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4 Best Bodyweight Back Exercises to Build Muscle at Home

Published August 20, 2019 Read Time: 5 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">Which Muscles Are In Your Back?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Back Injuries—They’re No Joke</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Can I Strengthen My Back Without Weights?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Do Pushups Work the Back?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">4 Best Bodyweight Back Exercises For Building Muscle</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">Bodyweight Back Exercises—Wrapping Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Adding muscle to your back is an investment in your health. </p> <p>The problem is, most people think you need to lift heavy weights or do a ton of pull-ups if you want muscles to grow. But gym memberships can be expensive, and pull-ups require advanced levels of strength.</p> <p>The truth is, all you need is to follow proven muscle-building principles, and do some effective bodyweight exercises, of course. You can add muscle to your back right at home.</p> <p>And once you see the stats on just how common back injuries are, it’ll motivate you to start doing bodyweight back exercises, like, <i>right now</i>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section1"> <header>Which Muscles Are In Your Back?</header> <p>For overall health and function, there’s no collection of muscles more important than the ones in your back. Your back is responsible for stabilizing the spine, assisting the arms with pulling objects toward you, and transferring force through your hips to the legs.</p> <p>Different bodyweight exercises will target different back muscles (we specify in the exercise section below).</p> <p>The <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lats</a>, or latissimus dorsi, are two of the largest muscles in your back. The lats connect your upper arms to your spine and scapula. </p> <p>Other muscles include:</p> <ul> <li>Trapezius (traps)- upper back and shoulder area.</li> <li>Rhomboids- upper and middle part of your back, near the spine.</li> <li>Serratus- on the sides, near the rib cage.</li> <li>Erector spinae- support your spine in the lower and middle part of your back.</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Obliques</a>- located along your sides, they connect your abs to the erector spinae.</li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="back-injury-doctors-man-shoulder"> </picture> <section id="section2"> <header>Back Injuries—They’re No Joke</header> <p>Need a reason to train your back more? How about these wild—and frankly, scary—back injury statistics. </p> <p><i>Did you know <sup>1</sup>?</i></p> <ul> <li>80 percent of Americans suffer from back pain. (Yeah, we’re shocked at that number, too.)</li> <li>264 million workdays were lost last year due to back injuries—two days <i>per</i> American employee!</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Low back pain</a> costs Americans about 50 <i>billion dollars</i> in health care each year.</li> </ul> <p>Fortunately, a proven remedy for back injuries is a strong core. This includes your back. Back workouts are one of the best ways to prevent you from joining these scary statistics. Along with <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">other side-effects</a> like poor posture, tight shoulders, and strained muscles.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section3"> <header>How Can I Strengthen My Back Without Weights?</header> <p>Some say a strong chest or back is impossible without weights. But bodyweight exercises work just fine for strengthening upper body muscles. </p> <p>Follow the principles of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">adding lean muscle</a>:</p> <ul> <li>Eat foods with <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lots of protein</a>.</li> <li>Pick smart <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">exercise progressions</a> so you make improvements every time you train.</li> <li>Focus on other healthy habits, like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">sleep</a>, so you don’t get injured and can exercise consistently.</li> </ul> <p>Because your back is such a big group of muscles, it’s best to vary the exercises you choose so you’re targeting all the muscles. </p> <p>Train your back at least two times per week during your workouts. Do just a little bit more each time so your body forces those muscles to get stronger.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section4"> <header>Do Pushups Work the Back?</header> <p>Though pushups are technically a chest exercise, they also give your back a workout. That’s one reason we love <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">functional exercises</a>—they usually hit <i>several</i> muscle groups at once.</p> <p>Pushups require you to hold a plank position at the top of each rep, strengthening <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">the lats</a>, erector spinae, rhomboids, traps, and <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">obliques</a>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section5"> <header>4 Best Bodyweight Back Exercises For Building Muscle</header> <p>All these bodyweight exercises can be done right in your living room.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="fitness-training-back-exercise-man"> </picture> <div class="sub-head">1. Supermans</div> <p><b>Muscles used</b>: erector spinae, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">obliques</a>, rhomboids.</p> <p>Lying on your stomach, place your arms straight in front of you. From your fingertips to your toes, your body should be one straight line.</p> <p>To do Supermans, elevate your arms and legs off the floor at the same time. You should look like Superman flying through the air. Brace your butt, belly, and ab muscles hard.</p> <p>You can do Supermans one of two ways: either as an isometric hold or for reps. In the latter, hold for 2 to 3 seconds for each rep, then bring your arms and legs to the floor.</p> <p><b>Home Workout To Try</b>: Do 3 sets of 30 seconds holding an isometric Superman. Rest 1 minute between sets.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-upright-row-upper-body"> </picture> <div class="sub-head">2. Rows</div> <p><b>Muscles used</b>: <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lats</a>, traps, rhomboids.</p> <p>In lieu of pull-ups, which are an advanced bodyweight exercise requiring a lot of strength <i>and</i> equipment, rows are a perfect substitute for <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">at-home workouts</a>.</p> <p>The <i>bottom</i> of a drinking bird position (see exercise #4) is the starting position for rows. Begin leaned over, looking at the ground, with a flat back. </p> <p>Using a broom handle (or another light household object), let your arms hang in front. Bring the object to your ribs, pause for one second, then return to the starting position.</p> <p><b>Home Workout To Try</b>: Plug rows into your next <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">high-intensity interval training</a> (HIIT) workout. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off (also known as the Tabata protocol. Do 8 rounds of each exercise, using 2 or 3 exercises.*</p> <p><i>*Hint: push-ups go great with rows.</i></p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-12 col-md-6"> <video class="d-block mx-auto" autoplay="" loop="" muted=""> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> </div> <div class="sub-head">3. Planks (and Plank Variations)</div> <p><b>Muscles used</b>: full back workout.</p> <p>Our favorite exercise to activate your core? Planks and variations like side planks. They’re not only great for spinal health, but for showing off those abs once you make your <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">body transformation</a>.</p> <p>Above is a demonstration of the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">kneeling plank</a>, a beginner variation of this exercise.</p> <p><b>Home Workout To Try</b>: Add planks to your next <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">circuit workout</a>. Choose 3 to 5 exercises, and only use short rests (5 seconds or less) between rotations.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-12 col-md-6"> <video class="d-block mx-auto" autoplay="" loop="" muted=""> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> </div> <div class="sub-head">4. Drinking Birds</div> <p><b>Muscles used</b>: erector spinae, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">obliques</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hamstrings</a>. </p> <p>Creating tension in the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hamstrings</a> is a great way to force your lower back muscles to stabilize the spine. We call this connection from the top of your back to your calves the <i>posterior chain</i>. A strong posterior chain will alleviate back pain and keep your spine healthy.</p> <p>Drinking birds are a fantastic exercise for achieving this.</p> <p>In the starting position, keep your weight in your heels. Kick your butt back and break at your hips, then lean forward. When you feel a tug on your hamstrings, stop. Return to the starting position then repeat.</p> <p><b>Home Workout To Try</b>: Superset drinking birds with your favorite push-up variation exercise. Do 10 reps of drinking birds, then 10 to 15 pushups, modifying as needed. Rest one minute, then do 2 more sets.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <section id="section6"> <header>Bodyweight Back Exercises—Wrapping Up</header> <p>You don’t need any fancy gym equipment or pull-up bars to add muscle to your back. In fact, you can do it right at home.</p> <p>Remember: your back is big, so variety is important. Be sure to train all the muscles by selecting different bodyweight exercises. </p> <p>Take care of your back muscles—just because you don’t see them in the mirror doesn’t mean they aren’t important!</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Back Pain Facts and Statistics</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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