Whether you're trying to build that "deep V" look or injury-proof your body, these 30 exercises will help you gain muscle and build strength.
MEN'S FITNESS Editors 1 / 31
If you're working out for the sake of looking good (and what guy isn't?), then you're probably aiming to build that signature "V-taper"—a big, broad back that makes you look powerful and even more dominant. To build that deep V, you'll need to focus on building the key muscles of your back: the deltoids, lats, and obliques.
But those back muscles aren't just for making you look more manly. They also strengthen your spine and neck for improved posture, reinforce your body against getting hurt, and improve your core strength for everyday functional fitness. Enter back country with these 30 exercises to build strength, size and prevent injury.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend your hips back. Your grip should be just outside of your knees. Keeping a flat black, extend your hips to stand up, and pull the bar up along your body until lock-out, as your hips drive through and your shoulders move back. While pulling, keep your eyes on the ground a few feet in front of you. Carefully lower the bar back to the starting position.
Attach a weighted belt to your waist, hold a dumbbell between your feet, or—if you can’t complete your reps with weight—use body weight alone. Hang from a pullup bar with your hands just outside shoulder width. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
Grasp two dumbbells and hold them with feet set hip-width apart. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend hips back, your torso forward, and lower yourself until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. You may bend at the knees. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement after coming back up.
Attach a single-grip handle to a cable pulley and set it at about shoulder height. (You can also use a band.) Grasp the handle with one hand over the other and step away from the machine to put tension on the cable; turn to your left 90 degrees so your right side faces the machine. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms in front of you. The cable will try to twist your body toward it—resist.
Use a trap bar and stand with feet at hip-width apart. Bend your hips back and grasp the handles. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, drive through your heels to stand up straight and extend your hips and knees.
Set a barbell in a power rack (or use a Smith machine) at about hip height. (About four rungs up should work). Lie underneath it and grab it with hands about shoulder-width apart with the bottom of your heels on floor. Hang from the bar so your body forms a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up until your back is fully contracted.
Set up as you would to deadlift, only do so in a power rack, resting the bar on the safety rods at about two inches below your knees. Grasp the bar wide, hands about double shoulder width. Extend your hips and stand up, pulling the bar to in front of your thighs.
Lie on your back on the floor and rest your heels on a Swiss ball. Brace your abs, keeping your core in a plank position, and drive your heels into the ball to raise your hips off the floor. Bend your knees and roll the ball toward you. Keep your hips elevated the entire set.
Place the end of the bar into a corner. (Wrap towels around the end of the bar, or put padding the corner, to avoid damaging the wall and floor.) Facing away from the corner, hold the barbell at the opposite end, above where you load the weights, with your right hand. Stand so your left leg is forward. Keeping your lower back flat, bend at the hips until your torso is slightly above parallel with the floor. Draw your shoulder blade back and row the bar to your ribs.
You'll need a suspension trainer for this exercise. Hold the handles and lean back with arms extended so that your body is supported by the suspension trainer and only your feet are on the floor. Brace your core and hold your body in a straight line. (The lower you set the handles, the harder the exercise; you can elevate your feet to make it even harder.) Start with your palms facing your feet, and as you row your body up, twist your wrists outward so that your palms face up in the top position.
Stand with feet outside shoulder-width apart. Next, bend down into a squat position and place your hands on the floor. Now quickly thrust your legs behind, you so you end up at the top of a pushup position. Bring your legs back up so they land outside your hands, and then jump up quickly. That's one rep.
Get into pushup position with your toes on the ball. Bend your hips and roll the ball toward you so your torso becomes vertical. Roll back so your body is straight again and extend your spine, then roll the ball up your legs so your body forms a straight line with arms extended overhead but hands still on the floor. You should look like Superman flying downward. That’s one rep. Pull with your lats to return to the pushup position and begin the next rep.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30-degree incline and lie on it chest-down with a dumbbell in each hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms out 90 degrees to your sides so your palms face down in the top position.
Start by holding the bar against your body with your hands at shoulder-width on the bar. Keeping your back in its natural curve, bend your hips and knees (as you would in a squat), lowering the bar to just above your knees. Explosively extend your hips as if jumping, while at the same time shrugging your shoulders and pulling the bar straight up in front of your torso. As the bar reaches chest level, bend your elbows and flip your wrists to catch the bar at shoulder level.
In this stance, your palms should face the ceiling, and your shoulders should be pointing foward. Make sure at this stage that your back is straight, and that the bar is at your center of gravity. Bend your hips and knees as you catch the bar to absorb the impact.
Attach a straight or lat-pulldown bar to the pulley of a seated row station. Sit on the bench (or floor) with your feet against the foot plate and knees slightly bent. Keeping your lower back flat, bend forward at the hips to grasp the bar and row it to your sternum, squeezing your shoulder blades together in the end position. Extend your arms and feel the stretch in your backbefore beginning the next rep.
Set up as you did for the neutral-grip row, but with lighter dumbbells. Set a timer for three minutes. Raise your arms out to your sides 90 degrees, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top for a second. Complete your set and then rest until the end of three minutes, when your timer goes off.
Set up as you did for the back extension and then raise your left arm and right leg off the floor. Hold at the top for a second with both limbs straight and then lower back down. Repeat with your right arm and left leg. That's one rep.
Raise your hands and legs off the floor (and hold them straight) so that only your hips remain in contact with it. Contract your back as if you were trying to touch your heels and elbows to the ceiling.
Attach a suspension trainer to a sturdy object overhead. Set the handles less than shoulder-width apart and high enough so that when you hang from them your feet will be off the floor. Grasp the handles, with palms facing you, and hang. Now pull yourself up until your chin is over your hands. Begin to lower yourself, moving your elbows away from your body and rotating your palms to face forward. Do it slowly (it should take three to five seconds to come back down). That’s one rep.
Set up in a squat rack or cage. Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width, basically wide and comfortable. Retract your shoulder blades and unrack the bar. Take one step back with each foot and point toes out at 30 degrees. Inhale, then bend your hips and knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Push your knees outward as you descend. Drive with your hips to come back up while pushing your knees outward.
Lengthen the straps and hold the handles. Lean back with arms extended so that your body is supported by the trainer and only your feet are on the floor. Brace your core and hold your body in a straight line. (The lower you set the handles, the harder the exercise; you can elevate your feet on something to make it even harder.) With palms facing your feet, row your body up. Perform 75 total reps, resting as needed. Go one rep shy of failure each set.
Hold the bar with an underhand grip at shoulder-width. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend your hips back and lower your torso to about 60 degrees. Row the weight to your belly button using a slight cheat (use momentum to begin each rep), but don’t let your lower back round. If you have wrist straps, you may use them to help your grip.
Grasp the bar overhand and bend forward so torso is parallel to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row the weight to your neck. This is different than a barbell row to your chest, so be sure to use less weight than you would for a barbell row.