If you spend a lot of time doing pushing exercises that help to develop your chest and shoulders, but fail to do a lot of pulling exercises to develop your back, you can easily end up with rounded shoulders and poor posture, as well as muscle imbalances.
Plus of course you will never have a great-looking upper body from a purely aesthetic point of view if you have a strong chest and massive arms, with little or no back muscles.
So in this article I thought I would share with you a workout video from Rob Riches that features five exercises that will help to strengthen and develop your upper back:
This workout can be performed in any gym, and should deliver results over time if you try to do it at least once a week. Here is a guide to each of the exercises that are included in this workout:
Rob actually refers to the first exercise as a chin-up, but most people refer to this exercise as a pull-up because the palms of the hands are facing forwards instead of backwards when gripping the bar.
Regardless of the name, the goal here is to lift your body upwards with each rep to fully engage the back muscles, and the lats in particular, and fully stretch your arms at the bottom. The shoulders should be pulled back with the elbows in line and the chest high.
If you find this to be too easy, you can use a weighted belt to increase the resistance, but most people will find that simply lifting their own bodyweight is challenging enough to begin with.
You should aim to do 2 or 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Single Arm Cable Rows
The next move is the single arm cable row, which is best performed at a 45-degree angle with a slightly open body.
All you are doing here is pulling the cable back with one arm to engage your upper back muscles, using as much weighted resistance as you can manage. The key here is to ensure that you extend your arm back to at least your hip, and keep your arm close to your body as you do so.
You should aim to do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Incline Bench Barbell Rows
The third exercise is the incline bench barbell row, which Rob admits is a little unconventional, but it will really engage your upper back.
Leaning forwards on an incline bench with your upper chest just off the bench so that your back is slightly arched, you simply need to lift a weight off the ground, pulling your elbows back and squeezing your back as you do so.
You can use a pair of dumbbells or a barbell to perform this exercise, and you should aim to do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Close Grip Lat Pulldowns
The next exercise is the classic lat pulldown, which is commonly included in many back workouts, but for this workout Rob advocates using the close-grip two-handle attachment because it requires a little more stabilisation and enables you to pull the handles apart as you pull it close to your body.
It also engages different muscle groups than the pull-up, and really works the central back muscles in particular.
To perform this exercise, you simply need to sit down, leaning back a little more than you would for a wide-grip pulldown, and pull the attachment to your chest, bringing your arms down the side of your body with your elbows tucked in.
You should aim to do 3 sets of 10-12 reps, and for greater muscle activation, you might like to consider sitting side on and doing single arm pulldowns.
The inverted row completes this upper back workout, and although it is not necessarily one of those exercises that you will see many people performing in the gym, it is very effective.
With this one, you just need to find a Smith machine, hold on to the bar with an overhand grip and place your heels on a bench so that you are roughly parallel to the floor, and preferably at a slight decline. Then you simply need to focus on lifting your chest up towards the bar, aiming to use your back muscles more than your arm muscles whilst doing so.
You should aim to do 3 sets of 12-15 reps, but as this is the final exercise, you can do as many as you can until your muscles are completely fatigued. You can also place a little bit of extra weight on your stomach for extra resistance.