Bodyweight back exercises are usually overlooked by many.
Most folks usually train abs, chest and arms. For the obvious reason that these muscles more visible and they are what most consider sexy.
Training only a few muscle groups is not a good idea…..It usually leads to muscles imbalances and bad posture, as I explained in the muscle imbalance guide. You also need a strong back to hold the shoulders back and keep the lumbar spine in its neutral position.
Being the second biggest muscle group, the back should be trained regularly. You’ll need to pay attention to proper form – the back is very sensitive and if you don’t do the exercises properly you might end up doing more harm than good.
Benefits of Doing Bodyweight Back Exercises
Having a strong back is necessary, whether you are an athlete, bodybuilder or just a regular guy.
Here are the benefits of back exercises:
**Strong back muscles help keep the spine in its neutral position during movement and prevents back injury. If back muscles are not strong enough, they won’t be able to hold the lumbar spine in its neutral position. This will result to back complications and high injury risk.
**Improves athletic performance. Almost every athletic sport requires a strong back, from tennis to more physical sports like rugby. A weak back negatively affects performance.
**Back exercises burn a lot of calories. Since back muscles are very big, training them will burn more calories that you would when doing ab or arm exercises.
**The V look/ shape. Almost every man wants the V look, and you can only get it by building strong back muscles. Having big lats and shoulders is what brings this look.
**Training the back strengthens and stabilizes the core. The back and other muscle groups make up the core. Having strong back means a stronger core and increased overall strength.
**Bodyweight back exercises improve bad posture. Back muscles hold the shoulders back and this corrects the curved-forward shoulder posture.
These benefits apply for both men and women, so ladies just because you don’t want the V look doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do back exercises. Back muscles will give you a better physique, and don’t worry about the V look because it doesn’t come easy.
You’ll notice that that 2 or 3 exercises in this list were also in the bodyweight leg exercises article. This is because some exercises work both the legs and lower back muscles.
I would also like to mention that it’s important to train both the lower back and upper back muscles.
The back is made up of several muscles, here are the main ones: latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), infraspinatus and the erector spinae.
These are all bodyweight exercises – the only equipment you need is a pull bar (I’ll show you how you can do pull ups without a bar).
I have divided these back exercises into 3 categories – Beginner – Intermediate – Advanced.
So identify exercises that will work for your fitness level and start there…..Alright, here we go.
Important: Click on the images for a how-to video on the exercise.
Beginner Bodyweight Back Exercises
These are exercises for someone who is new to bodyweight training or one who has been physically inactive.
This is exercise works the lower back muscles and helps strengthen the core.
You’ll need to control your motion and hold the top position for 3secs as you squeeze the glutes, and then slowly return to starting position. Also focus on breathing and keep the head in its neutral position.
After you become good at the superman start doing the alternating superman, where you lift opposite leg and opposite arm.
The Dog Bird
Another lower back exercise and a great core stabilizer. If it’s your first time doing this exercise balance may be an issue, but after few reps or sets you will learn proper form.
You can do different variations and even use an exercise ball to make the exercise more challenging.
Bodyweight Back Extensions
Doing this exercise without a back extension bench can be hard but try to improvise.
In case you don’t have a bench, use a table and have someone hold your legs. Alternatively you can use an exercise ball, though it won’t be as effective.
A great exercise – even though it’s a beginner exercise I still do it. So if you have a bench or someone to support you, start doing it.
The back extensions work the lower back, glutes and the hamstrings.
This is a 3 movement exercise which works the upper back and the shoulders.
You won’t find many beginner exercises that target the upper back, so every beginner should consider doing this.
Hold every position for 2 seconds and make sure you breathe throughout.
This exercise will help if you have lower back pain. This is not to say it will cure back pain, if you have back pain see a doctor.
Control your movement and squeeze the glutes as you raise your hips. This exercise works the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
You can start doing the single leg variation once this becomes easy.
The One Leg Deadlift
This is more of a leg exercise but also work the lower back. To get a good lower back activation from it, keep your back and the active foot straight. Also control the motion by doing the exercise slowly.
Intermediate Bodyweight Back Exercises
This is where most people should start (especially men). Don’t do too much of the beginner stuff, it’s not as effective as these exercises. Do these regularly and you will get a strong and wide back.
You don’t have to do high reps, just do what you can and work your way up.
This is one of the best compound exercises. And it’s a must for anyone who’s does bodyweight training. If you aren’t doing pull ups, you are violating big time!
Yea I know pull ups are not easy but the only way you can get better at them is by practicing. Start with pull up bands if find the exercise too challenging or follow the advice in the how to video.
Pull ups works almost all the upper body muscles (biceps, chest, shoulders, forearm) and mainly works the lats.
Do different grip variations (wide grip, narrow and normal), the normal pull up grip should grip shoulder width apart. The wide grip pull ups build the lower lats.
By the time you can do 10 full range of motion pull ups you will be stronger and your body will be transformed.
If you don’t have a pull up bar you can use a stable door or use the door frame. Even though this will work for some time you will have to buy a bar. Doors and door frames are not safe and they are limiting – you can only do a few variations. Seriously consider buy a bar, they are not that expensive ($30), it’s totally worth it.
Alternatively you can go to the park and use monkey bars.
The inverted rows work the lats, biceps, and shoulders. You need a low bar or a stable table for this exercise. You can also use a broomstick where you placed on high surfaces, like chairs.
When doing this exercise, keep your feet close together, the body straight and do full range of motion.
The Reverse Pushup
A great exercise, works both the upper back and lower back muscles.
The reverse push up will increase core strength and build arm and shoulder muscles.
Not a popular exercise but it’s very effective.
You’ll need two chairs or boxes to place your hand on.
When you find yourself in a place where you can’t do pull ups, do the scapular shrugs.
This exercise mainly works the lats and the traps.
Pull Up Holds
So instead of pulling up and down, just hold one position.
Pull yourself up until the chin is above the bar then hold that position for 30secs to a minute.
After resting for a minute, pull yourself up such that your elbows are on a 90 degree angle the hold that position for the same period.
Advanced Bodyweight Back Exercises
Now these are the ultimate bodyweight back exercises. You need to be very strong to do them.
Definitely not an easy one but very effective.
By the time you can pull 6 muscle ups you’ll have a killer back. If you can’t do a muscle up yet just keep on working on your pull ups and get stronger.
This exercise basically works all the upper body muscles. It primarily activates the lats, deltoids and the arms.
Side-to-side Pull Up
Here, instead of a balanced two arm pull, pull to one side then lower your body and then pull to the other side.
This exercise is challenging because one arm does most of the pulling.
The side to side pull up primarily works the lats, biceps and the abs.
Feet Elevated Inverted Rows
Once the inverted rows become easy – move up to this.
Just place your feet on a chair then pull yourself up as you would, when doing a normal inverted row.
Just keep the body straight and do full range of motion. You’ll be working the same muscles only that this is more effective.
One Arm Pull Up
One of the hardest bodyweight exercises – most people who have been training for years can’t do a single one arm pull up.
Start with the assisted one arm pull up (which isn’t easy either) then advance to one arm.
Side-to-side Inverted Rows
Just like the side-to-side pull ups, you pull yourself to one side the return to starting position and pull to the other side.
This exercise mainly works the lats, biceps and shoulder. In fact if you have weak shoulders to this exercise will strengthen them and improve shoulder health.
The Gymnast Bridge
Although this isn’t a resistance exercise, it’s one that will improve your back health and help get rid of back pain.
The gymnast bridge requires a lot of flexibility but you can progress to it.
Do this exercise once or twice a week and you may never experience shoulder or back problems.
Front Lever Pull Up
Doing the front lever itself is not a walk in the park. You need months of practice before you can pull a straight front lever.
Do the front lever then pull your body up and return to starting position.
There you have it, bodyweight back exercises that will give you a strong and muscular back. And if anyone tells you that it’s not possible to build a strong back using your own body…..you know where to send them.
Do these exercises regularly and keep advancing. Also focus on proper form for maximum results and to avoid injury.
If you have lower back pain or any back complications, see a physical therapist before you start doing any of these exercises.
Share this article with anyone who does bodyweight training. I’m sure they’ll find a few exercises they can add to their workout.
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