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11 Chest & Back Exercises

Here are some really effective exercises to build muscle mass in your chest and back area. If you are a beginner, choose a low weight to start and add more as you safely progress. As always, check with a doctor before you begin any new exercise regime.

Pectorals Major (Pecs)

These are the chest muscles. The largest is the fan shaped muscle across your chest.

Bench Press

Lie face up on the bench. Grab bar with wide grip. Lower the bar to the middle of your chest then raise until your arms are nearly locked.

Keep your elbows out to a 90 degree angle from your body. Keep control; do not let momentum do the work for you. Do not arch your back. Keep your feet on the floor. You can do variations of the bench press:

  • For more of an upper pecs workout, use incline bench. No more than 30 degrees.
  • For lower chest, use decline bench. No more than 30 degrees.
  • Your can also affect change by bringing barbell to different points on the chest and even lowering it to the neck (guillotine press).
  • All presses can be done with a dumbbell for a change.
Dumbbell Flyes

Lie face up on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold dumbbells above your chest with palms facing each other. With your arms straight but slightly bent, lower weight to your sides, rotating your shoulders, stretching your pecs. Bring weight back to the starting position as if hugging a large tree.

To help with the stretch, push your chest out slightly when lowering the dumbbells.

  • Dumbbells flyes from the incline position (No more than 30 degrees) can be very effective.
Dumbbell Pullovers

Position your upper back on the bench (sideways on the bench). Gripping the weights by the closest side, grab dumbbell with both hands. Raise it in an arc over your head then lower it back down above your chest. Lower it back behind your head.

Your hips will move up and down to keep balance. Keep your arms slightly bent at the elbows. Make sure your grip is secure on the weight.

Bar Dips

On parallel bars, arms close to your sides, lower your body by bending and going forward until your shoulders are slightly stretched. Push yourself back up.

Keep same posture going up as you do going down. Bend and cross your lower legs or keep your legs straight, depending on the height of the bars. Try using a dip belt to add weight.

Push Ups

Palms on the floor, slightly wider than your shoulder width, and directly below your shoulders. Legs extended, toes on the floor. Your knees do not touch the floor, keep legs straight. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Push back up.

Keep your elbows out at a 90 degree angle from your body. Keep control, not letting momentum do the work. Keep your body straight throughout the exercise, including your head. Keep your eyes on the floor.

  • Inner Chest: Placing your hands closer together will give your inner chest more of a workout.
  • Placing your hands farther apart will give your outer chest more of a workout.
  • For a more intense workout, elevate your feet, but not too much or you will be working more on the deltoids. Or, your can add a weight plate to your back.
Trapezius (Traps)

These are the upper back muscles. They extend from the back of your neck to your shoulders.


From the standing position, grasp a barbell and extend your arms. Raise your shoulders as high as you can, then lower them. Lower your shoulders as low as possible and then as high as possible.

You can also use dumbbells. Move your shoulders in a circular motion from front to back. This motion will help hit all trap muscles.

Upright Rows

From a standing position, grasp bar at shoulder width. Pull upright with your elbows leading toward your chin. Lower until your arms are extended again. Keep the barbell close to your body. Allow your wrists to flex. You can also use dumbbells.

Latisimus Dorsi (Lats)

These are the muscles in the middle back. When trained well, they make that great V-shape that makes your waistline appear trim.

Lat-Bar Pulldown

In a sitting position, with thighs under support, lean back a bit and arch your back inward. Grasp the bar with a wide grip and pull down to the upper chest and return. Relax your arms and concentrate on using your lats. The rest of your body should remain as motionless as possible.

For more work on the biceps, use an overhand or underhand close grip.

Wide Grip Pull-Ups

Grab overhead bar with a wide grip. Pull your body up until your chin is over the bar. Lower your body back down until arms are extended. Fully stretch your arms at the bottom of this exercise. Do not allow your body to swing. A spotter or an assist machine can help the raising up portion of this exercise. If you are unable to raise your body up, concentrate on the lowering part of the exercise until your lats are built enough to do the work.

For more use of your biceps, use either an over handed or underhanded grip.

Bent Over Rows

With your feet at shoulder width, bend over at the waist until your upper body is nearly parallel with the floor. Bend legs slightly at the knees. Hold barbell at arms length and pull it up to your lower chest. Lower back down until arms are extended to beginning position. Keep your head up and eyes focused on a point in front of you to keep alignment.

One arm rows, done with dumbbells, one leg kneeling on the bench and the other straight, can be very effective at isolating each side of the lats.

Seated Rows

On the row machine, with your legs slightly bent, and your back straight, grasp handles and pull back to just below your chest and then lower the weight back down. Concentrate on using your back muscles. Keep your torso upright and don’t lean back. Make sure you keep your back straight.

These can be done by allowing your back to bend and stretch out. Doing this will work the lower back.

Rhomboids, Middle Back

Between your shoulder blades in the middle are the rhomboids. Any weight lifting exercise that requires the shoulder blades to come together, like the workout for the lats found above, will also involve the mid back.

Erector Spinae, Lower Back

This muscle group extends the back along the spinal column, and contributes to good posture. Weight lifting with compound exercises for the legs (for instance squats and deadlifts), also workout the lower back.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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