Free Weight Back Exercises

Focused young woman lifting weights in a gym

Free weights challenge your back muscles to stabilize the weight, instead of simply pushing it along the track established by a weight machine. This translates into strength you can put to work in the real world, where you’re constantly performing multi-planar movements instead of just pushing objects along. All you need to get a good back workout is a weight bench and a barbell or dumbbells.

Bent-over Row

The bent-over row works every major muscle in your back, from your lats to your traps, teres major and rear deltoids. Hinge forward from the hip, back flat -- neither arched nor hunched - -holding a barbell in an underhand grip. Keep your elbows close to your side as you lift the barbell up toward your lower ribs. Lower the barbell as far as possible without rolling your shoulders forward or slumping your back. Repeat.

Wide Row

The wide row reduces your latissimus dorsi’s involvement, shifting most of the load to your trapezius, rhomboids and rear deltoids instead. Assume the position described above for a bent-over row. Instead of holding the bar with an underhand grip at shoulder width, move each hand several inches further out and grasp the bar in an underhand grip. Pull the bar toward your chest, letting your elbows naturally flare out to the side as you do so. Lower the bar as far as you can without slumping forward at the shoulders. Repeat.


The pullover primarily targets your latissimus dorsi, although your rhomboids, teres major and rear deltoids also assist. To do a pullover hold a barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder width apart. Lay down on a weight bench or, if you prefer, lay perpendicular to the bench with only your shoulders actually on the bench. No matter which position you choose, squeeze your abs to keep your back from arching.

Start with the barbell directly over your chest, arms straight but not locked. Keep your elbows at this angle as you slowly lower the bar back and down as if you were going to drop it on the floor behind your head. Stop when the bar is level with your head, then power the bar back up to the starting position.

Barbell Deadlift

The barbell deadlift primarily works your erector spinae. The erector spinae extends your back, keeping it from slumping forward during exercises like the deadlift.

To do a barbell deadlift place a barbell on the floor directly in front of your ankles. Squat down and grasp the barbell with one hand facing forward, one hand facing back. Squeeze your core muscles to keep your back straight as you extend your knees, hips and shoulders at once to stand up again. Keep your head and chest up, and the bar close to your body, throughout the movement. To lower the bar, shift your hips back and hinge down at the knees. Your hips should stay back, with your body weight centered on your heels, and your shoulders should travel down at the same time your hips do.

Dumbbell Reverse Flyes

The reverse flyes target your deltoids. Sitting at the edge of a bench, position your feet well forward of your knees. Lean your torso against your thighs. With a dumbbell in each hand -- palms facing each other -- position them under your legs. Bend your elbows slightly and then raise the dumbbells out to the sides until your arms reach shoulder height. Make sure your elbows are higher than your wrists at the top of the lift. Lower your arms and repeat until you are fatigued.

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