best upper back exercises

The Six Best Upper Back Exercises

An imposing physique requires a powerful upper back. To build a strong upper back, you need more than just a lat pulldown. This article covers the best upper back exercises to help you take your silhouette to the next level.

1. Narrow Parallel Grip Chin-Up

Chin-ups are the king of upper back training. The semi-supinated grip used in this exercises enables you to lift the heaviest loads for chin-up variations. It also strongly recruits the inferior muscle fibers of the lats. These fibers have been shown to have a higher fast-twitch make-up than the superior fibers and, therefore, should be trained with lower reps.

A V-handle chin-up station, which has the handles set about 6-8 inches apart, works just best for this upper back exercise. Focus on bringing your lower sternum to the handles as you pull yourself up. In other words, lean back as you near the bar.

2. Subscapularis Pull-Up

The subscapularis pull-up is one of the best upper back building exercises. It's also great for building structural balance in the upper body. In this pull-up variation assume the starting position of the wide-grip pull-up and pull yourself up until your upper pecs touch the chin-up bar. Once you reach the top, push yourself away from the bar and lower yourself under control. The subscapularis muscles are strongly activated as you attempt to control the descent.

3. Seated Rope Cable Rows To Neck

The vast majority of trainees devote far more time to chest work than they do back work. As a result they often develop a round-shouldered posture. The seated row with a cable helps offset this.

Position the adjustable pulley so that it's directly in front of your pecs. Using a rope, rather than a straight bar to reduce the stress on your forearms and wrists.

Grab the ends of the rope with a pronated grip. Protract your shoulders and extend your forearms. Begin the movement by retracting your shoulder blades, and then immediately bend the elbows to continue the movement until the forearms make contact with the upper arms. If the development of your rhomboids is lacking, pause for a moment when the shoulder blades are retracted.

4. Negative-Accentuated Seated Cable Row

This variation of the row, introduced by Jerry Telle, enables you to overload the eccentric portion of the seated cable row. Start the exercise like a regular row, and then quickly pull yourself back, beyond the point where your upper back is perpendicular the floor. Keep the handles close to your chest, return to perpendicular, and then slowly (a 4-6 second count) allow your arms to straighten. You’ll find this technique enables you to handle much more weight than you could lift otherwise.

5. One-Armed Arc Dumbbell Row

This exercise differs from your standard one-armed dumbbell rows by the trajectory of the weight. In this modified version, instead of bringing the dumbbell to the chest, bring the dumbbell to the hip -- the elbow should come up as high "over" the hip as possible. In arc dumbbell rowing, because of the rearward trajectory used, the lats perform more of a shoulder extension movement. Of course, the weight will have to be drastically reduced, sometimes by two-thirds.

6. Sternum Chin-Up

The sternum chin-up, which was popularized by bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda, is one of the best exercises for the upper back. It involves leaning back throughout the entire movement. At the top of the movement, the lower portion of your chest should touch the bar. You can use either a supinated or pronated grip, and the grip can vary from narrow to the much more difficult shoulder-width grip.

As you pull yourself to the bar, lean your head back as far away from the bar as possible and arch your spine. At the upper end of the movement, your hips and legs will be at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. You should keep pulling until your collarbone passes the bar and your sternum touches it. By the time you've completed the concentric portion of the movement, your head will be parallel to the floor.

If you're particularly strong and you still find it easy, you may want to slow down your concentric tempo.

Final Words

Making these six exercises a regular part of your training will ensure that you develop the upper back muscles in the shortest amount of time.


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