Upper back exercises target the trapezius muscles and latissimus dorsi muscles.
The trapezius muscles, or traps, are located between the shoulders and the neck and extend to the spine from each side about 50% of the way from the top of the back. The traps are most notable in the flexed position as the area between the shoulders and neck will noticeably arch upwards when flexed.
The latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as lats, are located on each side of the back and extend from underneath the armpit to the middle part of the back.
For a better idea on the location of these two muscle groups, see the image below that shows the various muscle groups of the back:
There are two upper back exercises that will most effectively develop the traps and the upper region of the lats. Performing these upper back exercises as part of your workout schedule will ensure that your upper back is fully developed and not lagging behind any other muscle group.
Upper Back Lift#1: Shrugs
argeted Muscles: Upper Back – Trapezius or Traps
Auxiliary Muscles: Forearms
Shrugs are an effective exercise at targeting the traps.
To properly perform shrugs, stand holding a barbell and shrug your shoulders as high as possible and return to the relaxed starting position.
If you are performing this exercise with an amount of weight that makes it hard to maintain your grip on the barbell, you will want to purchase a pair of wrist wraps with metal hooks to rest the bar on while you perform this movement.
You may also perform this lift with dumbbells instead of a barbell if you prefer using dumbbells.
Upper Back Lift#2: Lat Pull Downs
Targeted Muscles: Upper and Middle Back – Trapezius and Upper Latissimus Dorsi
Auxiliary Muscles: Biceps and Forearms
You will perform lat pull downs by sitting on a pulley machine with an overhead lat pull down bar. Grip the bar and pull it downward in front of you until the bar is about 2″ below your chin. Raise the weight and repeat the process as necessary.
Make sure to keep your back as straight as possible when performing this exercise as leaning back will shift the emphasis of the exercise away from your lats. When doing lat pull downs, you should also focus on pulling down with your elbows to ensure that the focus remains on your upper and middle back and does not shift to your lower back or biceps.
At the top of the movement your arms should be completely extended upwards. At the bottom of the movement your elbows should be at your sides with your shoulder blades squeezing together.
Some people prefer pull-ups to the lat pull down exercise. Pull-ups are also effective at targeting the lats and can be substituted in place of the lat pull down exercise.
The muscles of the upper back are often ignored while lifters spend their time focusing on more sexy muscles like the chest and abs. If you have ever seen someone with a developed front torso and a lacking back, you will know how awkward and just plain silly that looks.
The upper back is an important part of your overall bodybuilding development and should not be ignored. Not only is a developed upper back aesthetically pleasing, it also accounts for up to 30% of your upper body thickness.
The two upper back exercises described above will give your upper back all of the stress required for full development and enable you to build a muscular and sculpted upper back.
For the fastest muscle and strength gains, you will want to follow a muscle building diet plan to make sure you are getting the most out of your hard work and dedication.