How to Build Stronger Back and Shoulder Muscles (2023)

It's easy to take the strength of our back and shoulders for granted. Many of the motions we perform in our daily lives such as carrying, reaching, twisting, turning, lifting, and bending, are dependent on our back and shoulder muscles.

A back and shoulder workout is so much more than a great form of exercise. It's important to maintain strength and flexibility in these muscle groups to keep them functioning at an optimal level and also prevent injury.

If you suffer from chronic back pain, this can stem from having weak spinal muscles. To understand where chronic back pain comes from, it's important to know how the quadratus lumborum (QL) functions. Your QL is located in your lower back and is the deepest muscle inside the abdominal wall.

Low back pain often results from poor posture while sitting or from sitting too much, which weakens the muscle over time. Research has shown that strengthening the QL is key to alleviating low back pain.

Studies have found that exercise programs with an emphasis on strength training are highly effective forms of treatment for chronic back pain, with results indicating less pain and discomfort and improved quality of life.

Strengthening the QL muscle in the core is key to building a stronger back, but it doesn't stop there. The primary muscles groups in the back that connect to the shoulders need to be exercised and strengthened as well. Those include:

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  • Latissimus dorsi: These are the muscles just below the armpits that run down both sides of the back.
  • Rhomboids: Located in the mid-upper back region, these muscles are responsible for the stability of the scapula (shoulder blades) and shoulder girdle.
  • Trapezius: These run from the mid-back to the neck.
  • Erector spinae: This muscle group runs along the spine to support the shouldersand limbs, and is responsible for rotating the scapula in order to lift the arms above shoulder height.

Shoulder instability often results in chronic shoulder pain. But shoulder pain can also be caused by rotator cuff injury, adhesive capsulitis (often referred to as "frozen shoulder"), and shoulder arthritis. While it's important to regularly strengthen your back and shoulders, it doesn't mean you should do a shoulder workout every day.

Studies have shown that overtraining the shoulder muscles can lead to overuse injuries. It's recommended you exercise your back and shoulder muscles three days a week with a rest day in between to give your muscles ample time to recover.

It's also important to work the back and shoulder muscle groups together. In fact, a 2017 study that combined upper body strength training including shoulder, upper back, and neck exercises with lower back strengthening resulted in significantly less pain and disability compared to subjects who only performed lower back strengthening exercises.

Try these strengthening workouts with weights to build muscle in your back and shoulders to increase mobility and range of motion, alleviate chronic pain, and avoid injury.

Work Your Upper Body in a Short and Efficient Workout

Chin-ups and Pullups

How to Build Stronger Back and Shoulder Muscles (1)

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Executing a proper chin-up or pullup with good form requires the strength of your entire upper body, including your arms as well as your core. The main muscle beneficiaries in both variations are the teres, which attach to the scapula and humerus (arm bone), as well as the rhomboids and lats of your back muscles.

The difference between the two exercises is the grip. For chin-ups, you'll use an underhand grip, which targets your biceps and brachialis (elbow flexors) and give your lats and teres more of a workout as well. The overhand grip in a pullup is just as effective, only the biceps are not as involved in the effort.

Lat Pulldowns

Pulldowns mostly work your teres and lats, but when you pull down behind your head, you can give your rhomboid muscles on your back a workout, too. Be cautious when pulling the bar behind your head so that you don't hit your cervical spine.

Bent Over Rows

You get a lot of value for the time and effort you'll put in with this back and shoulder exercise, because your back, shoulder, and arm muscles are all getting a workout in tandem.

Also known as a barbell high row, a barbell bent over row with an overhand grip mostly targets your back, while an underhand grip gets your biceps and trapezius involved. Remember to maintain a neutral spine or allow your back to naturally arch to avoid tucking your tailbone.

T-Bar Rows

If your gym has a T-bar machine, be sure to take advantage of it. Similar in effect to bent over rows, T-bar rows give your back, shoulders, and arms a great workout. You may notice a standing machine or one with a bench for abdominal support.

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Seated Cable Rows

The rowing machine allows you to pull against an adjustable weight as you slide along a frame for seated cable rows. Draw your shoulder blades together and try using a wider grip for variety to work different muscle groups in your back and shoulders. This is a useful exercise for your back muscles as well as the posterior deltoid of your shoulder.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows

How to Build Stronger Back and Shoulder Muscles (2)

This exercise can be performed bent over with your opposite hand resting on a bench or piece of gym equipment, or kneeling or leaning on a bench with one knee. As you lift a dumbbell in a rowing motion with your arm, you'll also get a solid workout for your back with some activity on your arms and rear shoulder muscle.

Back Extensions

The back extension machine at the gym is a great tool for targeting your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Back extensions are sometimes overlooked, but they can be very useful in strengthening the all-important posterior chain, which are the main muscle groups of the back-body.

Barbell and Dumbbell Shrugs

Shrugs are similar to upright rows and work the trapezius muscles at the top of your spine around the neck. You can perform this exercise with dumbbells hanging at your side—just shrug the muscles up and down—or use a shrug machine if one is available.

Seated Front Dumbbell Press

All three of your shoulder deltoid muscles get a workout with the front overhead press. Sit on a bench and push alternating dumbbells over your head.

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Bent Over Lateral Raises

Keeping your back straight, bend over and raise the dumbbells (or pulley weights) to your sides, like a bird opening its wings. This exercise targets your deltoids and your back muscles.

You can also perform lateral raises standing upright, which work the trapezius muscles in the shoulders even more. Don't overdo it with weight on this exercise to avoid straining or injuring your shoulders.

Dumbbell Front Raises

Dumbbell front raises are isolation exercises to stabilize your shoulders. In the front raise, the dumbbells are lifted straight out in front of you, alternating left to right. This targets your front and middle deltoids and your chest muscles as well. Keep the weight on the lighter side for this one to avoid straining your shoulders and back.

Deadlifts

How to Build Stronger Back and Shoulder Muscles (3)

As the best compound exercise you can do, the deadlift hits more muscles than any other single exercise, with the exception of the Olympic lifts. Your back gets an incredible workout, and, as you might expect, this exercise also strengthens the important lower back muscle, the QL.

Remember that a weakened QL muscle is a common cause of chronic back pain, though it's located deep in your abdominal wall. Use caution with all of these back and shoulder exercises, and only lift the amount of weight that's best suited for your level of fitness.

If you have shoulder or back pain or injury and you're interested in beginning a strength training program but not sure where to start, consult with your doctor first to get cleared for exercise.

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FAQs

How do I get stronger shoulder muscles? ›

Best Shoulder Exercises
  1. Overhead Press. Why It's Great: All-in-one exercise for building strong shoulders. ...
  2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press. Why It's Great: Fantastic for training strength and working with greater ranges of motion. ...
  3. Landmine Press. ...
  4. Arnold Press. ...
  5. Push Press. ...
  6. Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press. ...
  7. Banded/Cable Delt Raises.
15 May 2020

How can I build back and shoulders at home? ›

Forward Raise
  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand with your arms resting along the front of your legs, palms facing in. ...
  2. Slowly lift your arms straight up in font of your body until they are in line with your shoulders. ...
  3. Then, slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position.
5 Jan 2019

How do I build back muscle? ›

15 of the Best Back Moves for Building Muscle
  1. Kettlebell Swings.
  2. Barbell Deadlift.
  3. Barbell Bent-over Row.
  4. Pull-up.
  5. Dumbbell Single-arm Row.
  6. Chest-supported Dumbbell Row.
  7. Inverted Row.
  8. Lat Pulldown.
26 Apr 2022

How do I make my weak shoulders stronger? ›

Exercise One
  1. Lie on your stomach on a table or a bed.
  2. Put one arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down.
  3. Keeping your elbow bent, rotate your shoulder so that the back of your hand raises up towards the ceiling.
  4. Lower the hand slowly.
  5. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Perform with opposite arm.
11 Aug 2022

Are shoulders easy to build? ›

But shoulders are also a tricky joint that requires extra-special attention. The shoulder is a multifaceted junction where power and vulnerability live close to each other. You can make big strides or big mistakes in shoulder training, simply by altering your exercises by a few inches.

How long does it take to strengthen back muscles? ›

Most can expect to see noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks of starting a new strength training routine.

How can I make my back strong and healthy? ›

Kozlow, MD, here are some of the best ways to keep your back and spine healthy and avoid back injury:
  1. Keep your weight down. ...
  2. Maintain good core strength. ...
  3. Use proper lifting techniques. ...
  4. Strengthen hips and legs through daily exercise. ...
  5. Focus on isometric exercises. ...
  6. Stretch. ...
  7. Quit smoking.
11 Apr 2017

What exercise works the back and shoulders? ›

One-arm dumbbell rows are a safe, simple exercise for developing shoulder and upper back muscles. Place your left knee and your left hand with your left arm fully extended on a bench. Make sure your spine is almost parallel to the ground. With your right hand, lift a dumbbell, keeping your forearm at your side.

What exercise pulls your shoulders back? ›

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow your arms to hang down toward the floor. Pull your elbows back, in line with your shoulders, as you squeeze your upper back and rear shoulders together. Lower the weights back down to complete one rep.

Can I train back and shoulders together? ›

Yes, you can train shoulders and back on the same day. Training shoulders and back is safe and effective and can lead to gains in both strength and mass when programmed properly. When selecting shoulder and back exercises to target, you will need to consider your areas of weaknesses.

What exercises build shoulder muscles? ›

Here, Coggan offers four exercises to try, as well as modifications for each fitness level.
  1. Dumbbell front raise. ...
  2. Dumbbell lateral raise. ...
  3. Reverse fly. ...
  4. Seated military press. ...
  5. Standing dumbbell shoulder press. ...
  6. One-arm dumbbell push press. ...
  7. Plank dumbbell shoulder raise.

Are back muscles easy to build? ›

There is one body part on us that if developed properly, can transform our physique. But building your back muscles isn't really that easy. Unfortunately, for most of us our back muscles are not our genetic strong point.

Why is it hard to build back muscles? ›

"One reason muscle development can be difficult is that many people only work a particular area of the back and leave out another, perhaps smaller, area that aids in form and function," says Cris Dobrosielski, C.S.C.S., spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and owner of Monumental Results in San Diego.

Why are my shoulder muscles so weak? ›

Weakness of the shoulder can come from deficits in coordination nerve muscle or tendon. Often weak shoulders will respond to a gradually progressive strengthening program. If shoulder weakness does not respond to these exercises it may be due to a rotator cuff problem or a nerve injury.

What foods increase shoulder strength? ›

Buy milk fortified with vitamin D, and you'll get even more benefits.
...
Five of the best sources of protein are:
  1. Lean meats. A big, juicy steak may sound delicious, but if you're trying to get the most out of your meat, stick to chicken, pork and lean cuts of red meat.
  2. Fish. ...
  3. Greek yogurt. ...
  4. Eggs. ...
  5. Nut butter.
13 Jan 2015

What's the hardest muscle to develop? ›

5 OF THE HARDEST TO TRAIN BODY AREAS
  • Obliques. Pretty much everyone does the standard ab crunches, but crunches aren't going to develop your obliques. ...
  • Calves. ...
  • Forearms. ...
  • Triceps. ...
  • Lower stomach.

How long do shoulders take to build? ›

How soon will you see results? You'll feel the results before they become noticeably visible. If you work out at least two to three times per week for at least 20 minutes, you'll be able to see results within a few weeks or months.

Can I train my shoulders everyday? ›

Yes, you can train your shoulders frequently—but only if you're not constantly slaughtering them with heavy weights. Instead, spend more time doing exercises that strengthen your mid-back muscles and rotator cuff muscles.

What workout should I do everyday? ›

What Body Parts to Work on What Days?
  • Monday: Chest and triceps.
  • Tuesday: Back and biceps.
  • Wednesday: Legs and shoulders.
  • Thursday: Rest.
  • Friday: Chest and triceps.
  • Saturday: Back and biceps.
  • Sunday: Legs and shoulders.
5 Mar 2021

How many exercises should I do for my back? ›

The key to developing all of your major back muscles is to combine exercises that train all three major functions.
...
Here is a sample back workout:
  1. Deadlift: 3 sets x 5 reps.
  2. Pull-Up (or Lat Pulldown): 3 sets x 8 reps.
  3. Dumbbell Row: 3 sets x 10 reps.
  4. Back Extension: 3 sets x 12 reps.
  5. Reverse Dumbbell Fly: 3 sets x 15 reps.
31 Aug 2021

How many times you should train your back? ›

How Much Should You Train? Like all muscles in your body, you can perform back exercises up to three non-consecutive days a week. If you're lifting heavy weights—enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions—you'll need two or more days of rest before you perform the exercise again.

Which food makes your back strong? ›

Certain vegetables contain properties that will help fight spinal issues. Kale, broccoli, and spinach work well against inflammation. Each of these vegetables also contains nutrients that will help strengthen your spine.

What exercise works back and shoulders? ›

One-arm dumbbell rows are a safe, simple exercise for developing shoulder and upper back muscles. Place your left knee and your left hand with your left arm fully extended on a bench. Make sure your spine is almost parallel to the ground. With your right hand, lift a dumbbell, keeping your forearm at your side.

Can you train back and shoulders? ›

Yes, you can train shoulders and back on the same day. Training shoulders and back is safe and effective and can lead to gains in both strength and mass when programmed properly. When selecting shoulder and back exercises to target, you will need to consider your areas of weaknesses.

How often should you train back and shoulders? ›

How often to train shoulders? Training the shoulders at least two times per week is the most common approach and supported by the latest advice on training frequency.

What two muscles should I train together? ›

Here's an example of how you could combine muscle groups using the more detailed groups we outlined: Day 1: chest, shoulders, triceps, forearms. Day 2: calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes. Day 3: biceps, back, abdominals, traps, lats.

Which muscles not to train together? ›

A typical two-day split, for example, works your lower body one day and upper body the next day. Or you can work your pushing muscles — chest, shoulders and triceps — one day, then your pulling muscles — back and biceps — the other day.

How many muscles should I train a day? ›

In order to maximise growth, it's best to focus on just one major muscle group each session (chest, legs or back). Supplement your workout with exercises that focus on two smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves, abs and shoulders).

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