How to Build Muscle in Your Upper Back
Many people want to know exactly how to build muscle in the upper back.
For some, it’s about aesthetics: They want to add size and definition to their trapezius muscles, latissimus dorsi, deltoids and rhomboids. Other people want to prevent or rehab injuries by building up the muscles of the rotator cuff: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.
And then there are those who are focused on the upper back for “performance,” whether that means improved posture in daily life or sporting success.
Here, we’ll tell you how to train your upper back with compound and isolation exercises.
Sets and Reps
First, remember that “building muscle” means different things to different people and a coach can provide the best plan based on your goals.
For example, for those who want increased muscle size, 3 sets of 8-12 reps with medium loads will often do the trick. For those who are looking only for increased strength, the prescription might be 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with heavier loads. If your goal is greater muscular endurance, your plan might be 3 sets of 12-20 reps with lighter loads.
Remember, these are generalizations only. An expert coach will tailor a plan to your exact goals and fitness level after a consultation. That plan will also include rest breaks, notes on intensity, recovery protocols and even nutrition advice.
With that in mind, let’s get to some of the best exercises you can use to build muscle in your upper back.
Best Exercises for Building the Upper Back
We’ll include both isolation exercises and compound movements here. Isolation exercises are designed to target only very specific muscles and you’ll often see bodybuilders doing them. Compound movements train a host of muscles at the same time and involve many joints.
Neither style of training is better. Isolation exercises are great for focused work and compound movements pack an incredible full-body punch. We recommend you use both kinds of movements.
In Part 2, we’ll give you a brief description of some top back-building movements and explain why they work so well. For detailed instructions on how to perform these exercises, head to YouTube or consult with an expert coach who can monitor your form and give you instant feedback.