Do you dream of a cobra back? Well, you can stop dreaming.
In this article, we’re looking at the six best gym machines for back muscles. We’re exploring the benefits of each machine, how to use them, and how they might benefit you.
Ready to break a sweat? We’re glad to hear it. Let’s get pumped!
Table of Contents
The Best Gym Machines for Back
- Cable Machine
- Chest-Supported T-Bar Row Machine
- Assisted Pull Up Machine
- Back Extension Bench
- Lat Pulldown Machine
- Seated Row Machine
Now, let’s get into our selection of the best gym machines for your back muscles.
The cable machine is one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment. You can change up the resistance and attachments to work different areas of the body, including:
- Back muscles
While we’re focussing on the back muscles in this article, overall, a cable machine allows you to change up your workout routine to engage a variety of different muscle groups. In fact, it also made it onto our list of the most effective upper body machines!
Benefits of the Cable Machine
- Functional movements
- Improves form
- Constant muscle tension
Training on a cable machine is beneficial because it mimics real-life movements like bending, twisting, pushing, lunging, squatting, and pulling. This can help build the strength needed for everyday movements, building your functional muscles. Plus, it can also significantly help with balance.
The motion of the cable machine ensures that you are keeping the correct form. This, in turn, reduces the risk of injury due to incorrect form and balance.
Constant muscle tension
There is constant muscle tension while using the cable machine. This can tire the muscles quicker but you gain much more strength. Your muscle growth and strength are directly related to the amount of strain you put on the muscle. So, the constant tension enhances your back muscle strength quicker.
The best benefit of the cable machine is its versatility. It works a variety of muscles including the upper back, triceps, and glutes.
Tips for Using the Cable Machine
- Don’t overdo it
- Ask for help
- Give yourself enough space
- Keep hair and jewelry out of the way
Don’t overdo it
There is no point in upping the weight on the cable machine if it’s going to affect your form. You need to maintain the proper form throughout your workout to ensure you’re working the muscles properly without putting strain on surrounding muscles unintentionally.
Keep the weights low until you are more comfortable using the cable machine. Strengthening back muscles is a low and slow process.
Ask for help
If you’re unsure of how to properly set up and use the cable machine, ask for some assistance. You may benefit from a few sessions with a personal trainer at the start of your back-building journey.
Give yourself enough space
Working with cable machines can take up a lot of room. Always ensure that you have enough floor space to execute the movements properly, without feeling constricted.
Keep hair and jewelry out of the way
This should go without saying, but having hair in your face or jewelry dangling around your neck is a serious safety hazard at the gym. More-so with the cable machine as there are a few moving parts. It’s best to tie your hair up and leave the jewelry at home.
The following video gives fantastic back exercises with a cable machine, explaining how each movement works for the different muscle groups in the back:
Cable Machine Exercises for the Back
- Bent-over cable flys
- Cable face pulls
Bent-over cable flys
Bent-over cable flys require you to bend at the waist, pulling the handle in a reverse fly motion. These work fantastically well for the core, upper lats, trapezius, and posterior delts.
To do them:
- Set the cable machine to a lower height
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend the knees, keeping your back straight. This is your starting position.
- Grab each of the cables with your palms facing downward and get into your starting position.
- From there, cross your arms at knee height.
- Lift both arms outward simultaneously until they are in line with your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your arms until they are back in the crossed position at the knee and repeat.
Cable face pulls
Cable face pulls are a great isolation exercise for the trapeze muscle in the back. Here’s what to do:
- Place a rope attachment to the cable machine and set the weight.
- Step away from the machine until the weight just lifts off the stack.
- Get in a neutral standing position with your back straight.
- Pull the rope towards your face, keeping your elbows to the side. The ropes should make a v-shape with either side going to the left and right of the face.
- Release by straightening the arms. Keep this movement smooth and don’t jerk forward. Repeat, pulling the ropes to either side of the head.
For more great movements for the traps, here are the 7 best middle trap exercises.
Chest-Supported T-Bar Row Machine
These gym machines focus on working the upper back. The machine requires less effort in terms of balancing because your chest is supported as you lift the weight.
The movements on the machine are considered compound movements because of the variety of muscles worked when executing the movements properly.
The chest-supported T-bar row works the following muscles:
- Trapezius muscle groups
- Latissimus dorsi
- Rear deltoid
If you want to focus on the rear deltoid, here are the 6 best cable rear delt exercises.
Benefits of the Chest-Supported T-Bar Row Machine
- Improved posture
- Increased back strength
- Better form
Rowing movements can help correct your posture by activating the core while keeping the back straight. This movement over time improves posture.
Increased back strength
The compound movement engages various muscles in the back. Working these muscles can improve strength in the back. This may take some time as you increase the weights.
The chest-supported T-bar row offers a lot more support for your back. This can help you keep the proper form, ensuring your back remains straight and you’re correctly lifting your arms.
For back muscles to grow, the torso needs to remain as stable as possible. The chest-supported T-bar row machine provides this stability as you’re lifting the weight.
Tips for Using the T-Bar Row Machine
- Don’t drop the weight
- Start with a lower weight
- Focus on your form
- Keep the scapula retracted
Don’t drop the weight
As you’ll find out shortly, when lowering the bar, you mustn’t drop the weight. There should be no jerking movements. Lifting and lowering on the chest-supported row machine should be steady and slow.
Start with a lower weight
When you’re first getting the hang of the movement and form, it’s best to start with a lower weight that won’t put too much pressure on the back. You can increase the weight when you’re more comfortable and your back is stronger.
Focus on your form
To prevent injury you need to remain aware of your form throughout your reps. Your legs should stay slightly bent and your back straight. Also look at your arm position, slightly tuck the elbows while lifting the weight. You can slightly tilt the hips forward to help engage your core.
Keep the scapula retracted
Your shoulder blades should remain retracted throughout the movements. To do this, roll the shoulders back, squeezing the blades together.
The basics of using the T-bar row machine
- Place your feet on the platform, lying your chest on the upper pad. You can adjust the platform; the top of your chest should sit just above the padding.
- Grab the handles with your palms facing downwards.
- Your legs should be slightly bent to take the stress off your back and your head should look downward.
- Once you’re comfortable pull the bar towards your chest as high as possible. Once in position, pause, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Then slowly lower the bar until your arms are straight and repeat.
The following video provides some insight into how to set up the chest-supported T-bar row machine and how to properly do the movements:
Assisted Pull-Up Machine
The assisted pull-up machine is great for working the back muscles. It counterbalances your body weight, so by lifting the body, you strengthen various muscles across the back.
This machine makes it onto our list of best back workout machines because it’s better than regular pull-ups. You can focus on working specific muscles, rather than running out of breath just trying to get your full body weight over the bar.
This exercise equipment is a fantastic all-rounder, helping to improve these muscles:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Erector Spinae
For more detail, check out our full guide on pull up muscles worked.
Benefits of the Assisted Pull-Up Machine
- Great for beginners
- Improve range of motion
- Better focus on form
- Easier than regular pull-ups
Great for beginners
If you’re just getting started in the gym, the thought of regular pull-ups can be a little daunting. That’s where the assisted pull-up machine comes in. Instead of putting all your energy into trying to lift your full body weight, you can learn the proper form of pull-ups without the weight.
Improve range of motion
You are likely going to be able to pull yourself higher when using one of these exercise machines, compared with regular pull-ups. This can engage more muscle groups, increasing your range of motion.
Better focus on form
Rather than focusing all your energy on trying to get over the bar, you can use the extra assistance to focus on your form. Pull-ups are one of the top exercises gym-goers don’t do correctly, which can cause more harm than good.
So, take the opportunity to look into your form, ensuring you’re keeping yourself supported throughout the movement.
Tips for Using the Assisted Pull-Up Machine
Let’s start with how to use one of these workout machines properly:
- Set the resistance (the higher the resistance, the easier the pull-up).
- Standing on the plates, use the lower handles to slowly pull yourself onto the knee support pad, one knee at a time.
- Once you’re on, the pad will naturally start to go down, keep the resistance in your arms and lower yourself down slowly until your arms are straight up.
- Pull yourself up using the handles, keeping your hips in line with your shoulders. Try to get your chin above your hands.
- Then lower yourself down slowly, until your arms are straight again. Repeat as needed.
Now, onto some handy tips:
- Keep your elbows down
- Engage your core
- Keep your back straight
Keep your elbows down
When you’re pulling up you might be tempted to push your elbows outward. This can affect the muscles you’re working. Rather, when pulling up, think of your elbows pulling downward.
Engage your core
Engaging your core is one of the most important things when doing pull-ups, even with the help of an exercise machine. Try to pull your core muscles tight throughout your movements.
Keep your back straight
You don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on your lower back. Try to keep your back as straight as possible, using your upper back muscles to pull you up. Keep your hips square with your shoulders at all times.
This video gives a great explanation of how to set up the assisted pull-up machine and do the movements:
Back Extension Bench
Back extensions use your body weight to create an isolated movement. It is a wonderful low-impact exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure on the back.
The back extension bench works for the following muscle groups:
- Erector spinae
- Quadratus lumborum
Using the back extension press properly can help those that struggle with lower back pain as it helps to stretch out and improve muscle strength.
Benefits of the Back Extension Bench
- Improves posture
- Increases core stability
- Strengthens the lower back muscles
By strengthening the muscles in the lower back, the back extension bench can help promote proper spine alignment, reducing the chance of slouching.
Increases core stability
When using the back extension bench your back muscles and core work together to maintain proper form. This can help with your overall core strength.
Reduces the risk of lower back injury
The back extension bench primarily focuses on the lower back muscles. Working these muscles can help with spinal stability and reduce the risk of chronic back pain.
Tips for Using the Back Extension Bench
Here’s how to use the back extension bench properly:
- Position yourself using the bottom plate for your feet with the back of your calves supported by the lower pads.
- Lower yourself onto the upper pads with your thighs firmly in place. Your hips should be just above the upper pads.
- From there, lower your upper body, keeping your back as straight as possible. Then contract your lower back and pull yourself up, back into the starting position.
Here are a few extra tips.
- Control the movement
- Keep things slow and steady
Control the movement
Your movements when working on the back extension bench should be controlled. There should be no jerking movements.
Keep things slow and steady
This isn’t the exercise to jump straight into after your pre-workout. When lowering yourself, do it slowly, focusing on your core and keeping your back straight.
If you’re a beginner, this video explains everything about the correct position and how to do the movements without putting strain on your lower back:
Lat Pulldown Machine
Lat pulldown workout machines offer low intensity and muscle strengthening to the upper back and arms. It’s a popular option because of its versatile nature, allowing users to change up their grip positions to target different muscle groups.
Working on this exercise equipment works for the following muscle groups:
- Latissimus dorsi muscles
- Rear Deltoids
Benefits of the Lat Pulldown Machine
- Improves posture
- Low impact
- Good for beginners
- Upper body stability
By working the upper back muscles on this exercise equipment you naturally create a better posture. This can help you avoid rounded shoulders and muscle strains further down the line.
The types of movements on this machine are very low impact. This lowers your risk of injury and back pain.
Good for beginners
These workout machines are a brilliant option for beginners. The movements are simple and the machine is easy to set up.
Upper body stability
The types of movement engage your core muscles and stabilizer which can help improve your upper body stability and control.
Tips for Using the Lat Pulldown Machine
- Keep your back straight
- Engage your shoulders
- Try different grip widths
Keep your back straight
It’s important to keep your back straight while using this exercise equipment. You should sit with your shoulders down, feet flat on the floor, and back straight throughout your workout.
Engage your shoulders
You should focus on pulling your shoulder blades back and down to activate the latissimus dorsi.
Try different grip widths
Different grip widths allow you to target different areas of the back. A narrow grip works the inner lats while a wider grip targets the outer lats.
How To Use the Lat Pulldown machine
- Sit in a position facing the machine while ensuring that the chosen handle attachment is securely attached to the cable above you.
- Extend your arms and grip the handle with your hands spaced approximately shoulder-width apart (you have the option to vary your grip for different exercises).
- Pull the handle downward towards the upper part of your chest, focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage your latissimus dorsi muscles.
- Slowly release the handle and raise it back up, allowing your back muscles to stretch and elongate.
The following video provides some great tips and tricks for using the lat pulldown machine. It covers your body position, grip, and setting up the machine:
Seated Row Machine
A seated rowing machine sounds pretty much like what it is. You sit on a padded chair and then move a weighted bar that simulates the motion of rowing.
This is a great alternative for those that struggle to use traditional rowing machines which can put a lot of pressure on the lower back.
These workout machines work the following muscles:
- Rear Deltoids
- Forearm Muscles
- Core Stabilizers
- Latissimus Dorsi
Benefits of the Seated Row Machine
- Targets a range of muscles
- Supports upper body
- Simple movements
Targets a range of muscles
The seated rowing machine works a variety of major muscle groups including the back, arms, and core. But the isolated movements do work a lot more on the upper and side back muscles.
Supports upper body
The chest pad allows you to support the upper part of your body while allowing the arms and back muscles to do the work. It also helps with keeping the proper posture throughout the workout.
The movements on a seated rowing machine are simple, allowing you to focus on breathing and engaging your core.
Tips for Using the Seated Row Machine
- Keep your head in a neutral position
- Make sure your back is straight
- Start with a lower weight
Keep your head in a neutral position
Try keeping your head straight and your shoulders lowered. It’s tempting, but don’t scrunch up your shoulders, it can hurt the neck.
Make sure your back is straight
The most important thing is to keep your posture straight throughout the movement. The chest pad can help here. By engaging your core it also pulls the back up.
Start with a lower weight
It’s always best to start with a lower weight to prevent injury. You can work up to heavier weights.
How to use the seated rowing machine
- Adjust the seat height, ensuring your shoulders are in with the top handles. Then adjust the chest pad so that both of your hands can comfortably reach the handles while fully extended.
- Select a weight.
- Place your feet on the foot pads and place your arms on the handles in a neutral position.
- Keeping your core tight and shoulders down, pull the handles towards the sides of your body, squeezing the back muscles. Make sure to keep the elbows in when bringing the bar back, they should remain as close to the body as possible.
- Return the handles to the starting position and pull back again, completing as many reps as needed.
Focus on pulling from your elbow rather than your biceps to ensure you’re creating the correct form.
This quick video can help you with your form, ensuring you properly pull the weight to engage the back muscles:
Anatomy of Back Muscles
Back muscles play a crucial role in the stability and support of the body. These muscles have a variety of functions:
- Shoulder movement: Some of the back muscles are responsible for movement in the shoulders. This includes shoulder rotation, retraction, and abduction.
- Spinal stabilization: All the back muscles, no matter their location, work together to support the spine. This is what helps you with posture and can prevent injuries.
- Spinal extension: Many muscles in the back help to extend the spine. This allows you to do things like arch your back and stand up straight.
The superficial muscles allow you to shrug, move your arms, and keep your spine straight. They include:
- Levator scapular: Located in the upper back and neck, this muscle raises your shoulder blades.
- Lats (Latissimus dorsi): This muscle begins just under the shoulder blade and runs down the side until just above the hip. It helps you rotate and extend your shoulders and arms.
- Rhomboids: Two muscles that work to pull the scapula toward your spine.
- Traps (Trapezius): Allows you to have good posture, move your body, and raise your arms. Here are some great lower trap exercises.
The serratus posterior superior and serratus posterior inferior are the two muscles that make up the intermediate muscles.
They are located between your shoulder blades and help you to breathe. Both attach to the ribs, aiding chest contraction and expansion.
There are two groups of muscles, the transversospinalis group and the erector spinae group, each with a variety of smaller muscles. The function of the muscle groups is the same. They are what allow you to extend, bend, flex, and rotate the back.
Back muscles are like all other muscles in the body. You can work on them three times a week with at least one rest day in between. For more specific guidance regarding back training frequency, check out Renaissance Periodization’s back growth training tips.
It’s best to keep it light. You can start with 6-8 reps of your desired back exercise with a low weight. You can increase slowly as your back muscles become used to the movements and repetitions.
Absolutely! Stretching is vital before using any of the best back workout machines. You need to get your back muscles loose and flexible to help you improve your range of motion.