The back is such an important part of what makes an impressive physique. But with literally 100’s of different back exercises out there, it’s hard to tell which you should do in your back workout. That’s why we got Betty – our muscle activation measuring machine. Today we’re using her to test the best back exercises on 4 different people. At the end, we’ll use the results to create a perfect back workout you can trust is the best back workout that’ll get you the muscular, powerful looking back you’re after.

Different back exercises will target different back muscles. The two main features of a well-developed back are thickness, and width. Most thickness comes from the mid and upper back muscles. So we put a sensor on the mid-traps. We also put a sensor on the lower traps. The main muscle responsible for widening your back and building is the lats. Because it’s the largest muscle of the upper body, we put 2 sensors on it, one on the upper lats, and one on the lower lats.

Next, let’s cover the details of the experiment that’ll help us find the best back exercises. Subjects: Coach Alex, Raza, Tahnee, and myself. There was no wager this time around. We had to control 3 variables: 1) weight testing, sensor placement, and maximum voluntary contraction. We did 1 set of 5 reps, then took at least 5-minute rest before moving onto the next exercise. We also rotated between horizontal and vertical pulling exercises.

Note that Betty, and EMG research in general, has its limitations. More activation does not always lead to more growth, and there are other variables to consider when determining how well an exercise grows muscle. That said, after averaging the data, I did find some very interesting insights that align with other current research.

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First, “overall back builders” to include in your back workout. The first is deadlifts. Your legs are mostly responsible for moving the weight, but all of your upper and lower back muscles have to work hard to keep your body stable as you lift. Although they aren’t taken through their full range of motion and are only contracting isometrically, this is still a powerful stimulus for growth especially because of the heavy weight used and the deep stretch that some of these back muscles experience. The second exercise is bent-over rows. Similar to deadlifts, you’re able to load it relatively heavy and your whole back, including the lower back, is helping you stabilize and move the weight. The overhand grip led to more mid back activation whereas the underhand grip, led to slightly more lats activation primarily in the lower lats.

Next, the best exercises for the mid and upper back. The exercise that came on top was the inverted rows. It led to the highest back activation for both Tahnee and Raza but didn’t do nearly as well for both myself and Alex. So while it is a great bodyweight exercise that I’d highly recommend for most females and beginners, as you get more experienced you’ll want to consider other movements that you can start adding weight to or save this exercise for the tail end of your workout. As for the other exercises that came out on top, wide grip seated cable rows and dumbbell chest supported rows with the elbows flared out and shoulder blades squeezed together at the end, both led to the highest activation after the inverted row. So, when talking about the “best back workout”, these two will definitely make an appearance.

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Now, I want to talk about the lower traps. It’s an extremely important yet often overlooked muscle for overall shoulder health and posture. So I’d recommend including at least one lower traps exercise in your routine. And the one that came out on top during our experiment? Incline prone Y raises.

Last but not least, the lats. While lat pulldowns and pull-ups do a pretty good job of activating the lats, one move in particular however led to higher activation than any of those exercises. The lat-focused row.

Let’s put everything we learned into “perfect back workout” that you can start using right away. I’d recommend picking one exercise from each of the categories we went through and then adding in prone Y raises to the end to give the lower traps some extra love.

Sample Back Workout

Bent-Over Barbell Row
Dumbbell Chest Supported Row (elbows angled out)
Incline Prone Y-Raises

Click below for a step by step plan training plan that reveals all the best exercises you should do for each and every muscle group:

Download your FREE back workout PDF:

Vote for the glutes exercises you think will come out on top:

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31 thoughts on “I Created The Smartest Back Workout (USING SCIENCE)”
  1. what you did in this video is insane i cant imagine the time that is took to be uploaded
    very awesome and informative video

  2. Oh man I wush I found your channel earlier
    You really changed my life, thanks to your content i started working out, also I was working in food delivery for a year, and thanks to u finally made a channel about fitness, now feel like I’m where I should be, working hard and hope one day my 100 subs will become 100k and I’ll quit delivery! Best wishes from Ukraine man, keep it up!

  3. It is just me, or would anyone else want to see him re-do his push/pull/legs… upper/lower… and full body split workouts using his new information as his other videos are a year or more old?

    1. I’ve been using his full body splits for a while now, been updating it with the new data he found with the chest and shoulder exercises. Looking forward to update it more with this new one.

  4. Dude I’ve been waiting for this ever since you did it with shoulders. Thanks so much! Already tried some of your previous recommendations and really helps

  5. I recently programmed deadlifts in as the starting lift on my back days and I’m really enjoying it – definitely feels like my back muscles are fired up when I go into my more isolated back movements afterwards.

    1. also more fatigued with very minimal stimulus, but it propably isnt a big deal at all so if you enjoy it keep doing it!

    2. @joo i tend to just bust out 3 heavy sets of 5 as explosively as possible (+ 2 or 3 warmup sets) for the strength benefit and full-body muscle ignition so it’s not too fatiguing for me personally with that volume

  6. I’ve switched to a four day split that runs something like this and been getting good results:

    Upper A
    BB Bench press (4-5 sets)
    BB Row (4)
    Inc DB Press (3)
    DB Row (2-3)
    Bicep/tricep superset (3)

    Lower A
    BB Back Squat (4-5 sets)
    RDL (3)
    Glute machine/hip thrusts (3)
    Leg xtnsn, prone leg curl (3 each or superset)

    Upper B
    BB Overhead press (4-5)
    Pullups or lat pulldowns (4-5)
    Y raises or wall slides (4)
    Lateral raise, rear delt superset (3)

    Lower B
    Deadlift (4-5 sets)
    Front Squat (3)
    Bulg. Split Squat (3)
    Leg xtnsn, leg curl (drop set to failure)

    That’s the general template at least, then add extra stuff as needed.

  7. I really think it’s very smart to add deadlifts, specially rdl’s on your back day, because you can add maybe 3 or 4 sets of leg curls and you get done with the hamstrings, like start with your rows/pulldowns go to rdl’s (will still use your back) and since u already doing rdls just add some leg curls and u’re done. And on your leg day you can focus more on quads and since you dont need to train hams on that day you have more time to maybe add the calvs, shoulders, abs, etc.. that’s just my opinion

  8. Goat for uploading this. My back workout has always been mid and doesn’t look that good compared to the rest of my body. Gonna see some crazy results in a couple of months hopefully

    1. Split back into two days upper back focus and lat focused.Both of these guys have pull workouts and everything else.

  9. Great series, Jeremy, this is a really splendid way to show growth in individual muscles or in muscle groups! And thanks to Tahnee and F to your your wrist strap!

    As for deadlifts, I actually do a Upper-Lower Body split so I just include it in my Lower Body days, which happens to be my leg days.

  10. For those with not much time to watch.
    – 2 Best overall: deadlift, bent-over barbell rows
    – 3 Best middle/upper back: Cable row (elbows angled out), Dumbbell chest supported row, Wide grip chest supported machine row.
    – Best lower traps: Incline prone Y-raises
    – 4 Best lats: Lat focused row (elbows in, lean forward), pull ups, lat pulldown, chin ups.

  11. I always do farmer carries or deadlifts at the beginning of my back training. Those 2 exercises prime my body and grip which make the following pull up/down and row variations feel so much lighter and I get a much better mind muscle connection with them as well.

  12. A quick spreadsheet with the results table would be really helpful for when we want to mix up exercises. Personally I have recently been enjoying the Cable Lat Prayers and am interested in how they stack up against the the more standard seated Lat Pulldown.

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