Exercises For A MASSive Back, Chest & Shoulders!

Below is a list and explanation of resistance training exercises for back, chest & shoulders that work the large muscle groups as well as multiple muscle groups together, thus providing the stimulus necessary for thelargest gains in size & strength.

Not all exercises are created equal!! Below is a list and explanation of resistance training exercises for BACK, CHEST & SHOULDERS that work the large muscle groups as well as multiple muscle groups together, thus providing the stimulus necessary for the LARGEST GAINS IN SIZE & STRENGTH IN LESS TIME!!

Generally speaking, mass building exercises are those that involve movement at more than one joint and therefore work multiple muscle groups at once. Furthermore, free weights such as dumbbells and barbells are also better for gaining mass because in addition to working the intended large muscles, they also recruit many smaller muscles needed for stabilization.

The majority of the following exercises fit this criteria with the exceptions being a few isolation exercises that I threw in that serve as good finishers to your routine. The following exercises are also bilateral movements (moving both at same time) in order to keep your training short and intense, which provides for a highly effective and efficient mass building strategy. Exercises are listed in order of priority to your fitness program but exercise programming (reps, sets, resistance, frequency, etc.) is not discussed.


Primary Exercises

Lat-Pulldown and/or Pull-Ups or Assisted Pull-Up Machine - View Exercise

Arch your chest up and bring the bar to the top of your chest (or to your chin on chin-ups) by bringing your elbows back and your scapula together. You can increase the resistance of a chin-up or pull-up by using a weighted belt; forced reps and/or negatives by having a partner assist you at the feet; or negatives by placing a bench beneath your feet.

Bent Over Barbell Row and/or Cable Row and/or T-bar Row - View Exercise 1 / 2 / 3

It's important to note that you should never round your back with these movements, always keep that natural arch in your lower back as well as keep your chest up and out and your torso erect. Bring the bar to your sternum (low chest/upper abdominal region) and squeeze your shoulder blades back and together.

Deadlifts - View Exercise

This is a definite mass and strength builder for the lower back as well as the large muscle groups of the lower body. Think of this movement the same as a squat except you are holding the resistance in front of you below your knees. With arms extended grasp a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you with one hand palm-up and one hand palm-down grip. Keep your chest up and extend your hips so that you come to a standing position (keep your arms straight and extended throughout movement).

Secondary Exercises

Lat-Pulldown Machine - View Exercise

Row Machine - View Exercise

Pullovers (E-Z Curl Bar, Dumbbell, Cable, Machine) - View Exercise

Try this as a finisher on back days for a great burn and pump as well as a nice stretch. In addition to it working your back it also works the long head of the triceps and your chest. I prefer to perform these while on my knees in front of a high pulley cable stack with a rope attachment and bending forward a little bit at the waist in order to fully extend my shoulders.

Lock your elbows in a slightly bent position throughout the movement in order to take tension off the biceps as well as prevent the triceps to push down. You can also achieve this full shoulder ROM (range of motion) by lying on your back on a bench or stability ball. I prefer cables for this movement because it allows for continuous tension throughout the entire ROM which really fatigues the muscles and serves as a good finisher to my back workout.

Shrugs (Barbell or Dumbbell) - View Exercise

This is a must if you are looking to isolate the upper trapezius only. Never roll your shoulders - straight up and down. Keep your elbows locked in a slightly bent position throughout the movement. You should hold the full contraction at the top for a 1 count. I prefer dumbbells because it allows for a greater range of motion and also because DB's don't catch against my thighs as barbells do. But use barbells for variety.


  • Vary the attachment bars and your grips in order to hit the muscles a little differently and to avoid overdevelopment of certain areas.

  • Keep in mind that using a neutral grip and keeping your elbows inward and by your sides during rowing exercises places more emphasis on your back muscles. By simply changing your grip to an overhand one with a wider grip (flaring your elbows outward so that they are inline with your shoulders and your elbows form a 90 degree angle) you will be placing added emphasis to your posterior deltoid head. Using an underhand grip will place added emphasis on the biceps and on the lower portion of your lats.

  • Training back is difficult for many, especially beginners and novices, because you cant see the muscles working, therefore it is imperative that you build that mind/muscle connection with this muscle group and focus on feel by squeezing for a full contraction with a 1-2 count.

  • On all pulling movements it helps to visualize your arms and hands simply as pulleys and your back doing all the work.

  • I never recommend beginners perform pull-ups or lat-pulldowns behind the neck, because if done improperly it can cause injury to your cervical spine or rotator cuff. Even after the movement is mastered, lighter resistance and higher repetitions should be used and focus should be on form and feel.


Primary Exercises

Flat Bench Press (Barbell or Dumbbell) - View Exercise

A wide grip should be used - a rule of thumb is to place an empty bar on your chest and form a 90 degree angle with your elbows (upper arms parallel to floor and forearms perpendicular to floor) in order to mark your optimal grip width. Your elbows should be flared out so that they are inline with the shoulders. Your lower back should not arch - it should remain against the bench.

Incline Bench Press (Barbell or Dumbbell) - View Exercise

Dips (weighted if necessary) or Assisted Dip - View Exercise

Use a forward tilt and point your elbows outward as far as possible. Go through the full range of motion. You can use a partner for forced reps and/or negatives, or a bench under your feet for negatives.

Secondary Exercises

Decline Bench Press (Barbell or Dumbbell) - View Exercise

I never suggest that someone perform decline bench presses due to the fact that the lower chest gets worked well with flat bench presses and dips. But, I must include it because it is a great mass builder. Use it for variety. Although you're on a decline, you should still be pressing straight up to the ceiling. Bring the bar down to your sternum on this one in order to avoid unnecessary stress on your shoulders and to allow for greater strength.

Chest Press Machine (flat and/or incline) - View Exercise

Well-designed pressing machines are useful because you don't have to worry about things like balancing the weight or the injury risks that can be associated with free weights. You can simply put all of your focus into pushing as much weight as possible which allows for great overload of the intended muscles but also does not work the smaller muscles used for balance.

Push-Ups (flat and/or incline) - View Exercise

Do incline w/ feet on a bench or platform and hands on the floor. For greater ROM and the incorporation of core stability you can hold onto dumbbells instead of placing your hands on the floor. The push-up exercise basically works all of the same muscles in the same fashion as the chest press and can be used as a good finishing exercise at the end of your routine in order to completely fatigue your muscles and pump some extra blood in there.

Cable Fly/Crossover (flat and/or incline) - View Exercise

This doesn't fit my true definition of "mass builder" because movement occurs at only one joint and therefore the chest is nearly isolated. But in that respect, it is a great exercise to isolate and add some mass strictly to the chest as well as some increased definition to the inner pecs and give a serious pump at the end of your chest routine as well as completely fatigue your chest.

Go lighter and concentrate on proper form (lock your elbows into a slightly bent position for the whole movement, starting with your hands inline with your shoulders move your hands together in an arching-type movement over your chest, and when you get to the top of the movement hold and squeeze your chest hard for a 1-2 count. It should be a slow and controlled movement on the way up and down.

You wont be able to use as much weight if you do this correctly but your chest will get an intense burn and pump. If performed from a standing position, don't be afraid to place one foot out in front of the other for better balance.


  • Your elbows should be in line with your shoulders in order to involve less of the triceps on pressing movements including push-ups and as much as possible on dips.

  • A wider grip will involve less of the triceps and more of the chest - Place an empty bar on your chest, elbows in line with your shoulders, bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle with your forearms completely perpendicular to your upper arms and floor and this will give you an idea of where your hands need to be on the bar.

  • I find that many weight trainers have an underdeveloped upper chest because they start off every workout and put all their energy into the traditional flat barbell bench press. To prevent this, avoid the decline bench press and start your chest workouts with the incline press for a period of time or every other workout until you are proportioned.

  • Keep in mind that chest movements, especially incline exercises involve a great deal of shoulders, most notably the anterior deltoid.

  • Keep in mind that pressing movements involve the triceps a great deal.


Primary Exercises

Shoulder Press (Barbell and Dumbbell) - View Exercise

Use the same technique as the one mentioned for the bench press to find the optimal hand width on the bar. Going behind your neck with the barbell creates excessive strain on the rotator cuff as well as potential for injury to the cervical spine - take a wide grip and perform in front instead for a similar effect.

Shoulder Press Machine - View Exercise

Well-designed pressing machines are useful because you don't have to worry about things like balancing the weight or the injury risks that can be associated with free weights. You can simply put all of your focus into pushing as much weight as possible which allows for great overload of the intended muscles but also does not work the smaller muscles used for balance.

Some machines have different grips (keep in mind that a neutral grip will place less emphasis on the medial and posterior head of your deltoid and more on your anterior head).

Secondary Exercises

Arnold Shoulder Press - View Exercise

Elbows in toward midline, palms facing toward you, and rotate your palms outward as you press upward as one fluid gradual movement. This exercise places added emphasis on the anterior deltoid but also works the other heads.

Upright Rows (Dumbbells, Barbell, E-Z Curl Bar, Cables) - View Exercise

This movement bothers the shoulders of some individuals such as myself, but others are fine with it. From a standing position, take a shoulder-width overhand grip and bring the bar up to shoulder level - no higher (keep your elbows high throughout the movement so at the top your elbows are inline with your shoulders.


  • For pressing movements use a bench that has a back support - this will allow you to lift more weight and thus produce greater overload.

  • Your elbows should be all the way back and in line with your shoulders on presses except for Arnold Presses.

  • I suggest using a wide over hand grip for all pressing exercises as this will work the entire deltoid more completely than a neutral or underhand grip, but don't be afraid to try different grips and mix it up once in a while or for every other set.

  • I'm not suggesting any raises as mass builders because they are isolation exercises. They are more ideal for adding detail or to bring one head of the deltoid up to proportion to the others - put all of your efforts and energy into pressing movements which work all three heads at once as well as your triceps.

  • Keep in mind that your shoulders get worked during back (posterior head) and chest (anterior, medial heads) movements. Pressing exercises such as bench presses (especially incline), dips, and pushups involve the shoulders a great deal

  • Keep in mind that pressing movements involve the triceps a great deal.

Be sure to check out the:
2004 Arnold Classic Main Page!

Be sure to also check out:
Exercises For MASSive Arms!


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  • rep this user

Informative and to the point, not overloaded with a bunch of opinions. Good article.

Mar 21, 2013 3:01pm | report
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