If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve probably spent very little time considering the impact of a weak or under-developed back. It’s not a glamour muscle like arms and chest, and it’s easy to forget how often we use our back in our everyday lives. But, the day your back fails will change your perception of back training for good.

Are you sitting at a desk for most of your day? Does your job require manual labour? What about driving? The stresses and strains on your back are never-ending, and ignoring your posterior in your training sessions could lead to pain, discomfort, or even injury in the long term.

Incorporating one of the most effective back exercises into your routine could ease pains, strengthen your entire body, and help to promote better posture.

The barbell row

It’s no secret; the barbell row is a one-stop-shop for strength, stability, and size when it comes to your back. And it’s not just any single back muscle either. The barbell row stimulates your traps, rhomboids, lats, and will work wonders for your rotator cuffs — a muscle and tendon group that’s prone to injury if not trained effectively

If we had to choose any one exercise that worked your entire back, without incorporating too many other muscle groups, it’d be this one.

Unfortunately, it’s an exercise that most people seem to avoid, and those that do practise it, tend to get it wrong, potentially stunting growth and risking severe lower-back injury.

Performing the bent-over barbell row

Maintaining good form while performing any back exercise is extremely important, and the bent-over row is no exception. Make sure you start with a lighter weight on your first few attempts and keep it light until you develop a better understanding of the movement and muscle contractions before you increase the plates. Remember, slow, controlled movements hold more value than lifting massive weights straining every fibre in your body.

Grip the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing down) a little wider than shoulder-width, allowing your arms to hang straight. Now, in a deadlift style lift, raise the weight off the floor, but do not stand straight. Instead maintain the bend in your hips and knees, with the weight hovering a comfortable distance from the floor. This is your starting position.

Tense your core and begin to row the weight, pulling back through your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades towards each other. Once the bar touches your lower sternum, slowly lower it back down to your starting position. That’s one rep complete.

Switch things up — Barbell row variations

Underhand grip

The setup is the same, and the form is nearly identical to the original, but by flipping your grip to a supine position (palms facing up), you’ll add a much bigger load on your lats and biceps.

Wide vs Narrow

Try changing your grip width once in a while to make the most of this go-to back exercise. Maintaining a pronated grip, bring your hands closer together and tuck your elbows inwards to focus on those lats.

Or, push your hands further apart, and allow your elbows to come out at a 45° angle to test your upper back strength.

Pendlay Row

Most of what you’ve been practising is repeated here. Same grip, similar movement. But this time, you’ll need to bring the weight off the floor, and return it, after every rep. Glenn Pendlay favoured range of motion, so you’ll probably need to lower the weight to complete a good set of these rows.

Dumbbell bent-over row

A potentially safer variant of the bent-over row is one using dumbbells. You can perform it single armed with a bench or against a sturdy surface, or free-standing with a dumbbell in both hands.

If it’s your first time with any rowing movement, the single-arm row is a great place to start. Place one knee on a bench or a solid, knee-height surface, and your other foot firmly on the ground to support you. Bend over to a 90° angle, push your palm against the bench, and grip a dumbbell in the opposite hand. Then, row the dumbbell up, squeezing your shoulder blades in, and slowly lower it. Complete your reps on one arm before switching to the other side.