Improve Your Upper Back | 10 Top Tips

Written by Jamie Bantleman

Improve Your Upper Back

These points are developed for those looking to improve the aesthetic look to the upper back. For those who struggle to get a good ‘pump’ in their back or for those who struggle to feel much activation, then this is for you.

The upper back is made up of the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids, deltoids, trapezius and infraspinatus. They all play their part in movements that have great impact on the aesthetic development as well as the strength in the area. There are many different factors that can be used when looking at improving these particular body parts, these 10 being the most effective.

backworkout carly thornton

#1 Retraction


Retraction of the scapulae before beginning any pulling movement will help engage the muscle and focus the tension on the desired target. Following the simple steps below will be a great aid and start to how the body reacts to the movement chosen. Initiation – initiate and feel the muscle being worked. Contraction – find the maximal contraction of the muscle by placing as much tension possible on it. Isometric Hold – once the muscle is under full contraction, hold it and create a long time for the muscle to be under tension.

#2 Grip changes


Grip changes between pronated, supinated and semi-supinated will all change the way in which the muscle will be targeted and focus on other accessory muscles such as a supinated grip focusing more on the biceps. A pronated grip will have more focus on the rear delts and a semi supinated grip will focus more through the anterior delts leading into infraspinatus. Looking to change the grips will have a great impact on targeting different muscles and creating a better upper back.

#3 Angle


Alike the changing in grips, the angle in which you are pulling from is also important to change. To do this, you should take into consideration which exercises can be adapted to ensure different muscles are targeted. For example, a low pull row will improve the lower section of the rhomboids whereas a high row will improve the trapezius and upper section of the rhomboids.

back exercises

#4 Focus

Mentally focusing on the working muscle is an amazing tool to have in your locker. Being able to mindfully focus on the specific targeted muscle can enable you to have much more impact when performing an exercise. Thinking about the particular muscle will help when initiating the movement and targeting it to place it under tension.

#5 Pioritise


Prioritise the upper back in your weekly plan of action is important when looking to focus primarily on its development. To do this, you should look at training it up to three times per week. Three sessions compiled of different angles, grips and rep/set ranges.

#6 Develop


Increasing the set and rep range in your programme will simply create further stress on the muscle and in turn can improve hypertrophy in that specific muscle group. Having a programme with ascending rep ranges and sets will improve the quality of the programme, while still being able to focus on bigger compound movements such as pull ups and bent over rows with lower repetitions, you can include high rep ranges on more isolated movements such as lat pull downs, face pulls or seated rows.

lat workout

#7 Training


When training chest, doing a dumbbell or barbell press in particular you can also engage your lats by squeezing your scapulae prior to the concentric phase of the movement. This will help strengthen the area effectively without having a specific day dedicated to it. Although you are looking to training the upper back 3 times per week, doing this scapulae squeeze when training chest will help greatly with the ability to get stronger and therefore lift more effectively when it comes to the specific ‘back days’.

#8 Time Under Tension


Increasing time under tension will also have a great benefit by placing the muscle under more tension therefore creating a much better ‘squeeze’ or ‘pump’ on the muscle. It will also ensure that the muscle is being worked for a longer period of time and will in turn have a much better impact on growth.

#9 Quality


Maintaining quality rest periods to enable full performance in the set commencing is a very important tool often ignored in training. We are always looking to reduce rest time to really have that feeling of working hard, however, if you have just done a set consisting of a superset with 20 reps per exercise only 30 seconds rest simply will not be enough to repeat the superset with the same weight and tension. If you want to repeat quality set after quality set and get the most out of training sessions, it is very important to have enough rest to ensure you are able to recover. Around 60-180s rest periods depending on how many reps and sets you have done will usually be ample for hypertrophy.

prep press

#10 Resistance


In advanced way in which to train is to utilise a banded resistance exercise to change the strength curve in an exercise. For example, placing bands on a lat pull down will make the eccentric phase harder than the concentric phase which is usually the opposite to what happens as pulling the weight downwards its the hardest part of the movement. Where as when bands are attached they are pulling the weight back up alongside the weight in which the bands create therefore making this hard to control, as a bi-product of this, it engages the muscle to great effect and creates great damage.






Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile organisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.

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