Back Workouts for Women

3 Weeks To Your Sexiest Back

Your little black dress is begging for a strong, sexy back. Follow our plan and in less than a month, your upper body will shine in that low-backed stunner.

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

It’s time to break out that backless number for a big night out, but is your rear view up to par? Have no fear! Whip your back into terrific shape with this effective machine-based workout, and in less than three weeks, you’ll be posing for coy, over-the-shoulder photos with the confidence and sass of a 1940s silver screen actress.

Beautiful Back Benefits

Besides looking great in a backless dress, your flip side is an important part of your physiology. Your back includes several large muscles and many smaller supportive ones – the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, teres major and rear deltoids, to name a few. Together, these muscles help you twist, turn, reach, pull, bend over and stand back up, and are an integral part of walking, running, throwing, rowing, jumping and just about any other activity you can imagine. This workout is designed to hit your entire back from top to bottom and side-to-side to build a balanced and beautiful back.

Your Back-Attack Plan

Unfortunately, sticking with the same old reps, sets and exercises week in and week out won’t get you closer to an attention-commanding back. “When your muscles encounter a stress, they adapt to overcome this stress,” explains Jim Smith, CSCS, co-founder of the Diesel Crew in Elmira, New York. But once they become accustomed to this stress, they will stop adapting, causing a motivation-killing results plateau. Luckily, you have several options to get out of this rut, according to Smith. “Use more weight for a particular exercise, decrease the rest period between sets, change the implement used or perform more repetitions.”

Taking these tweaks into consideration, Oxygen has collected five moves with three different lines of pull – overhead, horizontal and from below. Each exercise angle targets your back in a different way, making for one of the most thorough back routines you will ever do.

Each exercise also has a specifically assigned rep range. “When the load is intense — closer to someone’s one rep max — the potential for strength building is greater,” says Smith. “If the load is moderate, between 50 and 75 percent of someone’s one rep max and more repetitions are performed, then the potential for an increase in muscle mass is raised.”

The first move in your workout is the mass builder, done with heavy weight and six to eight reps. Next are the strength-building pulldown moves with a rep range of eight to 10 and a moderately heavy weight. Last, your finishing move builds shape with high reps and a light to moderate weight range. When lifting heavy, rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets so your muscles have a chance to recover. When you’re fatiguing toward the end, drop your rest time to 30 seconds to maintain your intensity even though you are using less resistance (see chart below for more details).


T-Bar Row


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi (middle and outer portions), rear deltoids

Set Up: Stand at the machine with your bar loaded between your legs. Lean forward from your hips to rest your chest against the padding while maintaining a straight back, and keep a slight bend in your knees. Grasp the angled handles with an overhand grip.

Action: Pull the bar toward your chest, focusing on the intensity of your back muscles and not your arms. Pause for one count, then lower slowly back toward the start position without letting the weights rest.

Wide-Grip Pulldown


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi (outer portion), rhomboids, trapezius

Set Up: Sit at the machine with your feet flat on the floor and the upper padding adjusted to rest snuggly on your thighs. Grab the straight bar with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip, keeping arms extended with a small arch in your lower back.

Action: Keeping your chest high, pull the bar down toward your collarbone. Hold for one count before slowly returning to the start.

Narrow-Grip Lat Pulldown


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi (lower portion), rhomboids, trapezius

Set Up: Sit at the lat pulldown machine with a long straight bar attached. Adjust the padding securely against your thighs with your feet flat on the ground and hold the bar with a shoulder-width or narrower overhand grip.

Action: Keeping a slight arch in your lower back, retract your shoulder blades and pull the bar toward your chest, stopping when the bar grazes your collarbone. Pause for one count, then slowly extend your arms to return to the start.

Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi (lower portion), rhomboids, trapezius

Set Up: Position yourself at the lat pulldown station, adjusting the padding to sit flush against your thighs. Grab the long straight bar attachment with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing your body. Keep a slight arch in your lower back by raising your chest.

Action: Pull the bar down toward your collarbone. Stop and hold the contraction in your back for one moment before releasing slowly back to the starting position.

Seated Cable Row


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi (middle portion), rhomboids, trapezius

Set Up: Sit at the cable rowing station with your feet on the support plates. Grab the handle with your palms facing each other and sit up straight to bring tension to the cable prior to your first rep. Keep your arms extended toward the weight stack.

Action: Retract your shoulder blades and pull the handle to your lower rib cage; your upper arms should come tight to your sides. Pause, then return to the start.