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The barbell is perhaps the most useful workout tool to have when you’re trying to build a nice, broad back. It allows you to add a lot of weight to the movements while also targeting multiple muscles of your body.
Compound back movements are the best way to add a lot of mass to your back quickly, and that’s exactly where the barbell comes useful.
However, it also allows you to perform a variety of isolation movements. Whether you’re looking to build your lower back, upper back, or a specific muscle of your back, the barbell provides.
But what are the best back exercises with the barbell? That’s what we’ll be answering in this article. We’ve included only THE BEST exercises you can do – both compound movements and isolation exercises.
The deadlift is perhaps the number one exercise when it comes to building your posterior chain muscles as well as parts of your upper back. Here are all the muscles deadlifts will target:
- Glutes (gluteus maximus)
- Erector spinae (the middle portion of your back)
The deadlift is the king of all compound movements. Its primary focus is on your lower back and your glutes and hamstrings. But the next day after performing your deadlifts, you’ll also feel some strain in your upper back – especially the traps and the erector spinae muscle.
The biggest challenge of deadlifts is how you perform them, though. You need to be 100% sure your form is completely right before you start adding a lot of weight to the barbell. If you don’t perform it correctly, it can quickly lead to nasty injuries, and you don’t want that.
For this reason, we’ve prepared a little checklist for you for doing deadlifts so you can avoid those injuries in the long-term. Check yourself when you’re doing the deadlift with this checklist:
- Make sure you have a straight back throughout the entire movement. This is the number one thing to check for with deadlifts, and it’s a very common mistake.
- The second common mistake is “squatting” the deadlift. What does this mean? It means you’re putting your hips too low during the movement, which causes the legs to work overtime. Instead, make sure your hips are above the 90-degree level before you start the movement.
- Overextending at the top of the movement is also common. This means you bend backwards too much at the top which results in potential lower back problems and impingement. Avoid this at all costs.
- No muscle pre-activation before you lift the bar from the floor can also result in injuries and lower strength.
Check out this video to see how you can perform deadlifts correctly.
Bent Over Rows
The bent-over row is one of the traditional “big” muscle builders for your back. It also employs your glutes and legs to an extent as you need to stabilize your body during the movement.
It’s all about the upper back with the bent-over rows, though. It is also a compound movement, meaning it targets a variety of upper back muscles. Here are the muscles this movement works:
- Middle and lower traps
- Teres minor, Teres major (rotator cuff muscles)
- Latissimus dorsi (lats)
Again, this impressive list of muscles targeted by rows shows that it’s a must-do exercise for everyone willing to increase the muscles of their back – especially the upper back.
Technically, this exercise is not as complicated as the deadlift, and it doesn’t require that much of a learning curve. However, you still need to be mindful about your posture during the movement in order to perform it correctly.
It all starts with having the correct posture. You need to keep your back straight without bending – this can result in injuries. Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean X explains the bent-over row very nicely in this video.
The good mornings are sometimes underrated because they are technically somewhat complicated and they also require you to put the barbell on your back, which can be somewhat awkward and uncomfortable.
But they should not be ignored because they work a wide variety of muscles of your back and legs, including:
- Erector spinae
- Adductor muscles
Good mornings are great for your lower back and your legs. While they do sound like a yoga exercise that will help you wake up, they are anything but easy (if done correctly).
Many people prefer to do them with the Smith machine because it’s easier to put the barbell on your back and it’s also safer. But you can also do it independently, without the Smith machine if you want to.
Again, the important thing with this exercise is to keep your back as straight as possible. The movement of your hips is also crucial during this movement. You should try to use them as much as possible. After a few reps, you might notice some soreness in your abs, too, meaning it’s a very effective exercise for abs as well.
If you’re looking to isolate your traps, then there’s probably no better exercise than barbell shrugs. This exercise is also effective for strengthening your grip.
There are two main areas barbell shrugs are effective for:
- Upper traps
- Middle traps
In addition, the movement strengthens your forearms.
At first glance, this movement seems very simple – it’s only shrugs, right? But after a few reps with a high weight intensity, you’ll quickly start to see why this exercise is so effective. Your upper traps will start to burn pretty soon – and rightly so, because that’s the way muscles are built.
So far, this is the first real isolation movement for the back with the barbell, and it’s a rare isolation movement, too. Most of the movements with the barbell are compound movements.
Add this exercise to your back workout – either at the end of the workout or when you’re resting. We guarantee you, you won’t regret it!
While we do not normally associate squats with the back, it’s actually a movement that can really benefit parts of your back, too. Of course, the main focus of the exercise is on your legs.
And a strong core and powerful legs will help back strength too.
Quads will suffer the most with squats, but other parts of your legs will also take a hit. To an extent, other parts of your body will also get targeted, including your abs and parts of your back:
- Lower back
Squats are perhaps the most important exercise for your legs. The main advantage is that you can load it up quite a lot, but you can also see benefits in multiple areas of your body with this movement.
Again, it’s all about having the proper form to do the squats. You need to find the right balance for the movement before you start loading it too much. You need to keep your back straight but also make sure you don’t go too deep in the movement.
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Stiff-legged deadlifts are fairly similar to conventional deadlifts. The main difference is that you keep your legs straight during the movement, which puts a bit more focus on the hamstrings instead of your glutes.
This exercise is a popular one for building your legs, but also your lower back. It can be done with or without a barbell, although it’s far more effective with it.
Again, it’s a compound movement targeting a wide variety of muscles in your body:
- Lower back
- Erector spinae
In addition, you’ll notice a minor activation of your abs as well as your calves. One of the advantages of this exercise is you can load it up with weights and make it even more challenging pretty fast.
However, it might take some time to get used to the proper form with this movement. You should avoid rounding your back at all costs. The movement mistake checklist is pretty similar to that of the traditional deadlifts. You should add another point to it, and that is to keep your legs straight during the movement.
This is how it should be done.
The barbell is one of the most important tools when you’re trying to build your back. It allows you to do movements such as the deadlift, which will focus your lower back, and bent-over rows, which are very effective for your upper back.
In any case, you should always make sure you perform the exercises correctly. The first step to having a built back is staying injury-free, which all comes down to having the proper posture during the movements.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what the best back exercises with a barbell are and how you can perform them correctly.