3 Exercises That Build Strong Back and Shoulder Muscles



By Ryan Obernesser


For most gym-goers, the backsides of their bodies are overlooked for training. But for athletes, this should never be the case. The backside of the shoulder and upper back are among the most important areas to develop to keep your shoulders strong, healthy and durable.


Let’s be honest. Many of you have poor posture, which isn’t your fault. You’re required to sit all day, and at some point you are probably hunched over. This tightens your chest muscles and pulls your shoulders forward. Combine this with an emphasis on pressing exercises like the Bench Press, and you have a recipe for disaster. A forward hunched posture is a huge concern for shoulder health and can eventually be the root cause of an injury.


To counteract this tendency, it is critical to develop your rear delts, upper traps and rhomboids. Strengthening these muscles pulls your shoulders back into a proper posture, optimizing shoulder function. As an added benefit, regularly working these muscles develops cannonball-like shoulders and a cut upper back.


Here are three excellent options for developing this critical area of your body in your posterior chain.


Bent-Over Lateral Raises
All you need is a set of dumbbells or plates. Bend over and do the exact opposite movement of a Chest Fly. One word of caution: Do not rock up and down like some people do to lift heavy weight. This exercise should be done with complete control. A great way to add this to your workout is to superset it with a pressing exercise like the DB Bench.


How to:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding lightweight dumbbells or plates at your sides.
  • Sit your hips back to bend over until your torso is about parallel to the ground.
  • Allow your arms to hang below your shoulders.
  • Keep your core tight and back flat.
  • Pull your shoulders back and raise your arms up at your sides until they are about parallel to the ground.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
  • Sets/Reps: 3×12


Half-Kneeling Band Face Pulls
Face Pulls blast the rear delts and upper back. You can do them during a warm-up to prime these muscles, or toward the end of the workout with high reps to help these muscles grow.


How to:

  • Kneel on one knee facing a resistance band wrapped around a fixed object, such as a squat rack post.
  • Hold the band with straight arms at eye level. You should be far enough away from the anchor point to create tension in the band.
  • Keeping your core tight, retract your shoulder blades and pull your hands to the sides of your face.
  • Keep your elbows above your hands.
  • Allow your arms to straighten under control to return to the starting position.
  • Sets/Reps: 1-2×25


The TRX T is similar to the Bent-Over Row, but it allows you stay in a plank position instead of the bent-over position. This is bit easier for beginners attempting to work the backside of their shoulders


How to:

  • Stand facing a TRX Suspension Trainer and grasp the handles with your palms facing together.
  • Lean back slightly with your arms extended in front at shoulder level.
  • Pinch your shoulder blades together and spread your arms to the side to form a T.
  • Keep your arms straight.
  • Slowly bring your arms together to return to starting position.
  • Sets/Reps: 3×12