it in plenty of repetitions.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    Do’s Don’ts
    • Pull from elbow
    • Control way of movements without swinging
    • The upper body and legs form 45 degrees angle
    • Pull from hand
    • The upper body is not bent enough to form 45 degrees angle
    • Making sudden movements with swinging

    Dumbbell Bent Over Row Variations

    • Variation 1
      The variation of this exercise can be regular pull-ups without dumbbells. Remember that, in this case, pull-ups are also done from the elbow.
    • Variation 2
      Another variation of this exercise is with pull-up resistance bands assistance. This variation is the most challenging version. We recommend that you do it after you master previous versions of this exercise.

    Barbell Sumo Lift

    This Barbell Sumo Lift is an advanced exercise for professionals, so we recommend it only for those of you who have experienced a minimum of five years of continuity training. So before deciding if this exercise is for you, it’s better to consult with a professional.


    Preparation for this exercise requires warm-up and also training that has a focus on strength or cardio. Also, feel free to ask a professional trainer to assist you while you practice. Moreover, Barbell Sumo Lift Neoprene knee sleeves may also give you additional support for stability while you practice these upper back lifts.

    Other than that, the benefits of exercise are numerous. For example, the Barbell Sumo Stiff Leg Deadlift will activate all upper back muscles: trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi.

    How to Do It

    If you can’t go to the gym, you can do those upper back exercises at home too, but of course, you will need a barbell. And don’t forget to use chalk or powder before any barbell exercise.

    • Step 1
      how to do Barbell Sumo Lift step 1
      Your legs should be in the width of your shoulders and slightly bent in the knees for better stability. Plus, your feet should be close to the barbell. Keep the upper body in a firm position.
    • Step 2
      how to do Barbell Sumo Lift step 2
      Move hips back so your body is in a 90 degree angle position. Grip the barbell from the floor. Make sure that your neck and head are following the straight position of your back.
    • Step 3
      how to do Barbell Sumo Lift step 3
      Lift the barbell from the floor up to the level of your waist until you stand up again. Be sure that your back is always in a straight position. Exhale while lifting the barbell.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    Do’s Don’ts
    • Knees slightly bent
    • The back is always in the straight position
    • The head in the line with beck
    • Firm knees
    • Make sudden movements with neck when lifting the bar

    Barbell Sumo Lift Variations

    Variation 1

    The alternation of this exercise is Barbell Hang Clean. As you could guess from the name, you should lift the bar until it is at the level of your shoulders.

    • Step 1
      how to do Barbell Hang Clean step 1
      Grasp the bar from the floor and stand up.
    • Step 2
      how to do Barbell Hang Clean step 2
      Bent the back, so your body forms a 45 degree angle. The bar should be a little bit under your knees.
    • Step 3
      how to do Barbell Hang Clean step 3
      Push the bar in the direction of the neck and catch it. At the pick, the barbell should be at the level of your shoulders. If you do the exercise in sets, make sure that you make at least 15 seconds pause in between.
    Variation 2

    You can find plenty of different versions of Barbell Hang Clean, and we single out one with deep squatting. This alternative was quite exciting because of the high adrenaline it causes. You go from deep squatting to a stand-up position, and it’s a powerful movement.

    Now let’s take a look at how to do these upper back muscles exercises step by step.

    • Step 1
      The bar is already set to the waist level, and the exercise starts from this fixed position.
    • Step 2
      Grasping the bar from a slightly bent upper body. The knees are slightly bent too.
    • Step 3
      Lift the bar to shoulders level.
    • Step 4
      Go into a deep squat position quickly.
    • Step 5
      Stand up from a deep squat position.

    Additionally, we must highlight that it is an extra demanding exercise created for professional powerlifters. If you ask professionals, it’s the best exercise for upper back for sure. It’s perfect for setting goals, and it gives inspiration for the future.

    Tips to Avoid Mistakes while Doing Upper Back Exercises

    Tips to Avoid Mistakes while Doing Upper Back Exercises

    You can benefit a lot if you do exercises for the upper back, but those kinds of workouts can be risky, too.

    You must keep in mind that the risk of back injuries, while you’re doing those exercises, is too high, hence why safety is so important. Before doing any upper back exercises, you should read different texts and watch videos until you are sure that you understood everything. If you are not sure to do it, we highly recommend you search for professional trainer assistance.

    Additionally, we will provide tips regarding the exercises to strengthen the upper back and improve posture collected from professional trainers which can be practical for the regular training sessions. Again, we want to emphasize that if you notice any pain in the muscles, you should contact the doctors, as soon as possible. Don’t force yourself with a heavy load. Extend the time of the training and load gradually, and the result will come eventually.

    Do your Health Check-up Before Starting Any Training

    Before starting with any physical exercises, every professional trainer will give you just one piece of advice- do your health checkup first.

    What does it mean? You have to do blood analysis, do glands, heart, and back examination. That’s because if you have some thyroid problem, high blood pressure, or nerve inflammation, doing physical exercises could be harmful to you, hence it’s best to consult with a doctor first.

    For example, even if you are in the early stages of spinal disc hernia, doctors will forbid you to move anything heavier than a teaspoon. With any underlying health issues, work out can only worsen your condition. Ok, we won’t scare you anymore, just remember to do your regular medical checkup.

    Strengthen Your Core

    You probably already heard that a strong core gives the necessary support to your back. Term core is usually used for abdominal muscles, but actually, it is much more. A core consists of different muscle groups such as rectus abdominis, transverse abdominals, multifidus, obliques, and erector spinae muscles.

    To strengthen the core, you can do specific exercises according to your sex. With core exercise you will improve your stability, and this is an excellent base for more stability.

    Choose Your Exercise Level Carefully

    We mentioned above that you have to adjust the exercise level to your current condition. Start with the lowest weight and then gradually increase it. If you are not sure which load is adequate for your current strength level, ask for professional estimation.

    Numerous risks can appear if you overestimate your current strength. We will count just some so you can get the right impression: muscle breakdown (Rhabdomyolysis) that can lead to kidney damage, joint damage, and heart artery damage that can even cause death.

    Just one wrong self-assessment can cause so many problems. Don’t hesitate and contact the professionals to estimate your strength level. They can always make a good exercise plan for you. It can be just for a short time, and after, you can adjust it for yourself.

    Carefully Read the Step by Step Explanation for Exercise

    It’s not a joke, you have to take time and study different guidelines on how to properly do the exercise. You should, especially, pay attention to do’s and don’ts. Make notes if necessary. After some time, it will stick to your mind naturally.

    Don’t Skip Warm-Up Exercises

    Again: do the warm-up exercises first! These 5 minutes sessions can prevent small injuries such as tearing, twisting, or ripping the muscles. It is also beneficial for joints and prevents joint injuries.

    What warm-up exercise does to your body? It loosens the joints and increases blood flow. It’s similar to putting the oil into your car. Everything works more smoothly once you do it. Amazing what only 5 minutes can do for you.


    And that’s all in for the upper back workouts! In our opinion, the best exercise for the upper back is Crank the Mower. However, we also really love Dumbbell Bent Over Row and Barbell Sumo Lift. These are pretty exciting and energizing. But we’re curious what you think.

    With all of these facts, explanations, and professional advice, you are now more than prepared to start safely practicing upper back exercises. We do our best to motivate you, and now it’s your turn. Are you already doing some workouts for your upper backs? Do you know some that we didn’t mention?

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