Weight benches are known for the bench press exercise but you can also use these pieces of fitness equipment to work a variety of back muscles.
Dumbbells will generally be the best weights for the movements below. That being said, you can also often use alternatives like a cable machine, resistance bands, and kettlebells.
1. One-arm weight bench row
For the first back exercise, you simply need a flat and sturdy weight bench and some resistance. For example, take the following steps to do a one-arm weight bench row with a dumbbell:
- Pick up one dumbbell and stand next to the weight bench with the side opposite of the dumbbell closest to it.
- Put the knee and arm on the side opposite of the dumbbell on the weight bench. Keep your upper leg and arm about vertical. Your other leg and arm should be slightly less than stretched. Lastly, keep your shoulders and hips horizontal.
- Slowly raise the dumbbell to your upper body and pull the shoulder blade of that side backward. Keep your upper arm close to your side.
- Lower the dumbbell back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions on the other side.
The two-handed bent-over row tends to be more popular but you can also do this one-arm version with a bench for a few reasons. First of all, this variation works your lower back muscles less.
This also leads to less lower back strengthening but could help you focus on really working the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and bicep muscles involved in the one-arm row.
Additionally, by working one side at a time, you avoid using the muscles on one side more than the other. This is a possibility in barbell bent-over rows and could lead to muscle imbalances.
Even so, less lower back strengthening is not the only potential downside of one-arm weight bench rows. These also require more time to get in a good workout because you train each side separately.
2. Dumbbell pullover
To do a pullover you only need one dumbbell and a flat weight bench. Once you have these, take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Lie down on a weight bench with your shoulder blades pulled back and down. Hold the top weights of one dumbbell with both of your hands. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched and point them up.
- Move the dumbbell back and down as far as comfortable in a controlled motion. To work your back muscles you want to point your elbows outward.
- Slowly raise the dumbbell back into the position of step 1.
Something important to note is that you can do dumbbell pullovers in both a lower-chest-focused and back-focused way.
If you feel your lower chest working instead of your back muscles, you want to point your elbows more outward. This makes it a movement that focuses on your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back) muscles.
That aside, you can also use other equipment options like a cable machine, resistance bands, and a kettlebell to do pullovers.
3. Chest-supported face pull
To do a chest-supported face pull you want an incline weight bench and preferably a cable machine with a double-rope handle. That being said, you could also do a more suboptimal version with dumbbells and similar alternatives.
Take the following steps to do a chest-supported face pull with the cable setup:
- Set the cable pulley close to the ground, attach a double-rope handle, and put an incline bench in front of the pulley. The surface of the bench should point away from the cable machine.
- Grab the double rope handle, take a few steps back, and lean with your chest against the top of the incline bench. Let your arms and shoulder blades follow the pull of the cable for now.
- Slowly pull the rope back and up by moving your shoulder blades back, folding your arms, and rotating your upper arms. Continue as far as comfortable or until your hands are next to your ears.
- Return back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
Similar to the standing version, chest-supported face pulls mainly work your rear deltoids (back of the main shoulder muscles), trapezius (upper back), biceps, and scapular (shoulder blade) muscles.
By using a weight bench to brace yourself against, you have to pay less attention to balancing yourself and engaging your lower back muscles.
This could lead to working the main muscles of the movement to a larger extent and improving mind-muscle connection more.
4. Weight bench back extension
If you have a multi-purpose weight bench with a back extension function, this next back exercise will be a lot more convenient and effective.
That being said, most people will have to do with the flat weight bench back extension. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Put weights on the feet of the weight bench on one side if needed to stay balanced in the next steps.
- Lie down on your stomach on the opposite end of the weight bench. To keep your upper body in the air without falling forward you want to clamp your legs below the bench.
- Slowly tilt your upper body forward as far as comfortable while keeping your spine more or less straight.
- Tilt your upper body back until it is about horizontal.
If you are working out in a gym, they may have a separate back extension machine instead. This will be safer, be more comfortable, and allow your muscles to go through the full range of motion.
That being said, if you really want to work your lower back, glute, and hamstring muscles with a regular weight bench you could consider doing the exercise above.
You do want to keep in mind that it can be challenging to keep yourself balanced in the weight bench back extension. There is also a certain risk of losing grip with your legs and/or tilting the bench forward.
5. Chest-supported scapular retraction
To do chest-supported scapular retractions you want an incline weight bench and some type of resistance. A cable machine with a double-rope handle would be ideal but dumbbells or something similar can work too.
Take the following steps to do a chest-supported scapular retraction with the cable setup:
- Set the cable pulley close to the ground, attach a double-rope handle, and put an incline bench in front of the pulley with the padding pointing away from the machine. The recommended angle of the weight bench depends on what part of the trapezius muscles you want to focus on.
- Grab the double-rope handle, walk behind the incline bench, and lean against it with your chest against the upper edge. Let your arms and shoulder blades follow the resistance for now.
- Slowly, pull your shoulder blades back as far as comfortable.
- Return your shoulder blades back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
As you will definitely notice while doing the exercise, chest-supported scapular retractions mainly work the trapezius muscles. These are the muscles that run from your upper back along your spine to your neck.
By changing the angle of the weight bench, you can influence what part of these trapezius back muscles you focus more on. For example, the more you tilt it forward, the more you will work the lower part of the trapezius.
When using free weights like dumbbells, you will have to keep your upper body more horizontal to work the middle part of the trapezius.
6. Incline bench row
There are at least a few row variations in most lists of back exercises and this article is no different. As the name implies, this next exercise will require an incline weight bench and some type of resistance.
For example, take the following steps to do an incline bench row with dumbbells:
- Grab two dumbbells, lean with your chest against the top of the incline weight bench, and let your arms and shoulder blades hang down for now.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells towards your body by pulling your shoulder blades back and folding your arms. Keep your upper arms close to your sides.
- Lower the dumbbells back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Incline bench rows aka chest-supported rows mainly work your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), trapezius (upper back), and bicep muscles.
You preferably want to use one-handed weights in this exercise so your back muscles can go through the full range of motion. This is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.
Similar, to one-arm weight bench rows, this chest-supported version requires less attention to balance and lower back muscle engagement. This could benefit the training of the main muscles involved.
7. Incline bench rear delt fly with scapular retraction
This last option may be confusing because the rear delt fly is typically done as a deltoid isolation exercise.
And while this muscle is still the main focus, you can make some changes in the way you do this exercise to work the trapezius muscles more.
Take the following steps to do this version of a rear delt fly with a double-pulley cable machine:
- Set the two pulleys at around knee height and attach a D-grip handle on each side. Put the incline weight bench in the middle of the pulleys and slightly back with the padding pointing away from the cable machine.
- Grab each handle with the arm of the opposite side and lean with your chest against the weight bench.
- Slowly move your arms sideways and back as far as comfortable while keeping them slightly less than stretched. Really move back your shoulder blades if you want to work your trapezius muscles.
- Return your arms and shoulder blades to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the trapezius upper back muscle is generally stronger than the rear deltoids which are the main focus of this bench exercise.
That means the weights you will use are likely not challenging enough for a lot of trap muscle growth and strength progress. Even so, better muscle endurance in this area can also be helpful.
Additionally, the incline weight bench is definitely not essential in this exercise. However, it can help you really focus on the rear deltoid and trapezius muscles.