11 Best CrossFit Back Exercises

When it comes to working out, especially strength training, many people focus on the muscles on the front of their body, or the so-called mirror muscles. Their workouts revolve around exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, leg extensions, and biceps curls.

While the mirror muscles are undoubtedly important, the muscles on the back of the body are arguably more so. While you can’t see them in the mirror, the back muscles are responsible for holding you up against the pull of gravity, making them vital for posture.

Overemphasizing the muscles on the front of your body while paying too little attention to those of the back can also cause imbalances.

Muscles are arranged in pairs across joints. If one paired muscle is significantly stronger than the other, joints can be pulled out of correct alignment, leading to functional impairment as well as aches and pains.

Because of this, regardless of what you are training for, you should pay at least as much attention to the muscles on the back of your body as you do to those on the front.

The good news is that there are lots of exercises to choose from, and some of the best are CrossFit back exercises.

Back Muscles 101

Several muscle groups make up the back. The main ones are:

BACK WOMAN TRAININGLatissimus dorsi – known as the lats for short, these muscles are located on the sides of your upper back. Looking not unlike wings when well developed, the lats are responsible for shoulder extension and adduction.

Trapezius – located between and across your upper back, the traps are a large, diamond-shaped muscle.

There are three sets of fibers, and each one has a different function. The upper traps elevate your shoulders, while the mid-traps pull your shoulders back and together.

The lower traps pull the shoulders downward.

Rhomboids – the rhomboids work with the middle traps to pull your shoulders back. It’s located between your shoulder blades, underneath the trapezius.

Posterior deltoids – while not strictly a back muscle, the posterior deltoids work with your back muscles and are located on the rear of your shoulders. They’re important for posture and are often neglected in favor of the anterior (front) and medial (side) deltoids.

Erector spinae – the erector spinae is a collection of several muscles that run up either side of the spine. They’re responsible for spinal extension.

11 Best CrossFit Back Exercises

Do you want a well-develop, strong, healthy back? These are the best CrossFit back exercises!

1. Pull-ups

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, lower and mid-traps

CrossFitters do a lot of pull-ups, which is why so many of them have such well-developed backs. All you need to do this exercise is a bar from which to hang.

How to do it:

  1. Hold and hang from your bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

2. Deadlifts

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae

If you only have time to do one CrossFit back exercise, deadlifts would be a good choice. They involve virtually every muscle on the back of your body, including your glutes and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Place a barbell on the floor. Stand with your toes under the bar, feet about hip-width apart. Bend down and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Drop your hips, lift your chest, and straighten your arms. Brace your core.
  2. Drive your feet into the floor and stand up, ensuring your hips and shoulders rise at the same time. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Return the barbell to the floor, reset your core, and repeat.

3. Kettlebell swings

SWINGSTarget muscles: Erector spinae, mid-traps, rhomboids

Most strength training exercises are done slowly. That’s usually best for keeping tension on the target muscles.

However, kettlebell swings are done explosively, which makes them better for developing muscle power.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in front of your hips. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
  2. Bending your knees slightly, lean forward from your hips and lower the weight between your knees, pushing your hips backward as you do so.
  3. Drive your hips forward and, keeping your arms straight, swing the weight out and up above your head.
  4. Lower the weight and repeat.

4. Hyperextensions

Target muscles: Erector spinae

Most CrossFit back exercises work several back muscles at once. This one’s a little different because it mainly works the lower part of the erector spinae muscles.

How to do it:

  1. With your feet on the footrests, place your hips against the hyperextension bench’s leg pads. Put your hands behind your back (easiest), across your chest (harder), or on the side of your head (hardest).
  2. Lean forward and lower your upper body down toward the floor. Try not to round your lower back.
  3. Lift your upper body up until your shoulders, hips, and heels form a straight line.
  4. That’s one rep; keep going!

5. Barbell bent-over rows

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, mid-traps and rhomboids, erector spinae, posterior deltoids

The barbell bent-over row is a controversial exercise. While it IS a great back builder, if done with a rounded lumbar spine, it could cause injury. Long story short, always do this exercise with a slight arch in your lower back!

How to do it:

  1. Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and, without rounding your back, lean forward until your upper body is roughly parallel to the floor.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the bar up to your abdomen.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

6. Renegade rows

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, mid-traps and rhomboids, posterior deltoids

The renegade row is a great back and core exercise. Do a push-up between reps, and it quickly becomes an exercise for your entire upper body. Go light; renegade rows are more challenging than they sound!

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, get down on the floor in the push-up position, arms and legs straight and core braced.
  2. Bend one arm and row the dumbbell up into your lower ribs.
  3. Place the dumbbell back on the floor and repeat on the opposite side.
  4. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.

7. Pendlay rows

PENDLAY ROWS WITH BARBELLTarget muscles: Latissimus dorsi, mid-traps and rhomboids, erector spinae, posterior deltoids

This CrossFit back builder is named after USA weightlifting and powerlifting coach Glen Pendlay.

It’s also known as the dead stop row because each rep starts with the weight resting on the floor.

This provides your lower back with a helpful rest between reps.

How to do it:

  1. Place your barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet under the bar, about shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward. Hold the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Brace your abs.
  2. Keeping your body stationary, bend your arms and pull the bar up to your abdomen.
  3. Put the weight back on the floor, let it settle for a second, reset your core, and then repeat.

8. Body rows

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, mid-traps and rhomboids, posterior deltoids

A lot of CrossFit workouts feature pull-ups. If you can’t do pull-ups, body rows are the next best thing as they work the same muscles, but you don’t have to lift your entire body weight.

How to do it:

  1. Set the bar on a Smith machine or squat rack to about waist height. Alternatively, you can use a suspension trainer or gymnastic rings.
  2. Sit on the floor and hold the bar/handles with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
  3. With straight arms, lift your hips off the floor, so your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders form a line.
  4. Keeping your body straight, bend your arms and pull your chest up to your hands.
  5. Extend your arms and repeat.

9. Romanian deadlifts

Target muscles: Erector spinae, trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi

According to legend, this exercise was invented by Romanian weightlifters who used it to increase back strength. Quickly adopted by American athletes, this is a popular CrossFit lower back exercise that also works the glutes and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a barbell with an overhand or mixed grip, hands about shoulder-width apart. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and brace your core.
  2. Push your hips back, and lean forward, lowering the bar down the front of your legs. Descend as far as you can without rounding your lower back.
  3. Drive your hips forward and stand up.

10. Sumo deadlift high pulls

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae, posterior deltoids

CrossFit has introduced a lot of new exercises to the general fitness population. The sumo deadlift high pull is a CrossFit conditioning exercise that also delivers a great back and leg workout.

How to do it:

  1. Place your barbell on the floor. Stand with your toes under the bar, feet about 1.5 shoulder widths apart. Reach down and hold the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Pull your shoulders down and back, straighten your arms, and brace your abs.
  2. With your hips lower than your shoulders, stand up quickly and use this momentum to help you pull the bar up the front of your body to sternum height. Do not round your lower back. Your elbows should be higher than your hands.
  3. Extend your arms, lower the weight back to the floor, and repeat.

11. Prone rows

BENCH PRONE ROWSTarget muscles: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids

Most rowing exercises involve the erector spinae. This one’s a little different because it works all your major back muscles except those of the lumbar spine.

How to do it:

  1. Place a flat bench on a couple of blocks or steps to raise it up. Lie face down on the bench, arms hanging straight down. Hold a barbell or dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the weights up as far as you can. Keep your wrists straight and chest on the bench.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

 Bottom Line

When it comes to back training, most people automatically choose exercises like lat pulldowns and seated rows. While there is nothing wrong with either of these movements, they require specialist machines to do them.

Most CrossFit workouts avoid using machines, utilizing freeweight and bodyweight exercises instead. For that reason, you should be able to do many of CrossFit’s best back exercises at home.

Pull-ups, body rows, deadlifts, and sumo deadlift high-pulls are very low tech, and yet they provide the perfect way to build a stronger, more muscular back.

With so many exercises to choose from, it can be hard to decide which ones to do. But, as a general rule, most people get the best results from using 2-3 different movements per workout.

Try not to do exercises there are too similar, such as bent-over rows, Pendlay rows, and body rows, in the same workout. Instead, try to work your back from a variety of angles, such as deadlifts, pull-ups, and prone rows. This varied approach will invariably produce better results.

Regardless of the exercises you choose, to develop the front and back of your body equally, make sure you do the same volume of training for both sides of your body.

For every pushing exercise, do a pulling exercise, too. This will prevent the muscle imbalances that can negatively affect how you look, your posture, and your joint health.

Patrick

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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