The best exercises to tone your back

Taryn Davies
Published: February 17, 2017

It can be easy to neglect the back when we're used to putting so much focus on the triceps, biceps and shoulder. But an upper body workout should definitely incorporate more back exercise that will help with posture and overall stance.

A mix of bodyweight and weighted exercises will ensure you have a functional approach to your fitness sessions.

So with the help of Mark Pearson, Regional Manager for British Military Fitness (BMF), here are some of the best exercises that will help to tone the muscles in your back.

Exercises to tone your back

The pull-up

The toughest bodyweight exercise whether you weigh 6st or 16st

  • Using a bar/tree branch/goalpost, start with straight arms at just wider than shoulder width and under control pull yourself up so that your chin is over the bar you are holding onto and then lower with control
  • If this seems impossible, ask a friend to assist you up using their hands around your waist and then lower yourself down slowly with no assistance
  • If you have no friends, you can use a jump to assist yourself and aim to lower yourself slowly down to build the strength to perform the exercise
Exercises to tone your back

Partner pull up

  • Your partner will lie on their backs with knees bent in a ‘sit up’ position and will act as your resistance
  • Take your partner by the hand (one at a time) and with knees bent and a neutral spine you will pull your arm into your body which will assist your partner in standing up and will work the back muscles as well as the arms

Inverted row

  • Find a bar that is roughly hip height, handrails or barriers are usually the easiest to find
  • Get under the bar with an overhand grip and your legs fully extended with toes pointing to the sky. Aim to pull up so that the bar touches mid chest making sure you keep your hips nice and high
  • To make it slightly easier you can walk the feet in so that they are flat on the ground
Exercises to tone your back

Partner push/pull

  • Face your partner in the squat position and hold each other’s hands/wrists
  • Take it in turns to slowly push or pull against the resistance of the other taking 3-4 seconds on each repetition
Exercises to tone your back

Hip Hinge (Good Mornings)

  • A relatively simple exercise, that sees you standing and hinging at the hips forward. It's all about getting the form right for this one.
  • You'll want to engage your core and ensure your neck is neutral. Don't round the back either.
  • Bending forward, it needs to be slow and controlled, ensuring you keep your back, glutes and hamstrings all engaged as you move through the exercise.
  • Bend forward until you're parallel with the floor and then bring yourself back to the starting position, this is one rep. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


The Superman is an important exercise for overall back health, especially the lower back. Having a strong core including your lower back is a necessity for everyday health.

  • Lie down on the stomach with arms and legs extended. Contract the upper and lower back muscles as you lift arms and legs off the ground. Hold for three counts, and then return to the start, making sure to engage the abs. Try three sets of 10 repetitions.

It’s important to keep your head in line with your spine; you don’t want to overstretch too much. To build on this exercise hold each rep for longer too.

The Superman exercise is great for targeting the lower back

Dumbbell bent-over row

The dumbbell bent-over row will not only work the muscles in your back but also target your abs too, provided you keep your core engages as you perform the exercise.

You can use dumbells to elevate this move, but it can be done without to start, as long as you're squeezing your muscles properly as you perform the exercise.

  • Have a dumbbell in each arm, if you're using them, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and hinge forward slightly at the hips with knees soft, not completely bent.
  • Hold the weights parallel to your shoulders, and engage your core, pulling the weights up to your shoulders as you bend the elbows. It's important to squeeze your muscles and shoulder blades together, with your elbows pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Keeping your back flat, lower the weights back down to the starting position.
It's vital to keep your back straight as you do the bent over dumbbell row