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Back Exercises for Women

The Results in 1-2-3 Back Workout

With this easy tweak in your exercise sequence, you can push your muscles to the max — and rebuild your back top to bottom.

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Have you ever left a significant other alone in a room to build a piece of furniture, only to come back a few hours later to find the instructions discarded, a few “extra” screws set aside, and a finished product that . . . gulp, well, looks like it kinda might be OK?

I mean, maybe not “put-a-baby-down-to-sleep-in-it,” but heck, somehow someway, it turned out all right. Maybe even after a few weeks of daily use, you find out that it’s holding up surprisingly well. (Hint: Don’t ever actually admit this fact to them, or they’ll never read an instruction manual again.)

Thing is, workouts can be a little like that, as well. Sometimes tossing aside the official instructions and trying something new can yield results that you may not have expected but you can sure appreciate.

In the following back workout, designed by Ben Walker, personal trainer and owner of Anywhere Fitness in Dublin, you’ll find an uncommon approach to the order of the exercises — starting off with barbell movements (No. 1), followed by dumbbells in the heart of the session (No. 2) and finally three machine moves to finish the job (No. 3).

It’s not just for an interesting change of pace, however. The order is important because you’ll be starting off with the hardest, most challenging exercises first when you have the most energy to give, and then by the end, when your stabilizing muscles are shot, you can push through the final reps in the relatively safer confines of a machine. Sure, it may not be exactly how most workouts are built, but we think you’ll love how it all turns out!

The Results in 1-2-3 Back Workout

Note: Rest one minute between sets.

Mode Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell T-Bar Row 3 8-15
Barbell Pendlay Row 3 8-15
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row 3 15-20
Dumbbell Upright Row 3 12-15
Machine Lat Pulldown 3 12-15
Machine Assisted Pull-Up 3 15-20


T-Bar Row

Load one end of a barbell, with the other secure in a landmine or in a corner of the room. Straddle the bar facing the plates in a stance with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, your feet set straight and a slight bend in your knees. Hinge your torso forward until it’s almost parallel to the floor. You can grasp the bar hand-over-hand style or use a V-handle placed underneath the bar to grip.

Slightly shift your shoulders back, brace your core, and lift the weight toward your abdomen while keeping your torso in the same position throughout. Slowly lower the bar until your arms are extended — at the bottom of each rep, the weight should be slightly off the floor to maintain tension on the target muscles.

Walker’s Why: “The T-bar row is a great addition to back workouts, as it puts more emphasis on your middle traps and rhomboids. You can target the midback more by performing the lift with your elbows kept in close to your sides. This position also allows the triceps to engage more in the lift and helps you achieve a fuller range of motion.”

Pendlay Row

Start with the barbell in front of you on the floor with the middle of your feet aligned underneath the bar and planted shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees and “hinge” your torso forward until parallel to the floor. Brace your core so that you don’t round your back during the exercise — your shoulders should be slightly shifted back to keep your head and neck in a neutral position.

Grasp the bar with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder-width apart, then powerfully lift the bar up toward your abdomen by pulling with your back and rear shoulders. After a one-count pause at the top, extend your elbows to lower the bar until it is resting on the floor. 

Walker’s Why: “The Pendlay row is similar to a traditional barbell row — the key difference is that it’s performed with your upper body parallel to the floor, hips bent to 90 degrees, while the more common barbell row is done with your torso at a 45-degree angle. When executed correctly in a parallel position, you’ll unlock the potential of your posterior muscles, maximizing power in the back, scapular and rear shoulder muscles. This variation of the row is also great for strengthening the lower back.”

Bent-Over Row

Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, grasp a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral (palms facing in) grip. Hinge forward at your hips until your torso is between a 45-degree to 90-degree angle to the floor. The weights should hang straight down in front of your shins.

Without raising your upper body, pull the dumbbells up toward your abdomen, bringing your elbows high and above the level of your back. Hold the peak-contracted position for a brief count, then slowly lower along the same path.

Walker’s Why: “While the dumbbell row is ideal for building your upper back, it also recruits your lats, biceps, lower back and deltoids as secondary movers during the lift. Contracting all these muscles together contributes to burning a lot of calories when performing this exercise — making back workouts great for weight loss and firming up.”

Upright Row

Stand with your feet placed inside shoulder width, holding a pair of dumbbells in a prone (overhand) position at your thighs.

Maintain a slight bend in your knees, keep your head straight and abs tight, and bend your arms as you flex your shoulders to pull the dumbbells straight up toward your chin — they’ll be just above the clavicles at the top with your elbows high and pointing out to your sides. Hold for a second before slowly lowering the weights to the start position.

Walker’s Why: “This exercise targets numerous muscle groups. You’ll work your deltoids (shoulders), upper trapezius (upper back) and your biceps. It’s important to execute the form properly — you need to remain steady, control the weights and go through a full range of motion.”

Lat Pull-down

Sit at a lat-pulldown machine so the bar is directly overhead or slightly in front of your body. Adjust the pads so that your quads fit snugly over your thighs. Grasp the angled ends of the pulldown bar with a wide, overhand grip. With your abs tight, back slightly arched and feet flat on the floor, pull the bar down to your upper chest, your elbows back and pointed out toward the sides in the same plane as your body.

Squeeze and hold for a brief count before slowly allowing the bar up along the same path. Don’t let the stack touch down between reps.

Walker’s Why: “The lat pulldown isolates the latissimus dorsi, or lats, which functionally promote good posture while increasing spinal stability. This helps prevent injury and keep the back in a secure position when performing other movements. The pectoralis major (chest), rotator cuff (shoulders) and biceps are all involved — and when drawing the bar to your chest, the hip flexors and core muscles engage to stabilize the position.”

Assisted Pull-Up

Place your knees in a comfortable position on the lower platform, and take an overhand grip on the handles above. Fully extend your arms to a “dead hang,” and retract your shoulder blades slightly by pulling them back and down — you’ll keep them in this position for the full set. Flex your lats while bending your elbows to pull yourself up as high as possible, ideally to where your chin passes over the level of your knuckles. Pause in this position for a one-count before lowering yourself to the dead hang.

Walker’s Why: “For those who struggle with regular bodyweight pull-ups, the assisted machine is a nice way to build up your strength and confidence — it helps you perfect your form by mimicking the movement but with support. Apart from building the major muscles in the back, shoulders and core, the pull-up also increases your grip strength, a benefit that translates to any and all exercises where you’re carrying weight with your arms.”