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Gym Back Workout For Beginners 

The 8 Best Back Exercises For Beginners At The Gym [Workout Included]

By: Zack Mathews, NASM -CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

When you’re new to the gym, the best back exercises for beginners are movements that you can learn easily and will build a base level of strength.  That base level of strength will translate over to harder movements once you become more experienced.

I want to provide you with a full back workout that you can screenshot and do today, along with providing a breakdown of the 8 best exercises for beginners at the gym. Additionally, I’ll answer common questions I get about back workouts for beginners.

The Best Gym Back Workout For Beginners

To build an effective back workout, you want a mix of two different types of exercises:

  • Horizontal pull
  • Vertical pull

A horizontal pull exercise is a movement where you are pulling a weight to your chest, usually in a straight line.  Variations of rows are known as horizontal pull movements.

A vertical pull movement is when you are pulling a weight from a vertical position.  It can come in the form of pulling a weight to you (like a lat pulldown), or pulling your weight in a vertical position, aka a pull-up.

Can’t do pull-ups?  Check out my article on How To Do Your First Chin-Up.

Since there are so many variations to choose from, when I design a gym back workout for a beginner, I want to start with the simplest to learn.  Additionally, I like to sprinkle in a bicep exercise or two, along with shoulder mobility exercises. 

If an exercise is not linked, you'll find a video of it below in the list of the 8 best back exercises for beginners.

Here’s your beginner back workout.

A1: Chest supported rows - 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps.  Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top and hold the weight for 1 second before going back to the start.

Rest 90 seconds - 2 minutes after each set.


B1: Lat pulldowns - 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

B2: Barbell bicep curls - 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

Perform both exercises back to back and then take a 90 second - 2 minute break.


C1: Inverted rows: 3 sets of 10 reps

C2: Hammer curls: 3 sets of 12 reps

C3: Superman handcuffs: 3 sets of 8 reps

Rest 90 seconds after finishing all 3 movements.


This workout is great because you’ll get both horizontal and vertical exercises, along with direct work for your biceps and shoulder mobility.

Make sure to screenshot the workout below and feel free to swap any exercises out for any of the back exercises in the next section.

Gym back workout for beginners

8 Effective, Simple Back Exercises For Beginners To Start Learning

Dumbbell Rows

The classic dumbbell row is one of the first movements you should learn, since all variations of rows stem from this exercise.

One of the biggest mistakes I see beginners make with this back exercise is they pull the weight in a straight line when their arm is fully extended.

In order to recruit the back muscles we want to target, it’s important to reach your elbow back towards your hip on the row.  Doing this will engage your latissimus dorsi versus using too much shoulder with a straight up and down motion.

Chest Supported Rows

The chest supported row is one of my favorite back exercises for ALL skill levels because of the minimal lower back requirement required.

Putting your chest on a bench allows for you to focus on the muscles you want to work without having to think about your low back.  A barbell row, on the other hand, puts your lower back into a vulnerable position and can increase your risk of injury.

Similar to the dumbbell row, make sure to reach your elbows back towards your hips when you row the dumbbells.

Seated Cable Rows

If you have access to a full gym, a horizontal pull exercise that will be a staple in your routine is this exercise.

Since you’ll be in a seated position with your back upright, you’re in a safe position and can effectively work your back muscles.

Make sure to keep an upright position and don’t pick a weight that is too heavy that will lead you to rock back and forth to complete a rep.

Lat Pulldowns

Switching over to vertical pull exercises, the lat pulldown is another effective exercise if you have access to a full gym.

There are multiple bars you can attach for a lat pulldown so use which one feels best for you.  I prefer one of the wider bars that will be able to target your lats.  Check out my 5 favorite lat pulldown variations.

Inverted Rows

The inverted row is one of my favorite bodyweight exercises and is the best movement to get yourself strong enough to do a pull-up.

This exercise is considered a horizontal pull exercise, even though it can get you better at pull-ups.

The great thing about this movement is you can make it as easy or as hard as you want! 

More upright = easier. Body more parallel with the ground = tougher.

Position the bar on a squat rack or smith machine at a level that allows you to do 10 - 12 reps with perfect form for 3 sets.  Once you get that locked in, start lowering the bar and repeat the process. 

You’ll eventually get to a point where your body is basically parallel with the floor, and that’s when you’ll start making things harder by adding weight or elevating your feet.


We can’t talk about the best gym back exercises for beginners without talking about pull-ups!

I understand that many people can’t do pull-ups, especially beginners in the gym, but the ability to use bands or an assisted pull-up machine is why I added it.

The pull-up (or chin-up if you prefer) is the ultimate back exercise and is a true test of your relative strength, aka how strong you are relative to your body weight.

Proper hand position is up to you, but for most of my clients I like to stick to neutral grip for a safer shoulder position.

Bent Over Dumbbell Flys

This movement is an accessory exercise that will target your rear deltoids, along with your upper back muscles, mainly the traps.

I like this movement because it doesn’t require much weight to get the job done!

You can do this exercise in a bent over fashion like the video below, or with your chest on a bench, similar to a chest supported row.

Alternatively, you can turn this into a bodyweight movement by doing the YTW exercise.

Batwing Rows

The last of the 8 best back exercises for beginners is an isometric movement.

An isometric exercise is when you are set in a fixed position for a certain period of time versus all the other exercises explained today where you lift a weight and lower it.

Isometric exercises have their time and place and can help you build muscle and get stronger in a safe way.

If you don’t want to do this exercise by itself, you can do chest supported rows and on your last rep, hold that position for 20 - 30 seconds.

Up for a challenge and want to make batwing rows harder?  Click here to try these variations!


How Do You Train Your Back For Beginners?

As a beginner, you want to pick exercises that are easy to learn, don’t require a high level of stability, and build a strong base for more advanced exercises.  Pick at least one exercise that is  considered a horizontal pull and at least 1 exercise that is a vertical pull and work on getting as strong as possible in the 8 - 12 rep range.  Since the biceps are often engaged during back exercises, you can also do at least 1 bicep exercise in your back workout.

What Should You Start With On Back Day?

At the beginning of a back workout, you want to prioritize big compound movements such as pull-ups, chest supported rows, or other row variations.  Pick an exercise that works multiple muscles (compound movement) and that you want to get stronger on.

How Do Beginners Strengthen Their Back Muscles?

Pick a mix of horizontal and vertical pull exercises such as rows, pull-ups, lat pulldowns, and similar variations.  If muscle building is your goal, focus on picking a weight that makes 8 - 12 reps challenging.  You want to pick a weight that you can MAYBE get 1 - 2 extra reps at the end of the set.  If you get done at could have done 10 more reps, you need to go heavier to strengthen your back muscles.

The Best Gym Back Workout For Beginners Recap

You should now have a good grasp of the most effective exercises you should focus on and a workout to pair with it.

Always remember to train smart and pick exercises that feel good.  If any movements cause pain, swap it out for a similar exercise and see how it feels.

As a beginner, training back can be a lot of fun, especially when you start seeing the development in your back, biceps, and shoulders.

Enjoy your journey and I wish you the best of luck!