The Top Bodyweight Back Exercises, According to Trainers
Sport & Activity
Two certified personal trainers explain why these bodyweight back exercises are key for overall strength, posture and balance.
Are you looking to strengthen the muscles in your back? There are plenty of bodyweight back exercises you can do without ever stepping foot in a gym or picking up a piece of equipment.
As their name suggests, "bodyweight back exercises are a form of strength training that utilise a person's own weight as resistance against gravity", said NASM-certified personal trainer Danny Saltos.
The benefits of having a strong back are many, including improved overall body strength, posture and balance, said Vanessa Liu, a NASM-certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition-certified nutritionist. "A strong back helps to stabilise your spine and reduce the risk of injuries".
In other words, building a strong back is crucial to combat the common condition, upper-crossed syndrome, which Saltos said occurs as a result of our modern lifestyle habits such as sitting in front of the computer for too long and looking down at our phones.
"This habitual poor posture causes upper-body cross syndrome where the muscles of the upper back, neck and shoulders are elongated and weakened as the muscles in the chest and shoulders become short and tight", he said. "Thus creating a tug of war between the front and back of the body".
Trainers share their favourite bodyweight back exercises below to help remedy this common imbalance.
Best Bodyweight Back Exercises To Try
Adding the classic pull-up exercise to your back bodyweight workout routine is a must to work your lower trapezius (which extends from the base of the neck to the middle back and across the shoulders), latissimus dorsi (aka lats, a large fan-shaped muscle that helps control shoulder movement) and core muscles, according to both Liu and Saltos.
"This is one of the most undervalued exercises for building a strong back and core", Saltos said.
Here's how to properly do a pull-up: "grip a bar with palms facing away from your body", Liu said. "Inhale, brace the core and draw the shoulder blades back and down. Then exhale and pull your chin above the bar, driving your elbows towards your hips. Feel the back muscles working as you pull up and as you lower back down".
Repeat for three sets of four to ten reps.
For those who cannot perform a standard pull-up, Saltos recommended using bands as a modification. To do so, loop the band around the centre of the bar, creating a knot to hold it in place. Then, place your knee or foot into the band, whatever you prefer. The thicker the band, the greater assistance it will provide, Saltos said. As you get stronger, you can use a smaller band to up the difficulty.
2.Suspension Trainer Row
A suspension trainer row is a great complement to the pull-up, according to Saltos who described it as the pull-up's cousin.
"Stand facing your suspension trainer and grab the handles with a neutral grip, elbows bent and handles pulled in towards your chest", he said. "A neutral grip is when the palms of your hands are allowed to face each other creating a narrow elbow path. The lats are engaged much more this way".
From there, lean back until your arms are fully extended while keeping your feet flat on the floor. "As you pull yourself towards the attachment point, exhale, squeeze your back and maintain a tight core", Saltos said.
Repeat the move for a total of three sets of 12 reps. You should feel the burn in your upper back muscles (lats, rhomboids, trapezius), biceps, core, shoulders and mid-back.
This bodyweight back exercise does a stellar job at working not only the upper, middle and lower back, but also your glutes and core, which is why Saltos said he recommends it. To do it, start by lying face down on the floor. Extend your arms straight in front of you (hence, the superhero name).
"Squeeze your entire backside as you raise your arms, legs and chest off the floor", Saltos said. "Hold for two to three seconds and slowly lower yourself to the floor".
Do three sets of 10 reps each, and you're good to go.
No equipment? No problem. Saltos suggested trying the pull-up Superman back bodyweight exercise variation, which works the upper and middle back and rhomboids. While in the Superman position on the floor, "lift your chest off the ground by engaging your back and glutes", Saltos said. "Extend your arms straight out in front of you and pull back from the elbows, mimicking a pull-up".
This is not to be confused with the cobra pose commonly done in yoga, which involves lifting the upper body completely off the ground in a backbend. With the Superman pull-up, you're simply mimicking the lats pull-up motion done at the gym while on the floor.
Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
The bear crawl back bodyweight workout is killer for your upper and lower trap muscles and the lower back extensor muscles and core. Start by getting on all fours, ensuring your hands are below your shoulders and your knees are hovering slightly off the ground.
"Inhale and brace the core. Then exhale and reach forwards with your right arm while simultaneously reaching forwards with your left leg, into a crawling motion", Liu said. "Feel the upper back muscles working as you crawl".
Continue alternating sides for three sets of 10 reps on each side, remembering to go slow while maintaining control.
Words by Jessica Estrada