If you often forget about your upper back in your workouts, you're not alone. This part of the body that we can't see without a mirror is one that just isn't much of a fitness focus. That doesn't make it unimportant, though! Upper-back workout moves increase your body's stability, strengthen your shoulders, and improve your external rotation. They're also key to good posture and balance, and are integral to strengthening your abs, as you need upper-back strength for proper form in those exercises.
Now that you know your upper back should be added to your workout regime, you may be wondering what exercises to do to target it. Of course, we have plenty of options for you! Read on for upper-body workout moves that range in complexity and difficulty level. There's something for everyone here, making it easy to work this body area more.
Meet the Expert
Safety and Precautions
These exercises should be avoided by anyone with a back or shoulder injury. When performing these workout moves, always keep your back straight and your core engaged, and don't allow your shoulders to slouch or to inch up toward your ears. If any of these moves are new to try, try weighted moves without weights first, and use light weights that you can lift easily as the next step in progress. Vasquez adds that for all moves, you should "keep the movement under control and don’t rush. You don’t want to rush and overextend your lumbar spine."
- Lie onn the floor with your chest down and reach your arms straight in front of you. Vasquez says it should look "as if you were Superman midflight."
- Engage your glutes and lower back, then raise your arms, legs, and the top of your chest off the floor.
- Pause here for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Keep your arms in front of you, and repeat.
Prone Band Pull Down
- Lie face down on a mat, with your body straight.
- Raise your arms and grasp a resistance band, with your hands extended forward beyond your head.
- Pull your upper arms down toward your torso until the resistance band is behind your neck. Vasquez says your elbows should be "flexed right-angled."
- Slowly return to your starting position in a controlled manner.
If a resistance band is too difficult for you, Vasquez suggests performing this exercise with a towel. He says, "You can use a towel to reduce some resistance. Make sure your towel is long enough, so you can pull it apart and get it behind your neck as you would with the band."
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. Hinge forward from your waist; Newson notes there should be a "slight bend in the knees," and Vasquez says your torso should be nearly parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your elbows tucked in, swing the dumbbells outward.
- Slowly bring the dumbbells back together, and repeat. If this move is difficult, Newson suggests doing one arm at a time instead of both.
- Stand tall, with your shoulders down and relaxed. Newson says your chest should be out in a proud position, with your palms facing in and your elbows pointed out. Place a dumbbell in each hand, or hold a barbell, with an overhand grip.
- Raise your elbows up to shoulder level, keeping them pointed outward.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells or barbell back to your starting position.
Reverse Snow Angels
- Lie on the floor face-down and stretch your arms out in front of you. Vasquez tells us that your palms should point down at the floor, your legs should be stretched out, and your toes should be touching the floor.
- Lift your chest, arms, and legs slightly, so that they hover above the floor.
- Move your arms downward toward your hips in a bow motion, with your legs apart. Vasquez instructs, "The limbs do not have any contact with the floor," and warns against letting your body rock back and forth at all.
- Return to your starting position and rest for a moment.
Dumbbell Front Raise
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold dumbbells in your hands. Your palms should face your thighs.
- Brace your abs and lift the weights upward and in front of you, ending with them level to your shoulders. They should be horizontal to the floor.
- Slowly lower the weights back to your starting position.
- Lie on a workout bench or a large exercise ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place dumbbells in each hand.
- Raise the dumbbells up over your chest, with your palms facing each other. Newson says to maintain a flat back as you move.
- Lower the dumbbells back over your head toward the floor, then raise them up with a slight bend in your elbows. End with them above your chest, and repeat.
Bent Over Dumbbell Row
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab dumbbells in both hands.
- Hinge forward from your waist, with a slight bend in the knees.
- With your palms facing together, bring one elbow in up to your waist.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell down, and switch to your other arm.
Wide Bent Over Row
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge forward at your wait until your chest is nearly parallel to the floor.
- Raise your elbows out to the sides and lift the dumbbells up to your chest. Your arms and shoulders should be level.
- Pause at the top, then slowly lower back to your starting hinged position.
Bent Over Y
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, hinge forward at your waist. Hold dumbbells in each hand.
- Pull your shoulder blades together, bend your elbows, and raise your arms forward and to the side. This should look like your arms are moving into a Y shape.
- Pull your arms back in and lower them to your starting position.
Working out your upper back is essential. Strengthening this area improves posture and balance, and also helps you with other fitness work, such as strengthening your abs. From lat pulls to bent over rows, there is no shortage of exercises you can do to increase the strength in your upper back. Upper-back workout moves should be avoided by anyone with a back or should injury. Always start with light dumbbells, or none at all, if a move is new to you, and keep your abs engaged through upper-back exercises. With these moves, you'll be ensuring that all of your body parts are training more equally, leading to a stronger body overall.