Free weight exercises have at numerous times been deemed as superior to machine training to their specificity. They allow you to mimic everyday multi-planar movement patterns to a closer degree than machines will, and require a higher motor unit recruitment, due to the extra strength needed to stabilize the movement, especially if you are using dumbbells.
Another great advantage is the possibility of doing unilateral work, therefore being able to work on muscular imbalances, and strengthen each muscle individually, all whilst the body is being challenged by the extra stabilization required to perform unilateral movements.
A study has shown that people using free weights had a 58 percent greater strength increase than individuals who performed exercises on resistance-training machines. Start including the best free weight back exercises in your routine now, and you will see the benefits.
Table of Contents
This exercise section features the best dumbbell exercises to develop strength mass, and muscular endurance in your back.
Single Arm Row
The single arm row is a powerful unilateral exercise that will work nicely towards developing your lats; go through it’s entire range of motion and you will feel a considerable eccentric stretch.
To perform the movement, aim to keep your back flat, control the dumbbell through it’s entire range of motion and remember to keep your scapula engaged and retracted.
This being more of an accessory lift/exercise, it should be done subsequently to your main compound lifts.
This exercise will mainly target the lats and rhomboids.
The pullover seems to be a partially forgotten exercise at present, whereas it used to be favorited by some of the golden era of bodybuilding’s most renowned athletes.
In this article we are including the dumbbell pullover because of the powerful lat stretch and peak contraction made available to you through this exercise. But it also has many other benefits. Bodybuilders have been using this exercise to make their rib cage appear wider, work on their chest, and build up their serratus.
A pullover done with correct form, is the only way to isolate the latissimus dorsi without significant assistance from the rhomboids, teres, traps, or any of the numerous back muscles.
Through the amount of pushing exercises we tend to do, it often leaves the rear delts prone to muscular imbalances in relation to the anterior delts, which are highly solicited. An unbalanced anterior to rear delt development leads to rounded shoulders, a poor posture, and an increase in the likely hood of injury.
When performing this exercise, bend forwards whilst maintaining a neutral back, and extend your arms straight, with minimal bending at the elbow.
Use light weights for this exercise, and perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps at the end of your workout.
If you want to optimize your trap training, shrugs are among the most efficient exercises you can do. They can also be done effectively with a barbell but I find that they are more comfortable when being done with dumbbells due to your arms being placed in their neutral position directly to your sides.
Pick a heavy weight that you can use for 6 to 20 reps, and shrug your shoulders up, without bending your elbows to gain assistance from other muscles. Your scapulae should be neutral or retracted, but never elevated (letting your shoulders roll forward).
Perform 4 to 5 sets of these at the end of your workout.
This exercise section features the best barbell exercises to develop strength mass, and muscular endurance in your back.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift is a compound, full body exercise that will help you build your upper back and traps, all the while building functional strength that will also be a great carry over to main lifts such as conventional deadlifts.
Mastering a complicated move as such can be difficult and can leave you prone to a wide array of different injuries so always be very disciplined in terms of form, and do not think of this exercise as one that you have to load a maximum amount of weight on, start low and build up with the cleanest form possible.
This exercise will target the upper back and posterior chain.
An unconventional movement you may already have heard of; this exercise is mainly known through it’s use by Russian and Chinese weightlifters. What makes it great is the fact that your lower back is taken out entirely, and you cannot use your body to “kip” the weight up.
This movement requires just pure strength and control, and allows for efficient targeting of the upper, middle back, without interjection of the lumbar.
Remember to keep your scapula engaged throughout the entire range of motion for optimal back gains, and to not let the weights bounce on the floor. The hardest part of this exercise is probably the setting up which can be a little bit of a pain if you can’t find anything to raise the bench high enough to do the exercise comfortably.
Barbell Bent Over Row
The barbell bent over row is another fantastic exercise for your middle back. To perform this exercise, hold the barbell with either a pronated, or supinated (if you want to put more focus on your biceps) grip, and bend at the waist whilst keeping a neutral back, almost parallel to the ground. You can then proceed to row the weight in a controlled motion, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
If you have lower back issues it would be safer for you to perform the dumbbell version of this movement, with a leg on a bench as demonstrated further up in the article.
This exercise will mainly focus on your lats and rhomboids.
Olympic lifts such as the hang clean are known for their efficiency in developing athleticism and strength. Not only that, but they will also stimulate your forearms, traps, and nearly other 200 muscles in the body meaning that you will get a huge anabolic surge and training effect.
Nearly every muscle fiber is engaged and firing to maximize explosiveness, to provide you with the right amount of speed, and stabilize your trunk and whole body in unison to perform the clean correctly.
Like a lot of other Olympic lifts, hang cleans can be tricky to perform, and therefore you should definitely study your form appropriately, or have someone coach you if possible, to avoid injuries, and progress faster.
If you want to use this movement for hypertrophy, aim for 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps. Perform this exercise preferably towards the beginning of your workout.
The Best Free Weight Back Exercises - Conclusion
For maximum effect back workouts, you really only need two to three exercises. Pick some off of this list for your next workout (if you aren’t already doing them), implement them into your routine and see what kind of results it gives you.
Some might work better for you than others which is why it’s important to always experiment and pay close attention to what your body responds best to.
Now that we have gone over the best free weight back exercises that you can do, I want to know your opinion.
If you think I left anything out, or have tried them for yourselves and want to share your experience, please leave a comment. In the meantime, train smartly!