How to Work Out Your Upper Back to Get the Muscle Line

Find the right exercises to develop muscular lines in your back.
i Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Trainer Jonathan Deprospo, writing on, notes that upper back training is often neglected by weightlifters. The relevant muscles are hard to see, aren't heavily relied on in most sports and can be difficult to target. They do comprise the second largest muscle group in your body, though, after your legs and buttocks. Devoting time to this muscle group can improve your overall physique by giving your back the muscular lines that indicate tone and definition.

Upper Back Anatomy

The upper back includes three main muscles: the trapezius, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae. The trapezius or “traps” is the most obvious upper back muscle, constituting most of the area below your skull down to your mid back. The latissimus dorsi or “lats” are the mid-back muscles that give your back a V-shaped taper when well developed. The erector spinae are columns of muscle running up from your hips along your spine; although not technically “upper back” muscles, they are critical for many exercises that target the upper back.


Barbell shrugs are an excellent exercise for specifically targeting your traps. To execute a barbell shrug, grip the barbell with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your arms fully extended in front of you so that the bar rests about at your mid-thigh. Keeping your torso and arms stable, lift the bar three to four inches by shrugging your shoulders, pausing briefly at the highest point. Then, slowly lower your shoulders to the starting position. Do two to three sets of 10 to15 repetitions.

Latissimus Dorsi

Pull-ups are a simple and effective way to train your lats. Grip a pull-up bar overhand -- palms facing away from you-- with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees 90 degrees and then slowly pull your body up to the bar while keeping your torso rigid. Try to bring your chin above the bar. This exercise targets both your middle and lower lats. Aim for three sets of 10 to 12 reps. Use an assisted pull-up machine that allows you to rest your knees on a pad or your feet on a bar if you are unable to execute the move at full body weight.

Erector Spinae

Strengthening your erector spinae can help avoid injury and improve your posture, allowing you to train harder and show off your upper back muscles more. Barbell power cleans develop your traps and lats as well as your erector spinae. Start with the barbell on the ground. Place your feet close to the bar and grip it with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Perform a squat, then lift the barbell by straightening your legs and extending your hips at the same time. When the barbell is about at your mid-thighs, do a slight jump, going into another squat while lifting the barbell to your chest, still keeping it close to your body. Then rotate your elbows forward and straighten your legs again. Finish by standing fully upright with the bar resting on your hands and chest with your elbows pointed out in front of you. Do two sets of five to six reps.

the nest