by: Yuri Elkaim

How to Get Rid of Back Fat

It peeks out along the lines of your tank tops, over your jeans, and around your bra.

Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded back fat, which is annoying and oh-so-stubborn to get rid of.

If you’ve tried and failed to lose it in the past, don’t give up! Getting rid of back fat takes a holistic approach, which is what makes it so tricky.

In other words, you can’t do only a handful of exercises and expect it to whittle away. You have to take a four-dimensional approach, which I’ve outlined for you below.

Here’s How to Get Rid of Back Fat

While back fat can obviously be stubborn, it doesn’t stand a chance against the tips I’m about to give you. Make sure you’re paying attention to each of the variables below and you’ll be well on your way to shedding that back fat.

1. Diet

Diet is key number one when it comes to losing any type of body fat.

This is because when you eat a diet filled with processed foods high in carbs and fat, you create the perfect environment for fat storage in your body. You constantly jack up your insulin levels, which causes high blood sugar, followed by your body’s attempt to store all this excess sugar.

The result is, well, body fat.

So naturally it’s important that you stick to consuming foods in their whole form to avoid spiking your insulin to unnatural levels. The easiest way to do this is to ditch anything processed or that comes from a bag or box. Focus on whole veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, leafy greens, wild caught fish and organic meats and eggs.

Yuri Elkaim - Fitness Expert

Want a detailed diet plan? Check out my best-selling All-Day Fat Burning Diet book here.

2. Reduce Stress

We all know that stress is bad, but did you know that it could be causing your body to hold on to back fat?

Specifically, stress will cause you to hold on to lower back fat or “love handles.” This is because chronic stress causes the hormone cortisol to remain elevated, which in turn causes fat to accumulate around your midsection. Not to mention, it can also cause you to eat more and lower your immune function (1).

So if you find yourself unable to lose that lower back bulge no matter what, try adding some stress-relieving practices into your daily routine.

Meditation is a great way to lower cortisol levels, as well as yoga, or even just taking a daily walk out in nature. Anything that lets you breathe easier and encourages mindfulness is sure to help.

3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

It might seem like doing hours of “fat-burning” steady-state cardio is the only way to lose your back fat, at least according to the popularity of the treadmills at your gym.

Fortunately, there’s a better way that will get you in and out of the gym in under 30 minutes. Plus, it has fat-scorching effects that make long bouts of cardio on the treadmill seem like a joke.

This way is through high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

HIIT involves alternating bouts of high-intensity exercises (like all-out sprinting) with periods of low-intensity exercises, on repeat, for up to 30 minutes.

However, you can also get great results in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. And by great I mean phenomenally better than what you’ll get from walking on the treadmill.

For instance, take the following study that shows how HIIT workouts are better at burning fat than regular aerobics.

Out of two groups doing aerobics or HIIT training, the aerobics group burned 48 percent more calories per session than the HIIT group, but the HIIT group burned 900 percent more fat in 15 weeks than the first group burned in 20 weeks (2).

In other words, you may burn more calories during steady-state cardio exercise, but you’ll burn more fat with HIIT. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Stay tuned till the end of this article to see how you can structure your own back-fat torching HIIT workout.

4. Compound Movements

Compound movements are “big” exercises that engage several large muscle groups at once. Think exercises like deadlifts, squat-presses, and pushups.

Doing these helps rapidly build lean muscle tissue, which in turn helps you burn more calories and fat over time. This is because it takes more energy (calories) to repair muscle tissue after a workout. It also burns more calories at rest than fat, meaning the more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate.

Combining muscle-building moves with HIIT workouts is essentially a magical formula for fat loss, since it even creates changes in your DNA that promote fat burning (3).

This is why you’ll see many of these exercises in the section below.

How to Get Rid of Back Fat: The Exercises

38 BACK EXERCISES

Now that you’re working on your diet and lowering your stress levels, it’s time to introduce some back exercises into your routine. The great thing about these is that you can also use them as part of your HIIT routine so that you can sculpt your back and burn fat at the same time.

At the bottom of this article you’ll see a workout template showing you exactly how to do this. But first, lets break down the best exercises for your back, by category.

Rows

The standard row and its variations is one of the best exercises you can do to help sculpt your entire upper back and lats. Correct form is important to get the most out of these, so check out this video first for tips before getting started with the variations below.

1. Renegade Rows

Level of difficulty: Intermediate
Renegade rows target your upper back and lats as your body works to pull dumbbells off the floor in a plank position. You’ll also get an amazing core workout and work on strengthening the stabilizer muscles along your sides.

Be sure to keep your hips square to the floor and avoid rocking side to side.

2. Renegade Quadruped Bird Dog Rows

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

This is the upgraded version of the renegade, which has you lift your opposite leg during the movement. This helps to engage your lower back as well as your upper and core.

Spend some time perfecting the regular renegade before trying this one, as it requires a good deal of balance.

See the exercise here: Dr. Joel Seedman

3. Upright Rows

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

If you’ve ever been to the gym, you’ve more than likely seen someone doing upright rows. These are excellent for sculpting your upper shoulder and back area, as well as hitting your arms. Really pay attention to form on these, preferably doing them in front of the mirror.

4. TRX Row to Overhead Press

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

This move takes the row movement to the TRX and combines it with a press. This has a double-whammy effect of hitting the upper area of your back as well as the area in and around your shoulder blades. You’ll also get some lat action during the row.

5. Single-Arm Incline Dumbbell Row

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

This row concentrates on sculpting the muscles around your shoulder blades, as well as your lats and arms. Really concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do this one.

6. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Dumbbell rows are an excellent at-home back exercise for when you don’t have a bench or bar. They mainly target the muscles in your upper back.

With these, you want to make sure that instead of just pulling the dumbbell up and down, you row it in toward your hip in an arc position. This will help prevent relying on your shoulders for the movement and will get you more back activation.

7. T-Bar Row

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The T-bar row is going to engage your entire back, from your trap muscles to your lower back. By pulling your shoulder blades together, you’ll strengthen your upper back muscles, while holding the hinge position will engage your lower back and core.

8. Quadruped Bird Dog Rows

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

In this video you’ll see three variations of bird dog rows. The barbell version is especially challenging for your balance, but all of them are excellent for sculpting your entire back. Two things are certain: you’ll have a strong back and you won’t be bored.

9. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The chest-supported row allows you to really focus on isolating and sculpting your upper back and trap muscles. These are also great if you want to lift heavier but aren’t quite yet there yet with regular upright rows, as these provide additional stability.

Deadlifts

While you might be used to using deadlifts as primarily a glute and lower body exercise, they are actually great for building lower and upper back strength. This is especially true as you start to go heavier, as your back muscles work to support your glutes to pull weight off the floor.

1. Barbell Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The regular deadlift is outstanding for building your posterior chain, or the group of muscles running the length of your back. Be sure to keep your spine straight at all times during these, avoiding slouching forward.

2. Suitcase Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The suitcase deadlift uses unique positioning of the barbell to increase the stability throughout your core. You’ll feel this working from your lats all the way down your sides and through your glutes, while also getting a serious workout in for your stability muscles.

3. Trap Bar Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The trap bar deadlift is unique in that its shape helps take the pressure off your lower back, which  is a common complaint during regular deadlifting with a barbell. Use this bar if you’re new to deadlifts or need help with stabilization.

If you don’t have a barbell or a trap or hex bar, don’t worry. Check out these next 4 deadlift variations instead:

4. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is going to work your lower back, core, lats, glutes, and balance like no other. Not to mention, holding a dumbbell is going to increase the tension throughout your upper back and shoulders as you work to keep your balance while lifting on one leg.

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift with Hold

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

This single-leg deadlift adds an isometric hold to the end of your reps for extra lower back and glute burn. You’ll also engage your sides and your lats as you hold with one leg in the air.

6. Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

If you’re just starting with deadlifts or are looking for a convenient deadlift option using only dumbbells, this one’s for you. You’ll get similar back-sculpting benefits as a regular Romanian deadlift.

7. Kettlebell Deadlifts

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

This video features six deadlift variations you can do with a kettlebell, making them a versatile and convenient way to sculpt a strong back. Just holding one of these will have you feeling the tension in your lats.

Kettlebell Swings

When it comes to answering the “how to get rid of back fat” question, kettlebell swings bring a lot to the table. They’re an amazing full-body strength and cardio workout. While no single muscle is targeted, you’ll definitely feel your back working to hold you upright and provide you with the power you need to thrust your kettlebell skyward.

Even though many think the kettlebell swing is bad for your back, this only occurs during bad form and when your lower back is taking on the majority of the load rather than your glutes.

Otherwise, these are an excellent exercise that will get your heart rate up quickly, which will help torch that extra fat on your back.

1. Kettlebell Swing

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Kettlebell swings deceiving look as if you’re only working your shoulders as you swing them up. When you do them correctly, however, you engage your entire posterior chain in a hip-hinge movement, using your back and glute muscles to thrust the kettlebell upward. In actuality, your arms don’t do any work during the swing.

2. Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The single-arm kettlebell swing gives you the same benefits of the regular swing, but adds more core and lat engagement since you’re swinging on one side.

3. Switch Kettlebell Swing

Level of difficulty: Advanced

The switch swing is more advanced than the single-arm swing since it involves alternating arms as you swing. It gives you all the benefits of the single-arm swing, along with an increased heart rate for additional fat burning.

4. Banded Kettlebell Swing

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The banded kettlebell swing is going to add extra resistance around your hips as you thrust forward during your swing. This makes your posterior chain work harder to push the kettlebell upward, thus sculpting a stronger, leaner back and glutes.

Pull-ups

It’s no surprise pull-ups are a great back exercise, specifically for your upper back and shoulders. And don’t worry if you can’t quite get a full pull-up yet. Below you’ll find an assisted version that can help you build up your strength, while this guide has more tips on how to progress to a full pull-up.

1. Underhand Pull-up

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The underhand pull-up, or chin-up as it’s sometimes called, is not only great for working your biceps, but also heavily engages your lat muscles, which wrap around the underside of your arm pits and the side of your back.

This is also an easier version of the pull-up since you’re able to recruit more of the muscles in your arms to help pull you up.

2. Overhand Pull-up

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The overhand, or traditional, pull-up is one of the kings when it comes to working your entire upper back, traps, lats, and shoulders. Even if you can only knock out a few, you’ll be feeling it the next day.

Keep in mind that it might take a while to develop the strength needed to do a full pull up. This is especially true for women, who have much less upper body mass than men.

3. Banded Pull-up

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Not quite ready to do a full pull-up? No problem. This band tutorial shows you how you can still get the back-sculpting benefits of pull-ups using a band.

4. Assisted Pull-up

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The assisted pull-up takes some of the dead weight of your body away so that you can work up to doing a full pull-up. These will still thoroughly engage your upper back and work your lats, while also getting your heart pumping.

Pushups

You might dread pushups, but one thing is certain: they will quickly sculpt your back muscles due to the muscle strength required to push your entire body weight off the floor. They will also get your heart rate up to help burn off that excess fat. You won’t get bored with the variations below!

1. Regular Pushups

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

There’s no question that you can feel pushups working your upper back and lats as you raise and lower your body off the floor.

2. 33 Pushup Variations

Level of difficulty: Beginner-advanced

This video shows you 33 variations of pushups so you’re guaranteed to hit all angles of your upper back, lats, and shoulders. Plus, you’ll never get bored by switching things up with these variations.

Pulls

Anytime you have to pull weight toward you, you can be assured that your back is working. These pull variations maximize this effect to get you a sculpted back.

1. Band Pull-Aparts

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Band pull-aparts are great for engaging your scapula, or the muscles above your shoulder blades. They will also engage your lats and work isometrically to tone your arms.

2. Half-Kneeling Banded Face Pull to Y-Press

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

This exercise might be a mouthful to say, but the results are worth it. Here you’ll sculpt your scapula, traps, and lats as you pull a band toward you and push it up to a press. Plus, you’ll get a great core workout from the half-kneeling position.

3. Band Face Pull

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The band face pull also works your upper back and scapula, which will give you those coveted back ripples. They also engage your shoulders and arms.

4. Dumbbell Pullover

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The dumbbell pullover is a serious lat builder. By focusing on this area, you’ll tighten up the area under your armpits and down your sides.

5. Band Pull-Downs

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Band pull-downs are also excellent for working your lats and lower back, while also getting in some scapula and core engagement.

Supermans and Bird Dogs

Supermans and bird dogs are great for working your entire back and core, while also getting in some glute work. They are also great for when you need an equipment-free option.

Just make sure with these that you keep your hips square to the floor at all times and avoid rocking side-to-side during the movement.

1. Superman

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

The regular superman can literally be done anywhere, as it requires no equipment. These are great for working the muscles around your shoulder blades and lower back. As a bonus, they can even help improve your posture.

2. Alternating Arm and Leg Superman

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

You can switch up the regular superman by alternating arms and legs – a great option for beginners. In addition to working your back, you’ll also get your glutes involved.

3. Bird Dogs

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Bird dogs are another do-anywhere back exercise that works the entire length of your back. By alternating arms and legs, you also challenge your balance while engaging your lats.

4. Elevated Bird Dogs

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Elevated bird dogs take things up a notch by lifting your knees off the ground. This makes your entire body work harder to perform the movement, while also deeply engaging the stabilizer muscles in your back and sides.

5. Reverse Hypers

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Reverse hypers are simply awesome for targeting that stubborn lower back area. You’ll feel this one throughout the muscles surrounding your lower spine, as well as your glutes. Just be sure not to over-extend or “crunch” your back with these – pretend you’re holding a $100 bill between your cheeks that you don’t want anyone to steal!

6. Stability Ball Reverse Hypers

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Reverse hypers on a stability ball also deeply engage your lower back and glutes muscles, while also placing tension on your lats and upper back to keep your body balanced on the ball.

7. Cobras

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Cobras are another great back exercise to do anywhere. They focus on your upper back and scapula muscles, while also working your arms, chest, and lats.

HIIT Back Workout Template

To put together your own back sculpting HIIT workout, choose 5 back exercises  and 5 cardio or compound exercises to alternate them with. Perform these 2-3 times per week.

Here’s an example template, with possible exercises:

  • Exercise 1: Deadlifts (1 min.)
  • Cardio Interval: Step Ups on Bench (1 min.)
  • Exercise 2: Renegade Rows (1 min.)
  • Cardio Interval: Skater Jumps (1 min.)
  • Exercise 3: Glute Bridge (1 min.)
  • Cardio Interval: Kettlebell Swings (1 min.)
  • Exercise 4: Bird Dogs (1 min.)
  • Cardio Interval: Repeat Skater Jumps (1 min.)
  • Exercise 5: Back Rows (1 min.)
  • Cardio Interval: Repeat Step Ups on Bench (1 min.)
  • Repeat 2 to 3 rounds with an optional 30-second rest between exercises and a 60-second rest between rounds.

Back Finisher Option

You can add this finisher example after your regular workouts for an extra back burn.

Perform any four exercises for 50 seconds without stopping, and repeat for 2 to 3 rounds.

Sample finisher workout:

  • Exercise 1: Pull-ups
  • Exercise 2: Kettlebell Swings
  • Exercise 3: Renegade Rows
  • Exercise 4: Stability ball roll-ins
  • Repeat 2 to 3 Rounds with a 60-second break between rounds.

Keep in mind that while HIIT workouts are great at burning fat, more isn’t always better. Stick to 2 to 3 times a week at most, since they can be especially stressful on your body if you go overboard.

Plus, you don’t want to undo all of the progress you’ll be making with the stress reduction techniques we talked about earlier!

Eat Healthy, Get Strong

That’s how to get rid of back fat: eat healthy, don’t stress, do interval cardio, and add some solid workouts to your regimen.

At the end of the day, combing all of these tips and exercises in a balanced approach is the most powerful and efficient way  to get rid of that stubborn back fat (and improve your overall health and well-being, too!).

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.