Master Upper Body Exercises for a Strong, Pain-Free Back

Master Upper Body Exercises for a Strong, Pain-Free Back

Warm Up

Before doing upper body exercises for a strong and safe back, it is important to warm up. A good warm-up can help relax your muscles and prepare your body for a more intense workout. Warming up can also reduce the risk of injuries and muscle strain.

Let’s look at some of the warm-up exercises that will prepare you for your workout:

Foam rolling

Foam rolling is great! It loosens tight muscles, reduces muscle soreness and increases joint mobility. You might need to foam roll several times to achieve the desired affect.

Upper body muscles you can target include: gastrocnemius, quadriceps, latissimus dorsi and trapezius. Use a foam roller for each muscle or one roller for all. Find a tender spot, roll slowly and apply pressure until the pain reduces. Then, hold still and breathe deeply. Don’t roll over bones or joints as this won’t help.

After foam rolling, stay hydrated and stretch both active and passive muscles. This will give the best results!

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching exercises use controlled, continuous movements to loosen and warm up the body. These activities help regain normal mobility and range of motion. They also prime the neuromuscular system for safe physical activity, reducing the risk of injury. When performing dynamic stretches, they should be felt as gentle warmth, not pain or discomfort.

Examples are arm circles, shoulder rolls and leg swings. Each should be done for 10-15 seconds, two or three times. Move slightly between each repetition to keep warming up the muscles.

Strength Training

Strength training is a great way to boost fitness and build strength. It can even help with back pain! Exercises like chin-ups, chest presses, shoulder presses, and rows can all target the back muscles, reducing pain.

Let’s find out the right way to do these exercises!

Barbell rows

Barbell rows are great for building upper-body strength and stability. They help with a strong back and well-developed shoulder muscles. Plus, they reduce shoulder pain and injuries.

When using a barbell, your feet must be firmly planted. Bend forward at your waist so an imaginary line is between your head, chest, hips and lower legs. Then, pick up the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than hip width apart. Keep your chest facing forward. Exhale as you pull the bar up to your navel. Hold the top position briefly before slowly returning to the starting position as you inhale. Repeat until max reps is achieved.

The Barbell row works many muscle groups. These include:

  • Middle back/traps
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Core stabilization
  • Lats

It also offers mental benefits like improved focus and self-awareness.

Lat pulldowns

Lat pulldowns are an excellent way to strengthen the upper back muscles. This helps maintain a good posture and avoid pain.

To perform it, sit with feet on the ground and keep the back straight. Grip the bar with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart. Extend arms above head. Keep them parallel. Slowly pull them down towards your chest and squeeze your lats. Keep pulling until the bar is nearly beneath your chin. Hold for one second then release slowly back to the starting point.

Use slow, controlled movements. Do not jerk, as this can cause injury. Keep the movements steady and rhythmic.

Bent-over dumbbell rows

Bent-over dumbbell rows are great for building a strong, pain-free upper back. Targeting the lats, rhomboids and trapezius muscles, this exercise needs to be done with perfect form.

Start by standing with feet at shoulder width. Hold two dumbbells in each hand with an overhand grip. Bend at the hips until your torso is close to the floor or bench. Let your arms hang straight, with a slight bend in the elbows.

Raise the weights up to your chest, until your elbows reach shoulder height. Pause for a second and then slowly lower them. Repeat 8-12 times, or until failure, for 3 sets.

Be careful when performing bent-over dumbbell rows. Avoid hyperextension and keeping a tight core throughout the motion. For muscle growth, heavier weights need more time under tension. Make sure proper form is followed before adding more weight.

Seated cable rows

Seated cable rows are a great exercise for the middle back muscles, core, biceps, and rear deltoids. Doing them can improve posture by strengthening and correcting any imbalances.

To do a seated cable row, sit on a horizontal bench with feet braced on a platform. Hold the cable bar attached to a weight stack or low pulley, with arms straight out in front at shoulder level. Pull the bar towards you until it touches your mid-chest. Keep elbows close to your body. Then, slowly return the handle out straight.

For an extra challenge, increase weight or adjust hand position. Palms up is great for the rear deltoids, palms down for biceps, and alternate between inside grip (palms facing each other) and outside grip (palms out).

Reps depend on individual capability. 8-12 sets is ideal for strength building, while lighter weights with higher sets is better for endurance.

Core Training

Core training? Essential! It strengthens abdominal and back muscles and improves posture and balance. That’s not all. Core training helps to avoid back pain and injury. How?

  • By adding some core exercises.
  • Build strong and pain-free back muscles.
  • Do it now!


Planks are great for core, back, and shoulder stability. They don’t hurt the spine, require minimal equipment, and don’t need much space. Planks help with correct posture, strength, and pain prevention. Use them for a full-body workout, or just for core strength. Here’s how to start:

  1. Lie on the ground, elbows bent, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, like for a pushup.
  2. Push off the ground with your hands and raise up onto your toes in one movement. Weight should be from your arms, not toes or legs.
  3. Brace your core, keeping everything level: back straight, neck in line with the body. You should be in a straight line from calves to head.
  4. Hold for as long as possible. Don’t let tension build in any one area.
  5. When you’re done, either drop to knees (for beginners) or lower yourself slowly to the ground over a few seconds.

When doing planks, make sure to use good form by squeezing glutes and quads, pulling navel in towards spine, and contracting lats towards midline. This will increase tension in abdominal wall and focus on core muscles.


Birddogs are a great exercise for core strengthening! They help to build stability throughout the body, with focus on abdominals and back. Birddog ensures proper spinal alignment and engages the hip stabilizers. It is often used as a starting point for more advanced exercises.

To do birddog correctly, start on hands and knees. Keep spine neutral, arms straight, and shoulders pulled back. Then, lift left hand off the ground. Keep arm straight, and keep shoulder and foot in line with body. Do this, then reset. After, switch sides and repeat.

This move can be modified for more or less difficulty. Try:

  • Placing one knee up
  • Bracing against a wall
  • Extending one arm past shoulder height

Adding resistance, adjusting tempo, and adding weights can increase complexity. Birddogs should be done slowly but steadily. Maintain tension throughout and don’t overarch your back.


Supermans are a great exercise for your upper body. Shoulders, lats, and back muscles get strengthened. Your core also gets tight and engaged, protecting your spine from injuries.

To do Superman Exercise:

  • Lie down on a mat with arms stretched out in front of you and legs outstretched behind you. Keep your head facing forward and chin tucked in towards chest.
  • Raise both arms to shoulder height, and both legs as high as possible. Keep knees slightly bent. Hold for 2-4 seconds before returning to starting position. Do 8-20 repetitions, depending on strength or routine.

Make it more challenging by adding resistance such as ankle weights or bands around wrists. Supermans are great for athletes and anyone who wants to stay pain free while strengthening their back.

Mobility Training

Mobility training is key for upper body workouts. It helps to reduce back pain. Focus on improving your ability to move in a wide range of motions. Minimise discomfort.

Check out the best mobility training exercises for strong upper body strength and a pain-free back!

Shoulder circles

Shoulder circles can strengthen and condition shoulder muscles. This helps keep your back healthy and pain-free.

Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart. Arms straight and parallel to the floor. Trace small circles in front of your body. Feel a light stretch across upper chest, plus contraction in shoulder blade region. Then reverse and trace same motion behind you. Start with small circles, gradually increase size.

After 10 circles each direction, pause to take note of muscle engagement. Switch directions before continuing cycle for two or three sets of 10 reps. Keep proper form throughout!

Chest openers

Chest openers are a must-do stretch exercise for the upper body. They target your chest muscles, plus your anterior deltoids and front shoulder muscles. Doing these can:

  • Improve your posture
  • Increase flexibility
  • Reduce stiffness and pain
  • Help with neck pain.

Here’s some basic chest openers you can add to your routine:

  • Wall Chest Opener: Stand against a wall with good posture. Put your palms on the wall and lift your arms up. Slowly step away from the wall and lift your arms higher. You should feel a gentle stretch in your chest. Hold for 30-45 seconds. Gradually step back until your arms are lower.
  • Grounded Bend Back: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Reach overhead and keep your shoulders down. Gently hinge at your pelvis and keep your back straight. Clasp your hands underneath your bottom. Hold for up to 30 seconds or longer. Use your abs to stand tall again.
  • Reclined T Stretch: Lie on a yoga mat or padded surface. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground, about 12 inches apart. Take an extended arm out with the palm facing up. Draw your shoulder blades together and engage your abdominus. Bring your knee toward the opposite shoulder (while keeping your shoulder down). Hold for 20-30 seconds before switching sides.

Thoracic rotations

Thoracic rotations are a low-impact exercise. They strengthen and promote mobility in the thoracic spine. It’s important to use proper form to reduce risk of injury.

  • Lie on your back. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Put both hands behind your head with elbows extended. Use your abdominal muscles to press your low back into the floor. This will help protect the spine.
  • Slowly roll up to one side. Feel tension in each vertebrae of the thoracic spine. This ensures proper positioning of each section of your upper back. Move through this range of motion (ROM).
  • Return slowly to center. Then repeat on the other side. Don’t move too quickly or forcibly. This could cause stress or pressure on the vertebral bodies or discs.

After each rep, do an audit. Check how you’re feeling. Use breathing and proprioception checks. Do this before moving onto other exercises.

Cool Down

Once you’re done with your upper body workout, it’s good to remember the cool down. Cooling down after intense exercises will help relax your muscles and stop injury. It typically lasts for 5-10 minutes. That includes stretching and light exercises.

Here are the best cool down exercises for a strong and pain-free back:

Static stretching

Static stretching is an exercise which uses particular muscle groups for a period of time. It should be done slowly and with care. This type of stretching helps with muscle pain, flexibility and posture.

Examples include:

  • Twists
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Tricep stretches
  • Chest expanders

Each stretch should be held for 15-30 seconds. Moving too quickly may cause injury. Pay attention to how your body responds. Pain should not be felt, only gentle tension.

Foam rolling

Foam rolling is a must after a workout! It helps reduce tension and massage the muscles. A foam roller is a cylindrical, firm device. It boosts muscle mobility and flexibility.

When foam rolling, take your time. Roll each section of your back multiple times and angles. Spend about 10-15 seconds on each area. Move slow, and don’t roll too quickly – it could cause discomfort. Spend 10 deep breaths on your upper back and shoulders. Then roll down for your lower back, starting from your hips with gentle pressure.

Foam rolling is great pre-workout and post-workout. It improves blood flow and relieves tension built up during physical activity. It also loosens up tight muscles and reduces future injury risk. Make sure to include foam rolling in your cool down routine!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are some upper body exercises that can help improve my back strength and reduce pain?

Some effective upper body exercises for a strong, pain-free back include pull-ups, rows, lat pull-downs, chest presses, shoulder presses, and planks.

2. Can I still do these exercises even if I have an existing back injury?

You should always consult with a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have a pre-existing injury. However, many of these exercises can be modified to accommodate various injuries or conditions.

3. How often should I do these exercises for optimal results?

It’s best to aim for at least two to three sessions per week, with a rest day in between each session. It’s also important to engage in other forms of physical activity, such as cardio or flexibility training, to support overall health and fitness.

4. Will these exercises help improve my posture?

Yes, having a strong back and shoulders can help improve posture by encouraging better alignment and reducing slouching.

5. Can I do these exercises at home, or do I need to go to a gym?

Many of these exercises can be done at home with minimal equipment, such as resistance bands or dumbbells. However, a gym may offer more variety in terms of equipment and supervised instruction.

6. How long will it take to see results from these exercises?

Results may vary depending on factors such as frequency and intensity of exercise, pre-existing conditions, and overall health and fitness. However, with consistent effort and dedication, progress can often be seen within several weeks to a few months.

the back recovery program by alex larsson
Jane Smith is a natural health enthusiast on a mission to uncover effective methods for achieving pain-free living. Through her personal journey with chronic back pain, she has become well-versed in holistic approaches such as yoga, Pilates, and essential oils.

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