Your back is one of the largest body parts comprised of several different muscles, even though the latissimus dorsi does most of the work on back day. When training back, you also target the lower and middle portions of the trapezius (traps), the rhomboids, the rear delts, the teres major and minor, and the erector spinae (lower back).
While many of these different muscles work together during a given exercise, you can emphasize certain areas, like the upper region of the lats over others by adjusting your grip on the bar or using an overhand grip instead of an underhand grip.
In that sense, training back is like training chest; use multiple angles and exercises to work the muscle group more thoroughly.
Here are the top 5 exercises that when put together will hit the entire back:
#1 Deadlifts: This is technically more than just a back exercise since it hits the entire posterior chain from your calves all the way to your upper traps, but it's the absolute best for overall backside development. Technique and form are extremely important for the deadlift, if you don't have those down, you can seriously injure your lower back, so get the form down before you stack on the weight.
How to do the Deadlift:
Approach the barbell so that it is centered over your feet. Your feet should be about hip-width apart. Bend at the hip to grip the bar at shoulder-width allowing your shoulder blades to protract. Typically, you would use an alternating grip.
With your feet and your grip set, take a big breath and then lower your hips and flex the knees until your shins contact the bar. Look forward with your head. Keep your chest up and your back arched, and begin driving through the heels to move the weight upward.
After the bar passes the knees aggressively pull the bar back, pulling your shoulder blades together as you drive your hips forward into the bar.
Lower the bar by bending at the hips and guiding it to the floor.
Caution and Alternatives for Deadlifts: If you have lower back issues, I would stay away from this movement, a better alternative is bodyweight hyperextensions. But if you do want to give it a shot, start with lighter weight and get the form down.
#2 Bent Over Barbell Row: This is probably the second-best back movement in terms of the amount of weight you can lift. EMG, which measures the electrical activity of muscles during exercise, research has suggested that hitting bent-over barbell rows will work the larger muscle groups of the upper and lower back equally, making this a great overall back builder. Like the deadlift, this is another technical move that requires excellent form but rewards you with a ton of muscle. You can either do this exercise with a supinated (underhand) grip, which hits more of the lower lats, or with a pronated (overhand) grip, which focuses more on the middle and upper back.
Caution and Alternatives for Barbell Rows: This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems. But if you do want to give it a shot, start with lighter weight and get the form down. A Wide Grip, Overhand or Shoulder Width, Underhand Cable Row is a better choice for people with back issues.
How to do the Bent Over Barbell Row:
Holding a barbell with either a supinated or pronated grip, bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward, by bending at the waist, while keeping the back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor. Tip: Make sure that you keep the head up. The barbell should hang directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position.
Now, while keeping the torso stationary, breathe out and lift the barbell to you. Keep the elbows close to the body and only use the forearms to hold the weight. At the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a brief pause.
Then inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.
#3 Pull Ups/Chin Ups: One of the best bodyweight exercises, period! It does not matter which one you do, whether it be a pull up (overhand, wide grip) or a chin up (underhand or neutral grip, shoulder width), just do them. Especially if you want that V-Taper looking back, pull ups are a must. The overhand wide grip pull up will focus more on your upper lats, while the chin up will focus more on your lower lats, along with more bicep activation as well.
How to do the Pull Up/Chin Up:
Grab the pull-up bar with whatever grip you decide to choose. Note on grips: For a wide grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance wider than your shoulder width. For a medium grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance equal to your shoulder width and for a close grip at a distance smaller than your shoulder width.
As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
Pull your torso up until the bar touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Exhale as you perform this portion of the movement. Tip:Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary as it moves through space and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no other work other than hold the bar.
After a second on the contracted position, start to inhale and slowly lower your torso back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched.
Repeat this motion for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
Alternative for Pull Ups/Chin Ups: Pull ups and Chin Ups are tough, especially for beginners. If you have trouble doing them I would advise either a Lat Pull Down or Assisted Pull Up/Chin Up machine until you can so bodyweight Pull Ups/Chin Ups on your own.
#4 T Bar Row: A great mass builder that will put emphasis on the Middle back. A wider grip will put more emphasis on the lats, while a neutral grip (V-Bar handle) will better target the middle back (rhomboids, teres, and traps).
How to do the T-Bar Row:
Position a bar into a landmine or in a corner to keep it from moving. Load an appropriate weight onto your end.
Stand over the bar, and position a V-Bar row handle around the bar next to the collar. Using your hips and legs, rise to a standing position.
Assume a wide stance with your hips back and your chest up. Your arms should be extended. This will be your starting position.
Pull the weight to your upper abdomen by retracting the shoulder blades and flexing the elbows. Do not jerk the weight or cheat during the movement.
After a brief pause, return to the starting position.
Caution and Alternatives for T-Bar Rows: This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems. But if you do want to give it a shot, start with lighter weight and get the form down. A better alternative for those with back problems is a cable row with a neutral grip handle (the V-Bar handle) or a Chest Supported T-Bar Row machine.
#5 Straight Arm Pulldown: This is one of, if not the only, back isolation exercise. Meaning that this is the only single joint back exercise you can do. The Straight Arm Pulldown really isolates the lats, specifically the lower lats, and brings out that V-Taper look. Note: Anyone can do this movement, even folks with back problems.
How to do the Straight Arm Pulldown:
You will start by grabbing the wide bar from the top pulley of a pulldown machine and using a wider than shoulder-width pronated (palms down) grip. Step backwards two feet or so.
Bend your torso forward at the waist by around 30-degrees with your arms fully extended in front of you and a slight bend at the elbows. If your arms are not fully extended then you need to step a bit more backwards until they are. Once your arms are fully extended and your torso is slightly bent at the waist, tighten the lats and then you are ready to begin.
While keeping the arms straight, pull the bar down by contracting the lats until your hands are next to the side of the thighs. Breathe out as you perform this step.
While keeping the arms straight, go back to the starting position while breathing in.
Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.
Variations: You can also use a shorter shoulder-width straight bar or with a rope attachment. Use whatever feels comfortable to you!