Exercises Using Free Weights for the Back

Lifting exercises like these can help you sculpt and strengthen your back.

Lifting exercises like these can help you sculpt and strengthen your back.

Sculpting a strong, sexy back doesn’t have to involve machines or fancy cables. It can be done either at the gym or in your own living room simply by grabbing a set of free weights. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced pro, you can either isolate specific muscles of the back or do total-back moves that cover them all. The key is simply to get started. Once you do, you’ll not only start looking better, you’ll also discover the additional benefits of a strong back including better posture, fewer back aches and greater ability to engage in physical activity with the ones you love.

Start with bent-over rows. As one of the most common free-weight exercises for the back, these moves target the middle back while also working the shoulders, biceps and lats. They’re easy to perform and, according to bodybuilding.com, are great for beginners. However, just by increasing the weight, you can make them as advanced as you want.

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, grab a weighted bar, or place a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly and bend forward at the waist until you are slightly higher than parallel with the floor. Keeping your head up and your core engaged, lift the bar or dumbbells upward at your side, contracting the muscles in your back. Lower the weight to arms’ length and repeat for 10 to 15 reps. Be sure to focus on slow movements, contracting the back muscles and maintaining good form, and aim for three sets.

Move into the kneeling rear fly -- an advanced move that may require lighter weight but is great for working the muscles in your middle and upper back. Starting with dumbbells in each hand, position yourself on all fours. Slowly raise one arm toward the side until it's parallel with the floor and then lower it; repeat on the other side. Focus on maintaining good posture and form, keeping your back straight, abs tight and your lifting arm slightly bent. Also, engage your core muscles to avoid injuries and strains.

Return to a standing position for the bow and arrow. According to “Shape" magazine, these are dynamic moves that target the muscles in your upper back helping you stand tall and straight, not hunched over. The bow and arrow exercise gets its name from the motion, which will have you feeling like a powerful hunter mid-set. Standing with your feet together, grab a pair of dumbbells and extend both arms out in front of you. Pull one arm back like you’re aiming a bow and then do the same for the other arm, contracting the back muscles with each move. Keep your core engaged and don't let your form get sloppy as your muscles tire. Try for 15 reps on each side.

Items you will need

  • Free Weights
  • Athletic shoes


  • If you want to work different muscles in your back, try reversing your grip on the rows. Also, be sure to keep your core engaged in all of the moves. Relaxing your abs and back will result in back strains and poor form.


  • Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine, especially if you have a history of back trouble or a current injury. And never use weights that are too difficult for you, as this could lead to back or muscle injuries.

Video of the Day

Brought to you by LIVESTRONG.COM
Brought to you by LIVESTRONG.COM

About the Author

After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.

Photo Credits

  • Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images