12 Exercises That’ll Tone Your Back And Shoulders

Sculpting your back and shoulders can make you feel seriously strong, in the gym and out—whether you’re lifting moving boxes, stuffing a carry-on into the overhead bin, or just working on mastering a pull-up, toning these muscles gives you a leg up on any heavy-lifting activity life throws at you. And, hey, if your goal is to feel proud showing off your fitness efforts in a backless tank? That’s cool, too.

Here are 12 exercises that’ll put your back and shoulders to work. Plus, many will engage other muscles as well, like your arms and abs. (Oh, and for moves that include dumbbells, here’s how to choose the right weights for strength training—it’s totally individual.) Mix these moves into your usual gym routine, or try a few at home.

1. Bent-Over Row


Whitney Thielman

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at sides.
  • Bend knees slightly and tilt forward at hips, back flat, arms straight, hands under shoulders.
  • Bend elbows and lift weights toward chest, keeping your arms close to your body.
  • Extend arms back out and repeat.

2. Forearm Plank


Valerie Fischel

  • Start with your forearms and knees on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Elbows should be stacked underneath the shoulders, your forearms straight in front of you on the ground.
  • Lift your knees off the ground and push your feet back to bring your body to full extension, so your body creates one long line.
  • Keep your core tight and your hips lifted, and keep your neck in line with your spine.
  • Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds. Keep breathing!

3. Overhead Tricep Extension


Whitney Thielman

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Hold the middle of a dumbbell in both hands behind your neck, elbows bent and pointing towards the sky, upper arms by your ears.
  • Without moving your upper arms, extend your forearms above your head. Keep your shoulders down and core tight.
  • Lower your forearms to the starting position.


4. Diamond Push-Up


Whitney Thielman

  • Start in a high plank.
  • Walk your hands together so that your thumbs and forefingers form a triangle.
  • Bend elbows to lower your torso toward the ground to do a complete push-up.
  • If it’s too tough, lower your knees.

5. Forearm Side Plank


Valerie Fischel

  • Lie on your left side, your right foot stacked over your left foot.
  • Using your left forearm, lift your upper body off the floor so your body is in one straight line. Your left elbow should be stacked below your left shoulder, your left forearm straight in front of you. Raise your right arm towards the sky. Don’t let your hips drop!
  • Repeat on the other side.

6. Lateral Plank Walks


Whitney Thielman

  • Start in high plank with shoulders above your wrists and abs tight.
  • Step right foot and right hand to right side immediately following with left foot and left hand. Take a few “steps” in one direction, then walk in the opposite direction.

7. Plank Taps


Whitney Thielman

  • Start in high plank with your feet hip-distance apart.
  • Then tap each hand to the opposite shoulder while engaging your core and glutes to keep the hips as still as possible.


8. Superman


Whitney Thielman

  • Lie face down with your arms out in front of you.
  • Lift your torso and legs off the floor. Pause and then slowly lower everything back down.

9. Renegade Row


Whitney Thielman

  • Start in high plank, each hand holding on to a dumbbell that is resting on the floor.
  • Pull right elbow back, raising dumbbell toward chest keeping right elbow close to torso, abs tight and hips facing down.
  • Lower weight and repeat on the opposite side.

10. Tricep Box Dips


Whitney Thielman

  • Sit on the ground with your legs in front and your back up against a box or step. Place your palms on the box or step behind you, fingers facing forward.
  • Straighten your arms to lift your legs and butt off the ground, then bend your elbows to lower back down (without letting your butt touch the ground). Keep your heels on the ground, and make sure you keep your elbows directly behind your body during this exercise.

11. Flamingo Reverse Fly


Whitney Thielman

  • Stand on your left leg with a three- to eight-pound weight in each hand.
  • Lean forward and lift your right leg until your body and leg are in one straight line, and the weights are reaching down towards the floor.
  • Engage the muscles of your back to open your arms outwards until they reach the height of the shoulders.
  • Then, keeping the core engaged and the bottom ribs drawing towards one another, lower them back down with control.

12. Plank Ups


Whitney Thielman

  • Start in high plank. Bend one arm to bring the elbow and forearm to the floor.
  • Bring the other arm down so you are in a forearm plank.
  • Push back up to the start position, placing each hand where your elbows were.
  • Repeat this movement, alternating which side you lower first with each rep.

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Written by Gavril Vadik

Gavril writes and copyedits for a variety of people, publications, and organizations.