Upper Back Strengthening Exercises

We have become creatures of digitally addicted slouchers which has resulted in weak upper back muscles.

Because of this, more pressure is placed lower down the spine to aid in keeping us upright.

Below I will demonstrate two key exercises that will help reactivate upper back muscles that may be weak due to poor posture  and the downward head position when using a laptop. 


“The I don’t know exercise”… ever shrugged your shoulders when you were younger when you didn’t know the answer to a question? Well, this is the exact motion you need to carryout to improve the muscles strength around your neck.

When we sit looking down at a laptop or computer screen, a common issue is pain and dis-comfort in the neck and shoulders due to the pro-longed fixed position.

However I found by strengthening the muscles around the neck and shoulders area vastly improved my neck pain from sitting at the computer.

The main muscle that supports your neck and shoulders is called the trapezius, and it spans the upper area of your back as shown below, this muscle is responsible for moving, rotating and stabilising the shoulder blades.

By strengthening the trapezius muscle I started to notice a significant improvement in my neck pain as my neck and shoulders felt better supported and didn’t feel the pain or discomfort when working on the laptop.

How to perform the shrugs exercise

1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand with your palms facing your torso. The weight of the dumbbells should be heavy enough to give you a little resistance.

2. Lift the dumbbells by shrugging your shoulders (elevate the shoulder as high as possible) and hold this at the top for a second.

3. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

4. Repeat this motion as many times as you can until you can no longer do any more.

While performing this exercise ensure you can feel the muscle being worked. If you can’t feel anything after a few reps then you may need to increase the weight of the dumbbells.

Lat Pull Down

The Lat Pull Down exercise is used to develop upper body strength as it targets a key upper back muscle known as the latissimus dorsi found around the mid-section of your back on either side of the spine. Think of this muscle as the scaffolding for your upper and lower back.

By strengthening this muscle, the back will be able to better support the load from our upper body thus preventing this load being placed on the lower region of the spine, contributing to back pain.

There are many exercises to strengthen this muscle, however my favourite is the classic lat pull down.

How to perform the lap pulldown

– Select a weight that provides some degree of resistance, not too light but not to heavy either. Just enough so you break a sweat a few reps in.

– Grab the bar and sit down, placing your knees under the padded bar and ensure you are fixed into position.

– Slowly lower the bar down to chest level, hold for 1 second and slowly release back up just above the head…

– REPEAT, do as many as you can…

Although in the above videos I’m using a narrow grip when holding the lat pull down bar, you should also use a wide a grip when performing the pull down so that other muscle groups also get activation and use which will also help in contributing to a stronger upper body. For wide grip you should hold the bar in front, as opposed to holding it under arm.

I hope I have given you a great starting point to strengthening the upper back as these exercsies shouldn’t be overlooked when looking to improve the overall health of the spine.