The Three Most Common Overlooked Back Exercises + A Short Primer on Back Training

The Back

The back, in my opinion, is the body part with the most varied training style between all trainees.

From amateur to pro.

Some swear by deadlifts as your must-have back exercise, others opt for the barbell row or weighted chin-up as their ride or die.

Nevertheless, we can all agree that it isn’t as simple and clear-cut as the chest, where a flat and incline movement is often the paired go-to.

It’s logical, after all, right?

Hit the chest from two different angles.

Maybe add or swap something out for a decline movement, or perhaps a fly-variation for some extra spice.

The back, on the other hand, can be downright perplexing if you think too much about it—beyond the standard cookie-cutter routines we often see in magazines or across the web.

I felt like it didn’t make sense as the other body parts did.

Do I just do the opposite of a push day?

Vertical Pull and Horizontal Pull?

But what would be the pull equivalent of the incline press?

Now, I must say, perhaps this is just me.

It’s entirely possible everyone else finds back training simple and I overthink things and make them needlessly complicated.

Yet, every week, without fail, when I’d glance at a back day routine template, the questions inevitably start.

Do I row to the chest, or is it to the stomach?

Or is it somewhere in between?

Why are some people doing pulldowns with the V-Bar handle?

Does that make a difference? I thought that was just for rowing?

And why is that guy pulling it behind his neck?

And on I’d go…

Deciding to do my Own Research

While I pondered these questions, I actually ended up with even more when I began to do my research.

Taking a look at different back protocols from the pros left me scratching my head.

Here’s a page from The Gold’s Gym Training Encyclopedia, illustrating this:

Like many newbies tend to do, I was often mixing and matching my exercise selection every week.

I understand that for your genetically typical, average weightlifter, the pros are not who you should be emulating, but I thought I’d at least be able to put things together.

The one thing I felt I knew for certain though, was that the deadlift belongs on back day.

Yet, when I’d see routines like the ones above, I was puzzled.

…where are the deadlifts??

Isn’t that what Mark Rippetoe and Starting Strength said to do?

So, to finally put my monkey-mind to rest, I decided to do some serious homework.

As I’ve alluded to, I’m a completionist, so I couldn’t let my questions go unanswered.

That, and training the back is my favorite body part par none.

I wasn’t going to leave myself hanging out to dry.

The primary resources I used to flesh out my understanding of back training are all cited below by the way, if you’d like to take a look at them yourself.

The Back’s Anatomy

The back is made up of a group of muscles and isn’t a single area like the chest is.

Rather, the back is made up of four different, distinct areas: the traps, the upper back, the lats, and the lower back.

Likewise, many bodybuilders actually don’t target all areas of the back on back day, and will instead hit the remaining body parts on other days.

A common example of this would be targeting the lower back on leg day, and the upper back on shoulder day, then leaving the lats and traps for ‘actual’ back day.

Below I’ve snapped an outline of the Back’s Anatomy from Frederic Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy to give us a better look.

Anatomy Diagrams

Here are a few more anatomy diagrams I scoured from the web.

You may find these additional illustrations helpful for visualizing the back’s musculature so you can see how everything fits together.

Two somewhat basic anatomy overviews:

-One & Two

A comprehensive, three-layered anatomy overview:

-(a) Superficial Muscles

--[A]ssociated with movements of the shoulder.

  • Muscles of the Shoulder - One & Two

-(b) Intermediate Muscles

--[A]ssociated with movements of the thoracic cage.

  • The Muscles of the Thoracic Cage - One & Two

-(c) Intrinsic Muscles - These are not only found at the third, deepest level—but also have muscles present at both the superficial and intermediate levels.

One (Superficial Level)

Two (Intermediate Level)

Three (Deep Level)

---[A]ssociated with movements of the vertebral column.

The Four Primary Sections of the Back

To follow this, we’re going to go through each section of the back.

Section (1) - The Traps

These can be further divided into three portions: the upper traps, mid-traps, and lower traps.

Section (2) - The Upper Back

This section is a group of muscles itself.

-The rhomboid major and minor

-The teres major and minor

-The infraspinatus and supraspinatus

-The rear deltoid

—Many seem to forget that the rear deltoid is a pulling muscle that is quite active in compound lifts.

—If you’re struggling to develop your rear delts, it may not be something to just slap onto the end of your shoulder day with some bent-over flys.

We’ll get specific in the next section.

Section (3) - The Lats

The hood of the cobra—or wings, as I like to call them.

…or, the scientific term, the latissimus dorsi for you terminology dorks like me.

Section (4) - The Lower back

This refers to the lumbar region of the spine and connected erector muscles.

How to Target Each Area

Now that we have an understanding of the back’s musculature, we’ll be able to assign specific exercises for each area.

Of course, there are many compound movements that hit multiple areas, which we will also go over below, but for this section, we’ll focus on movements that target each specific area.

The Traps

The lower and the center portions of the traps are hit considerably hard during many back movements—both from exercises that target the lats and upper back, so direct work isn’t necessary

We’ll discuss exercises that hit both of those areas of the traps at another time.

With respect to exercising the upper traps, there is a fairly sizeable menu of movements to pick from.

All of these exercises have variations—dumbbell, machine, etc.—yet for the purposes of this article, we’re going to go broad and list the general movements for now.


-Angled Shrugs—Incline, Decline, Bent-Over

-Low Pulley Upright Rows with Rope Attachment/Neutral Grip

-High Pulls

-Olympic Lifts - Clean, Clean and Jerk, Snatch

-Overhead Press

-Dead Lift & Variations

The Upper Back

Exercises for the upper back are somewhat akin to overhead pressing for the upper chest and shoulders.

In other words, if the overhead press is to the front deltoid, the wide grip row is to the rear deltoid.

Does that make sense?

-Bent-Over One-Arm Wide Dumbbell Row

-Chest-Supported Incline Bench Wide Dumbbell Row

-Hammer Strength Row

-Hammer Strength High Row

-Pendlay Row

-Wide Grip Seated Cable Row

-Bent-Over Barbell Row to Chest

-Bent-Over Dumbbell or Cable Flyes

-Standing Lat Pulldown

-Standing Wide Grip Attachment T-Bar Row

-Chest Supported T-Bar Row

-High Pulley Row

-Guillotine Row/Row to Neck—Old School Terminology

The Lats

The lats are the most interesting of the bunch primarily because you have to train them strategically in order to really make them grow.

Lat growth is often inhibited by arm fatigue.

In other words, when training the lats, carefully selecting exercises that allow for one to fully exhaust them before the arms or other connecting muscles give out is necessary.

Pullover movements, like the dumbbell pullover, stiff arm cable pulldown, and machine pullover are the most commonly assigned movements for combating this.

By the same token, deadlifts—which contract the lats isometrically—and cheat rows are commonly used at the end of the back workout for the same reasons.

Furthermore, because the lats are so large, multiple exercises are often used for targeting them to hit each area.

As an example, many trainees will use two different row variations for their horizontal pulls: one movement will focus on the lower lat area, such as a Yates Barbell Row, whereas the other will target the belly of the lat, like a Seated Neutral Grip Cable Row.

Finally, as I’m sure everyone knows, the lats require pulling for both the vertical and horizontal plane for optimal growth.

The lats are fan-shaped muscles that contract along multiple planes, thus they require pulling movements from multiple directions in order to fully stimulate all their muscle fibers.

By contrast, the upper back muscle group contracts along a single line, which is why only one movement is required to stimulate every muscle fiber.

-Lat Pre or Post-Exhaust

—Machine Pullover

—Dumbbell Pullover

—Stiff Arm Pulldown / Cable Pullover

—Scapular Roll/Pull Up

—Deadlift & Variations

—Lat Deadlift with Low Pulley

—Rack Pull

—Bent-Over Barbell Cheat Row

—Standing T-Bar Cheat Row

—Kroc Row

—Pulldown or Pullup with Momentum with any grip not yet used

-Vertical Pulling

—Pullovers—Machine, Dumbbell, Cable

—Pull up / Pulldown

—Chin up / Underhand Pulldown

—Neutral Grip Pull up / Neutral Grip Pulldown

—Lat Pull In

-Horizontal Pulling

—Bent-Over T-Bar Row with V-Bar Handle

—Bent-Over Barbell Row

—Bent-Over Yates Row

—Bent-Over Two Arm & One-Arm Dumbbell Row

—Chest Supported Dumbbell Row/Barbell Row

—Moto Row

—Meadows Row

—Bent-Over Cable Row

—Seated Cable Row

—Machine Row

—Hammer Strength Low Row

The Lower back

The lower back is usually hit synergistically on leg day with compound movements like the deadlift and squat.

Yet, if your weekly routine allows for sufficient time for rest between your leg and back day, it may be in your interest to target the lower back with the rest of the muscle group if you feel it’s necessary.

-Various Barbell & Dumbbell Exercises for the Lower Body

-Deadlift & Variations

-Good Morning

-Hyperextension / Back Extension

Notable Compound Movements

As aforementioned, there are several movements that will hit several of these areas at once, and I’m going to list some of the big ones here.

It’s worth noting though that if you think a particular area of your back is lacking—often the lower lats for most—I’d suggest using a row specifically for that area.

-Upper Back and Both Vertical and Horizontal Lat Plane

—V-Bar Pull Up or Pulldown to the Sternum

-Upper Back and Lat Belly + Lower Lats in the Horizontal Lat Plane

—Trap Bar Row

—Two-Arm Dumbbell Row

—One-Arm Dumbbell Row pulling midday between the sternum and waist

—Barbell Row pulling midday between the sternum and waist

—Row Machine pulling midday between the sternum and waist

The Three Common Problems Found in Most Back Programming

We now know how to effectively target each area of the back.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the meat of this post.

The three most common issues found in back training are…

*Drumroll please*

-(1) Inability to fully fatigue the lats before the biceps or other connector muscles give out—or by using too much momentum while performing exercises.

-(2) Not targeting and/or prioritizing the upper back muscle group(s).

-(3) Not targeting and/or prioritizing the lower lat area.

The Three Overlooked Exercises That Solve ‘The Three Problems’

(1) Problem one is self-explanatory—it’s simply dealing with an aspect of the lats that many either overlook or are unaware of.

For instance, say you decide to perform as many sets of chin-ups (palms up pull-ups) as you can for your vertical pull exercise.

Odds are your biceps will actually be what gives out before your lats do.

Therefore, exercises that target the lats without exhausting the arms are critical to fully fatigue them.

This is where pullovers and deadlifts come in.

In an ideal world, you’d target your lats with machine pullovers at the beginning or end of your routine, alongside the possible addition of Rack pulls to contact them isometrically and finish them off.

If they’re not available, dumbbell pullovers, cable pullovers (stiff-arm pulldown), scapular rolls, or a combination thereof will suffice.

A strategy I like to employ when training at home is to perform 1-2 sets of dumbbell pullovers, then 1-2 sets of bodyweight overhand or wide grip pull-ups, then begin my working sets of weighted chin-ups.

(2) Solving problem two is similar but less technical.

The upper back is either neglected because trainees don’t realize all rows are not equal or, in some cases, they incorrectly believe rear delt flyes are sufficient—they’re not.

In the same way, they may interpret the upper back to mean the lats, and forget that the back is made up of more than just the lats.

Or, again, they interpret the upper back to mean the traps and rear delts.

Fortunately, solving this problem is very straightforward.

Either before performing rear delt flyes on your shoulder day or somewhere on your back day, add one of the many compound exercises listed for the upper back above.

My preference is for adding it to your shoulder day, as I find the addition of this movement too exhausting when exercising the lats. If you’re doing push-pull-legs style training and don’t have a shoulder day, I’ll have some suggestions for you below.

The primary lifts I recommend for this area are the bent-over one-arm wide row and the wide grip cable row.

In addition, one can perform the wide dumbbell row with chest support on an incline bench.

(3) Solving problem three is resolved in the same manner as problem two.

…We just need to add another exercise.

The lower lat area is often lagging in the majority of trainees, because, like the upper back, many lack a full understanding of the back’s anatomy.

Most are unaware that the lat extends all the way to the lower back area and respectively requires direct stimulation in that region.

Exercises that do this include:

  • Yates Barbell Row

  • Yates One-Arm Dumbbell Row—also called a tripod row or underhand dumbbell row

  • Classic Barbell Row—performed at a 45-degree angle like the Yates Row. Performing parallel to the floor will target more of the lat belly.

  • One-Arm Cable Row

  • Hammer Strength Low Row

  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row—pulled high to the waist

To better illustrate training this area, I’d recommend checking out these two videos:

One More Point on Volume

The need for a row targeting the lower lats does not necessarily mean to perform both types of rows—one for the lat belly and one for the lower lats—in a single back workout, as doing so can prove to be too exhausting and overload the body’s volume capabilities.

Rather, alternating one for the other during each back session is a suitable strategy if performing both in the same workout is ineffective.

Dorian Yates stated that he would alternate the Yates Barbell Row and One-Arm Dumbbell row each workout, and he is the GOAT of lat development.

Lastly, both types of rows still do target the other section of the lat, albeit won’t necessarily fully exhaust the non-targeted area.

Putting it All Together - Seven Example Strategies and Templates for Training the Back

We now know how to effectively train the entire back and subsequently resolve the three common training hurdles.

Let’s put it all together into a handful of example routines.

I’ve varied the exercise selection in all of these to give you a general idea of exercise substitutions.

All these programs are designed with a reverse pyramid and HIIT training style.

Furthermore, I chose rep selections that I believe are not only effective for each given exercise but safe as well.

For instance, I believe performing dumbbell pullovers in the 8-10 or 10-12 rep range is much safer with respect to shoulder health than performing them in a lower rep range.

I also find this to be true regarding stiff arm pulldowns/cable pullovers, as lower rep ranges can irritate the elbows.

Overall, it makes progression a bit easier and less dramatic on the joints when increasing the weight.

Of course, feel free to change and alter things to your liking if you decide to use one of these routines.

If you feel like a certain area of the back needs to be prioritized, put that ahead of other movements.

Rest 3-5 minutes between sets and exercises.

Finally, each workout starts with vertical pulls because I find them difficult to perform if horizontal movements are done first.

(1) Training the Entire Back - Comprehensive

i. Machine Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

ii. Neutral Grip Pulldown—Lat Vertical Pull

—1-2 Set(s) of 6-8 Reps

iii. Yates Barbell Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—2 Set of 6-8 Reps

iv. Seated Wide Grip Cable Row—Upper Back

—2 Set of 6-8 Reps

v. Seated Narrow Neutral Grip Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—2 Set of 6-8 Reps

vi. Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly—Upper Back—Rear Delt Isolation

—2 Set of 6-8 Reps

vii. Seated Dumbbell Shrug—Traps

—1-2 Set(s) of 8-10 Reps

viii. Rack Pull—Lat Post-Exhaust and Lower Back

—1 Set of 5-8 Reps

(2) Training the Entire Back - Minimal

i. Machine Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

ii. Underhand Grip Pulldown—Lat Vertical Pull

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

iii. Trap Bar Row or Bent-Over Two-Arm Dumbbell Row—Upper Back & Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly & Lower Lats

—Alternatively, substitute a pull for the Lat Belly and Lower Lats each week

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iv. Bent-Over Reverse Low Pulley Cable Fly—Upper Back—Rear Delt Isolation

—2 Sets of 6-8 Reps

v. Standing Barbell Shrug—Traps

—1 Set of 8-10 Reps

vi. Weighted Back Extensions—Lower Back

—2 Sets of 8-10 Reps

(3) Training the Back in a 4 to 6 Day body part ‘bro’ split

i. Chin Up—Lat Pre-Exhaust & Lat Vertical Pull

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

ii. Overhand Lat Pulldown—Lat Vertical Pull

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

iii. Bent-Over One-Arm Dumbbell Row to Waist—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iii. One Arm Neutral Grip Row on Machine—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

v. Overhand Hammer Strength Row—Upper Back

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

vi. V-Bar Pull Up or Pulldown to the Sternum—Upper Back, Lat Vertical Pull, & Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

vii. Barbell Good Morning—Lower Back

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

viii. Back Extension—Lower Back

—1-2 Set(s) x 8-10 Reps

(4) Training the Back in a Push-Pull-Legs Split

i. Dumbbell Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—1 Set x 8-10 Reps

ii. Cable Pullover / Stiff Arm Lat Pulldown with Rope Attachment—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—1 Set x 8-10 Reps

iii. Underhand Pulldown—Lat Vertical Pull

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iv. Seated One-Arm Cable Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—Alternate weekly with an exercise for the Lat Belly

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

v. Barbell Row to the Chest—Upper Back

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

vi. Hammer Strength Shrug Machine—Traps

—1-2 Set(s) x 6-8 Reps

vii. Reverse Fly Machine—Upper Back—Rear Delt Isolation

—2 Sets of 6-8 Reps

viii. Preacher Curl

—2 Sets of 6-8 Reps

ix. Concentration Curl

—1-2 Set(s) of 6-8 Reps

(5) Training the Lats and Traps Only

i. Dumbbell Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—2 Sets x 8-10 Reps

ii. Weighted Chin Up—Lat Vertical Pull

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iii. One-Arm Dumbbell Row to Waist—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iv. Bent-Over T-Bar Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

v. Trap Bar Shrug—Traps

—2 Sets x 8-10 Reps

vi. Incline Dumbbell Shrug—Traps

—1 Set x 6-8 Reps

vii. Wide Grip Pull Up—Lat Post-Exhaust & Lat Vertical Pull

—1 Set x 6-8 Reps

(6) Training the Lats and Upper Back Only

i. Dumbbell Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—2 Sets x 8-10 Reps

ii. Underhand Lat Pulldown—Lat Vertical Pull

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iii. Bent-Over One-Arm Wide Dumbbell Row—Upper Back

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iv. Bent-Over Barbell Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—Perform parallel to the floor and pull to the belly button/lower stomach

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

v. One Arm Dumbbell Tripod Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

(7) Training the Lats Only

i. Machine Pullover—Lat Pre-Exhaust

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

ii. Weighted Neutral Grip Pull Up—Lat Vertical Pull

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iii. Hammer Strength Low Row—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lower Lats

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

iv. Neutral Grip Row Machine—Lat Horizontal Pull—Lat Belly

—2 Sets x 6-8 Reps

Pour Conclure

There you have it, gang.

How to overcome the three common pitfalls of back training, coupled with a quick primer on back training.

Efficient and effective back training in a nutshell.

If you have any questions, comments, or insights you’d like to share, please let me know.

Likewise, if anything isn’t clear or you think I may have missed something, again, please let me know.

I want to have the best and most up-to-date content out there for you guys.

Until next time, friends.

Alexander Smout

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Disclaimer: None of this is to be deemed as health, fitness, or medical advice in any way, shape, or form. You are reading opinions only. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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The Gold's Gym Training Encyclopedia by Peter Grymkowski, Edward Connors, Tim Kimber, and Bill Reynolds.

Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier

The Strength Training Anatomy Workout III: Maximizing Results with Advanced Training Techniques by Frederic Delavier and Michael Gundill

Secrets of Advanced Bodybuilders by Health for Life

Critical Mass: The Positions-Of-Flexion Approach to Explosive Muscle Growth by Steve Holman

Serious Strength Training by Tudor O. Bompa, Mauro Di Pasquale, and Lorenzo Cornacchia

Back 101: An Anatomical Guide to Training by u/Thats_Justice

Muscles of the Back by TeachMeAnatomy

Dorian Yates - BACK AND REAR DELTS - Blood & Guts by Dorian Yates

5 Back-Busting Exercises | Dorian Yates' Blood & Guts by


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