17 Great Mid-Back Exercises - A Variety of Moves to Work Your Lats

Your back muscles are some of the most important muscles of your core, especially the lats, which is what we're focusing on with these exercises.

The lats, aka the latissimus dorsi, are the large muscles on either side of the back - The ones that can make your waist look smaller (should that be a goal of yours).

To work the lats, you typically do a lot of pulling and rowing motions - Kind of like when you pull open a door. It's so important to work the lats, not only for a strong back, but for an overall strong, healthy body.

Choosing Your Exercises

  • Beginners:  Choose 1-2 exercises and perform 1-2 sets of 12-16 reps
  • Inter/Adv:  Choose 2-4 different exercises - For example, a dumbbell row followed by a barbell row and a straight arm pull.  Try a variety of moves with different types of equipment to work your muscles in a different way.  Try for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting between sets
  • Use enough weight or resistance that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps

Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell Rows. Paige Waehner

For this move, you tip from the hips, keeping the back flat and the abs engaged.  The weights (which should be on the heavy side) hang down and you squeeze the back to pull the elbows up to torso level.

You don't want to yank the weights up, but really use those back muscles to regulate the movement. More »

One Arm Row

One Arm Row
Paige Waehner

For the one arm row, you can often go even heavier because now you're supporting your lower back with one hand on the other leg, unlike the double arm rows.  The move is the same...originate the movement from the back, rather than the biceps and pull the elbow up just to torso level. More »

One Arm Row on One Leg

Row on One Leg
Paige Waehner

Now we add a balance challenge, which will probably change the amount of weight you use.  For this one, you take the right leg straight up as you tip forward so that your body is in a straight line from head to heel.  Now you hold that position while you do a row with the right arm.

Yep, this is a tough one. More »

Seated Rows with Resistance Bands

Seated Band Row
Paige Waehner

Resistance bands can change the entire rowing exercise because now you have some resistance through both parts of the movement, rather than just one like you do with dumbbells.

Here, you need a heavy band that is secured to something that won't move as you pull the band.  You can do this move sitting or standing. More »

Lat Pulls with Bands

Paige Waehner

This is an easier move for the lats and one I really like for warming up both the back and the arms.  Just hold a band overhead, tension in the band and then squeeze the back to pull your elbow's down towards the ribcage.

The closer your hands are, the harder it is. You can also do this move one arm at a time to get a little more intensity. More »

Bent Over Row with Bands

Band Row
Paige Waehner

This is a great version of rows.  You simply stand on the band and cross the handles (I do this to add tension).  You grab onto the bands - Usually closer to the shoes for the most tension - and, with a flat back, you pull the elbows up to torso level.

This is a great exercise to do after dumbbell rows.  You'll get a totally different feeling. More »

Power Plank with Rows

Power Plank Row
Paige Waehner

If you really want to work your core while you work our back, this move is for you.  It's very tough, so modify by putting the knees down or just one knee down.

For this one, you basically do a row while you're in a plank position.  It's shown using a kettlebell but you can just use a regular weight. More »

Dumbbell Rows with Bands

Band and Dumbbell Row
Paige Waehner

Want even more intensity?  Stand on a band and wrap them around a set of dumbbells.  Adding a resistance band to your weights will add a crazy level of intensity that you'll probably love.

Or hate.  Either way, it's something different to try. More »

Alternating Dumbbell Rows

Alternating Dumbbell Row
Paige Waehner

I love alternating dumbbells because it forces your core to work a little more and you get to really concentrate on one arm at a time.  You can do them slowly - Lifting one arm, lowering that arm and then doing the other, or you can make it faster, alternating at the same time. More »

Barbell Rows

Barbell Row
Paige Waehner

If you want to up your weight and work on your muscle mass, a barbell is the perfect tool.  You can go very heavy with a barbell although you'll want to protect your lower back by engaging the abs and keeping a slight bend in the knees.

The palms can face in, which is target more biceps, or out.  I like to do both, actually. More »

Straight Arm Pulls

Straight Arm Pulls
Paige Waehner

These are kind of fun, if you get your positioning right.  Basically, you have a band anchored in front of you and you're in a kind of stationary back extension on the ball.  You have to be far enough away that the band still has tension when your arms are straight out in front of you.

Then you keep the arms straight and pull the bands back behind you.  It's a great exercise if you can get it right. More »

Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell Pullover
Paige Waehner

Pullovers are one of my favorites because they work the back, the chest and the triceps.  You need to be careful with this one and start with a moderate weight to find your perfect range of motion.

With these, your arms are mostly straight and you lower the weight behind you, right about to head level or whenever you feel a gentle stretch. More »

Barbell Pullovers

Barbell Pullover
Paige Waehner

Barbell pullovers are much tougher, of course, so I like to keep my arms bent to stay safer and add that extra intensity.  Start with a moderate weight here and really use your core to stabilize your body as you bring the weight behind you. More »

Compound Row

Compound Row
Paige Waehner

This is another favorite because you work your back and glutes and it's a little more dynamic.  Use a heavy band here and anchor it so that you feel lots of tension as you stand with the elbows bent in a row position.

Now, tip from the hips and straighten the arms.  As you stand up you'll pull the elbows in.   More »

Renegade Row

Renegade Row
Paige Waehner

This is another very tough core move and a lot like the power plank row above.  With this one, you're in a plank position holding onto both weights.  You alternate rowing each weight up and down.

If this is too hard, I've got a modified version coming up. More »

Modified Renegade Rows

Modified Renegade Row
Paige Waehner

If the plank is just too hard to hold while you're pulling the weights up (you do have to build core strength), try the move on your knees.  In this position, you can probably use even heavier weight if you're so inclined.

For this position, keep the knees under the hips and the arms under the shoulders.  Don't forget to brace your abs to support and protect the lower back. More »

Pull Ups

Pull Ups
Paige Waehner

No list of back exercises would be complete without mentioning pull ups.  These are probably the toughest of all back exercises because you're lifting your body weight very far off the ground.

Most of us will have to practice this move by propping both feet or just one foot on a chair and, over time, taking away a little of that support.  This one takes lots of practice!

Keep in mind that you can have your hand position as shown - Palms out, hands wide, or you can have them closer together with the palms in, which targets more biceps.  These are a little easier, but they're both hard.

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