Jeff Nippard Ranks the Best and the Worst Back Exercises for Muscle Growth

See which back exercises can build that thick wingspan and which are not doing anything

It is no secret that a strong and wide back helps with functionality as well aesthetics, as the size enhances the V-taper and strength improves performance on compound exercises like deadlifts and even everyday tasks like picking up a child. On Feb. 5, 2024, fitness influencer Jeff Nippard took to his YouTube channel and ranked 20 different back exercises from worst to best when it comes to building muscle mass. Let’s take a look.

Full Name: Jeff Nippard

Weight Height Date Of Birth
155-165 lbs. 5’5’’ 10/06/1990
Profession Era Nationality
Bodybuilder, Powerlifter 2010 Canadian

Best Back Exercise Criteria

 

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Jeff Nippard’s ranking system for these back exercises was based on three muscle growth tenets:

  • Stretch & Tension: The first tenet was if an exercise stretched the working muscle with a full range of motion but kept high tension, ensuring the muscle was being worked.
  • Feels Good: The second looked at whether the exercise in question could be performed smoothly with a sharp mind-muscle connection without any pain.
  • Simple Progression: The third of the tenets that Jeff listed emphasized simple progression, meaning adding weight and reps was simple.

The 5 Worst Back Exercises (Bottom Tier)

Jeff Nippard’s back exercise ranking system starts at the best, with S for “super” working its way down to A, B, C, D, and to F for “failure” as the worst. (S+ refers to the overall best back exercise. F- refers to the overall worst.) Let’s take a look at what the 5 worst back exercises were, according to Jeff Nippard.

  • Renegade Rows
  • Row + Curl
  • Row + Press
  • Row + Kickback
  • Deadlift 

Nippard starts his list of back exercises at the bottom, and puts renegade rows and dumbbell row variations (row + curl, row + press, row + kickback) in his F tier. This surprises many, as dumbbell rows are a favorite of many different bodybuilders. However, Nippard states that these types of movements have a limited range of motion, and also have the lifter focusing on the wrong areas of the back. By exhausting the wrong muscles, the back can become underdeveloped or non-symmetrical

Next, deadlifts made the list as one of the worst exercises, which also was a surprise as these are typically seen as a great overall mass builder. However, this movement can be used to train the legs (quads, glutes, and hamstrings) depending on stance, but in reality will not maximize the back muscles. Because of the deadlift’s stretch and progression opportunities, Nippard would put deadlifts in the A or B tier on a leg day, but not a back day.

For a back day, Nippard puts deadlifts in his C tier. Again, the legs get most of the growth opportunity

Moving on to above-knee rack pulls, many people will use these as it removes the leg activation from the deadlift, and emphasizes the back. Unfortunately, rack pulls don’t optimize the use of the equipment and offer a smaller range of motion than deadlifts. This has them earning a spot in Nippard’s F tier for back exercises.

The Best Back Exercises: Pull-Ups & Pulldowns (Top Tier)

Getting into the top tier back workouts for muscle growth, Nippard chose some pull-up variations for this part. More specifically, the wide-grip pull-up, neutral-grip pull-up, chin-up, wide-grip lat pulldown, neutral-grip lat pulldown, and half-kneeling one-arm lat pulldown as exercises in the A, B, or S tier.

Those back exercises all give the lifter simple progression models, as well as keep high tension on the muscles throughout the movement, as well as providing a decent stretch at the bottom of each rep. One thing that Nippard noted is that pull-up variations are a bit more challenging at the top of the movement rather than the bottom, so the resistance is not super smooth.

Nippard placed each pulldown variation into the lauded S tier. The stretch, tension, smooth resistance, absent pain, and easy progression model are all things that Jeff loves about the pulldown variations. 

Mid Tier Row Variations

Starting out with the barbell row in the mid tier, Nippard explains it fits all the criteria yet is not super stable, and other row variations could offer better growth opportunities.

Another barbell row variation named after 6x Mr. Olympia champion Dorian Yates, who was known for his massive back, the Yates row (C tier) offers some back growth but is limited by lack of stability and range of motion. Nippard also states the row variation named after the late Glenn Pendlay, the Pendlay row (B tier) has similar issues. However, a lifter could Pendlay row with a deficit to increase the stretch in the lats during the negative, that being said, a modified Pendlay Row was ranked in the A Tier.

Named after the late IFBB professional bodybuilder John Meadows (also known as MountainDog1), the Meadows Row looks like a sideways single-arm landmine row. This row variation provides a great stretch in the lats, and the stretch is something Nippard loves, so he puts this movement in the S tier. Rich Gaspari shows how to properly do T Bar Rows for back

Generation Iron T Bar Row Exercises

On the other hand, Nippard feels that free-standing T-bar rows (a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman) are challenging to balance. Another issue he finds is that the weight plates can get in the way of a full range of motion, so as a result he puts them in the B tier.

Due to the difficult progression, inverted rows are ranked in the C-tier. Then, single-arm dumbbell rows in the A tier, and the Kroc row in the A tier.

Moving on to the chest-supported row, this is a superior version of the classic T-bar row from the floor in Nippard’s eyes. He states this is because the movement allows for more stretch and flexion. They sit comfortably in the S tier.

Another S-tier exercise are horizontal cable rows, as well as face pulls and lat pullovers which rank well due to the easy progression and deep stretch that a lifter can get from them. Cable machines also provide the smoothness of movement. Lastly, Nippard had ranked dumbbell pullovers in the A-tier because of the quality of stretch they allow for.

Jeff Nippard Back Exercises Wrap Up

To wrap it all up, Nippard crowned chest-supported rows as the best all-around back exercise due to the stretch and tension provided by them. As far as the movement that ranked the worst for hypertrophy, this went to renegade rows. What we take away from Nippard’s back exercise rankings is fairly simple: a lifter should prioritize movements such as pull-ups, pulldowns, and stable row variations that allow a full range of motion and easy progression over time.

What do you think of Jeff Nippard’s best back exercises?


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I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.