11 Upper Back Exercises That'll Help You Stand Upright

Get your dumbbells ready.

Originally Published: 
The best exercises for upper back strength, according to trainers.
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The muscles in your upper back include the rhomboids, traps, lats, and levator scapulae — all areas that play a role in bending, twisting, and having good posture, says Row House trainer Mikey Newsom. Want to work them out? Try these trainer-approved exercises for the upper back.



Kickoff trainer John Gardner says pull-ups work the lats, traps, rhomboids, and arms.

- Jump up, grab bar with overhand grip.

- Optional: Use pull-up band.

- Hands shoulder-width apart, hang.

- Engage core, slowly lift chin to bar.

- Lower to start.

- Do 8-10 reps, 3x.

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Reverse Dumbbell Fly

Gardner says these hit the upper back and shoulders.

- Stand, weight in each hand.

- Hinge forward 45 degrees, back and neck straight.

- Slowly raise arms out to sides, elbows slightly bent.

- Squeeze back at top, pause, lower to start.

- Do 12 reps, 3x.


Bent-Over Row

Title Boxing Club’s Beth Gold likes this move to target the rhomboids.

- With feet under hips, tip forward.

- Let dumbbells hang in front of you or stand on resistance band.

- Pull weights up to body, elbows point to ceiling.

- Slowly lower.

- Do 6-12 reps, 3x.


Bent-Over Barbell Row

You can also do the move using a barbell, says Newson.

- With feet shoulder-width apart, hinge forward at waist, slight bend in knees.

- Grab barbell overhand.

- Lift bar up to core.

- Slowly lower it down.

- Repeat for 10-12 reps.


Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Trying rowing with one hand, Newson says.

- Feet shoulder-width apart.

- Hinge at waist forward, slight bend in the knees.

- Hold a weight in one hand.

- Lift weight until elbow is at waist.

- Slowly lower down.

- Do 10-12 reps per side.


Lat Pullover

Newsom also likes this move to work the lats.

- Lie on floor or workout bench.

- Feet flat on floor.

- Hold dumbbell up over chest.

- With a flat back, lower dumbbell back behind your head.

- Raise it back up, slight bend in elbows.

- Repeat 10-12 reps.

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Try this exercise from Newsom to work your traps.

- Stand, feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders down and relaxed, chest up.

- Hold dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other.

- Bring shoulders up towards your ears.

- Lower to starting point.

- Do 10-12 reps.


Renegade Row

This exercise works the rhomboids.

- Get into plank position, shoulders over wrists, feet hip-width apart.

- Engage core.

- Grab dumbbell in right hand, lift as elbow points up.

- Set weight down, switch to other arm.

- Alternate for 10-12 reps.


“Y” Raise

Newsom also likes these to strengthen the posture muscles.

- Feet shoulder-width apart, hinge forward at waist, slight bend in knee.

- Grab two dumbbells, hold parallel.

- Lift arms above head to form a “Y” shape.

- Slowly lower arms to starting point.

- Do 10-12 reps.


Upright Row

Newsom suggests this move to work the upper back as well as the deltoids.

- Pull dumbbells or kettlebell up center of body.

- At top, elbows will point out at shoulder height.

- Weight is at collar bone.

- Slowly lower weight back down.

- Repeat 10-12 reps.

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Cable Face Pull

Trainer TJ Mentus calls this one of the best upper back exercises.

- Set cable at face height.

- Grab handle, step back so arms are fully straight.

- Pull handle to face, elbows out wide.

- Feel upper back engage.

- Slowly return to start.

- Do 15 reps, 3 sets.

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