A Complete Guide to Back Muscle Anatomy and Workouts

Saad Shafqat Jun 12 2015

The back includes those sets of muscles which aren’t only the strongest muscles but are equally harder to train as well. Let’s breakdown the exercises required to form a complete, stronger and leaner back.

However, before understanding the training regime, it is rather important to know about the anatomy and architecture of the back muscles.

Anatomy of Back Muscles:

The back muscles are divided into three groups:

  1. Superficial: These muscles are related to the movements of shoulder
  2. Intermediate: these muscles are associated with the movements of thoracic cage
  3. Deep: these muscles are responsible with the movements of vertebral column


Superficial Muscles

The superficial muscles originate from the spinal column and attach to the bones of the shoulder namely the clavicle, scapula and the humerus. The muscles in this group are called the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, levator scapulae and the rhomboids.

  1. Trapezius: It is the most superficial muscle of the back and is responsible for the physiologic movements of the scapula bone.
  2. Latissimus Dorsi: It originates from the lower part of the back. It extends, and rotates the upper limb.
  3. Levator Scapulae: This muscle begins in the neck and then attaches to the scapula in a descending fashion. As the name suggests it elevates the scapula muscles.
  4. Rhomboid Muscles: They are divided into two – rhomboid major and rhomboid minor. Rhomboid minor is located superiorly to major. Their function is to rotate and pull in the scapula muscles.

Intermediate Muscles

These muscles extend from the spinal column to the ribcage around your abdomen, assisting in the elevation and depression of the ribs (essentially when you breath). The muscles in this group are serratus posterior superior and serratus posterior inferior.

  1. Serratus posterior superior: A thin, rectangular shape. Its function is elevate the 2nd-5th
  2. Serratus posterior inferior: It is a strong muscle whose placement is beneath the latissimus dorsi. It elevates the 9th-12th 

Deep Muscles

These muscles develops during the time you are a fetus. These muscles are further divided into superficial, intermediate and deep. The superficial muscles include splenius capitis and splenius cervicis and they are responsible for head movements. Intermediate muscles are iliocostalis, longissimus and spinalis. Whilst the deep muscles are semispinalis, multifidus and rotatores.

Back Workouts

Now for the case of simplicity, we divide the portions of the back in four positions and designate them the most effective exercises.

  1. Upper/Outer Lats:

In these exercises, we utilize the wide grip movements which target the upper back and traps regions. The best exercises for these parts are the Pull-ups and Bent-over barbell rows.


  • Use the overhead grip. Fully extend your arms keeping your shoulders relaxed.
  • With the help of your lats and biceps, pull yourself up to the highest possible point for proper stimulation of the designated muscles.
  • You can use the help of a spotter or a bench to push yourself up to reach the highest point.

Bent-over barbell press

  • Use a wider than shoulder width grip for this exercise.
  • Keeping your elbows to the sides, knees bent, move the barbell as high as possible towards the upper abs for proper stimulation.
  1. Lower Lats:

To target the lower lats, the reverse grip moves and the close-grip pull-ups/pull downs are to be worked out.

Reverse-Grip Pull downs

  • An underarm grip is required for this.
  • Keeping your chest flexed, body in upright position, pull the weight down with the help of your lats. Back should be slightly arched.
  • Elbows should be down and out as much as possible until it reaches the upper pecs and squeezing your shoulder blades together for proper stimulation.
  1. Middle Part Of The Back:

To target the middle part of your back for maximum thickness, the seated cable rows and single arm dumbbell rows are pretty awesome exercises.

Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

  • Place your right knee and hand on the flat bench, slightly lean forward.
  • Keeping your back flat and abs tight, push the dumbbell up towards the hip, squeezing your shoulder blade in the process, then lower the weight.
  • Complete the reps, and switch the arms.


Seated Cable Rows

  • Push the weight backwards keeping in mind that you have to keep the body uptight for proper stimulation.
  • Keep your knees in a slight bent position to avoid any sort of stress.
  • At the end of the rep, try to hold the rep and squeeze your shoulder blades
  1. Lower Back:

Deadlifts and back extensions are said to be the best exercises for the lower back portion.

Deadlifts (Stiff Legged)

  • In this exercise, in the bending motion you need to push your gluts back as far as possible keeping your legs straight in the process.
  • Keep your lower back muscles contracted.
  • Rise up whilst pushing your hips forward, without a lean back.
Saad Shafqat

Saad Shafqat:

Saad is a Dentistry student with a passion for football. When he isn't busy studying, you can find him at the gym or at the football field. He has written for various blogs and websites and plans to continue to do so.