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Bodyweight Back Exercises

Bodyweight Back Exercises

9 Great Bodyweight Exercises To Strengthen Your Back

Having a strong healthy back is important and doing back exercises can keep your back that way. Not only will back exercises keep your back strong, but it will also make your back look good, hurt less or none at all as you age, and keep your posture straight.

There are a lot of exercises that you can do to strengthen your back. Bodyweight exercises are a great choice because you don't really need a lot of equipment or an expensive gym membership to do them. You're also much less likely to injure yourself when doing bodyweight exercises compared to dumbbells or barbells. That's because your limited in the amount of weight that you can pile on.

Mixing in some of these exercises with your regular routine is a great way to stimulate growth and muscle development. Here is some information on back muscles and good bodyweight back exercises that can help you develop a healthy back.

Basic Back Muscle Anatomy

The human back contains an intricate network of muscles. They each have different functions but work together as a whole to keep your back strong and mobile. Some muscles you will hear about more than others when discussing workouts (traps, lats, rotator muscles, etc). Keep reading to find out more about these popular muscles.

Traps


The trapezius muscle, commonly called the traps, is a large muscle that extends from the base of the neck to the middle of the back.

Though it is considered one big muscle, it is separated into a pair of muscles (the left and right).

A lot of people just think of the small part of the traps near your neck that you can see, but it's actually a huge muscle and a major part of your back.

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)


The latissimus dorsi muscles, also called the lats, cover the middle to lower part of the back on each side. 

They connect the arms, hips, and spine. They are the most powerful muscles of all of the back muscles.

They're also the biggest muscle in your upper body so you definitely want to spend a good amount of time developing these muscles.

Rotator Muscles


The rotator muscles, more commonly called the rotator cuffs, are the muscles in your shoulders that keep your arms in their sockets.

A couple of the most important rotator muscles are the teres major and infraspinatus.

These muscles can be a little bit more delicate and are not usually targeted or isolated in specific exercises. However, they are essential to bodyweight back exercises, so doing some light exercises that isolate them is a good idea.

rotator muscles anatomy

Original uploader Engusz at Hungarian Wikipedia. Transferred from hu.wikipedia to Commons. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lower Back Muscles

There are a lot of lower back muscles. The extensor muscles, flexor muscles, and external obliques are three of them. These three muscle groups help the spine to flex and move properly.

  • The extensor muscles are attached to the back of the spine. They are responsible for supporting you while you stand. They also support you while you lift things.
  • The flexor muscles are attached to the front of the spine. They are responsible for the bending actions of your spine and also support you while you lift things.
  • The external obliques are located on the either side of your lower back and spine. They enable you to twist and turn the upper half of your body.


How to Do an Awesome Bodyweight Back Workout

Although the back muscles are very strong, they can often be injured if you perform certain exercises improperly. Doing an exercise with the incorrect form is one of the leading cause of injury during exercise.

For a lot of bodyweight back exercises, one of the key factors is squeezing your shoulder blades together. This will in turn help you to squeeze your lats together.

Squeezing your lats together at the top of the exercise is one of the most important things you can do during these exercises. It helps ensure that you are targeting those back muscles.

For most of these exercises, you're going to want to make sure that you are lifting with your shoulders. Because you're relying on the weight of your arms, you don't want to lift with your elbows.

Once you start to develop a habit of contracting the right muscles, you will have developed a great mind-muscle connection. This kind of connection is so important in a bodyweight workout. You need to think about the muscles that are being exercised and focus on using them. That will really help to maximize your bodyweight back workout.

Keeping this in mind, if you do the exercises correctly, you will reap some serious benefits. Below are some body weight back exercises that you can do, along with information about each one.

Bodyweight Back Exercises
with No Equipment

Sliding Floor Pull Up 

You might be bored with classic pull ups or maybe you are trying to work your way up to a classic pull up. Either way, sliding floor pull ups can cure your boredom or help you reach your pull up goals.

You begin this exercise by lying flat on your stomach and spreading your legs shoulder width apart. You can choose to lightly touch the front of your toes on the ground, but if you want more resistance (which will increase the challenge of the workout), you can dig your toes into the ground.

Spread your arms straight out above your head and put your palms face down on the floor. Press your palms into the floor and use them to slide yourself towards your palms horizontally across the floor. Your arms should bend at the elbows. Push your body back to complete the repetition.

BJ Gaddour from Men's Health demonstrates the proper form to use for a sliding pull up in this video:

Reverse Snow Angels

Not only will this exercise develop strong back muscles, but you may have a bit of fun doing it (because snow angels are fun to make, right?).

Grab a towel or something similar so you can use it as a head rest. This keeps your spine straight as you perform the exercise. Lay face down, putting your forehead on the towel.

Stretch your arms out diagonally from your body towards your legs with palms face down. Raise your arms up off the floor slightly by retracting your shoulder blades and bring your arms up above your head (make sure you swing them out in a circle).

 Be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together for the maximum effect. Also, you can raise your head up slightly at the top of the exercise. Then rotate your shoulders back to make a complete repetition. One of the important things to remember is to keep your hands up off of the ground throughout the whole exercise.

If you find that you can work your way up to doing 20 of these no problem, you can hold on to some light weights while doing them. Check out a demo of the reverse snow angel from Paradiso CrossFit:

Seal Push Ups 

We aren't referring to the Navy Seals. This push up is named this because your body will be moving in a curve much like a seal (the animal) while performing it.

This is a great way to strengthen all your back muscles in one exercise. You will also give your arms a good workout. Start in the normal push up position, but instead of being stretched all the way out, your legs will be farther up and your rear end will be in the air.

Begin to move your body in a scooping motion leading with your head. Your body should be like a swing with your arms as the pivot point and your feet as the anchor. Swing back in the opposite direction to complete the seal push up.

You can reference this video of Sgt. Nick Rians from FitRanX to make sure you are doing it correctly:

Pulse Rows

This is a fairly simple exercise but will be great for building your upper back muscles. The squeezing motion of this exercise helps to develop your traps and lats. 

Start the exercise by lying down, chest down on the floor.  Put your hands at your side, slightly out from your body, with your hands up. 

Then lift up your arms by raising your arms with your shoulders, making sure that you squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Then, let your arms back down by using your shoulders. 

Be sure that you keep your shoulders up and they don't touch the ground. Also, your palms should be up throughout the exercise. Your should contract your lats at the top of the exercise too. 

The guys from Anabolic Aliens have a great demo of how to do Pulse Rows. Here, they include it as part of their super-intense 5 minute bodyweight back workout:

Supermans

This is a great exercise for people of any exercise level. It is an endurance exercise and will build back muscles as well as leg and arm muscles. It's also going to really work your core as well.

Lay face down and stretch your arms out in front of you like "Superman". Raise one arm and the opposite leg off of the ground and hold for two to three seconds. Lower them and raise the other arm and leg for two to three seconds.

If you're ready for a more challenging variation of this exercise, you can also do this by raising both arms and your chest off the ground for two seconds, then lift your feet and legs up for two seconds.

Michelle Trapp, a Certified Personal Trainer, shows us how to use exactly the right form for supermans in this video from Livestrong.com:

Back Widow

You will definitely look like a spider while doing this, but looking silly will pay off big time. This is a great exercise with a movement that is similar to a lot of exercises that you would do at the gym with dumbbells or pulleys. It's a great way to target your back if you don't have access to those materials. This is definitely a great option to work your back in a way that you may not have thought of before.

Lay on your back with your feet planted on the ground and your arms stretched out with elbows bent on each side. Slide your elbows inward (you may want to use some type of pads to prevent friction burns) and allow your back to raise as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.

It is very important that you don't lift with your feet. Hold the position for a few seconds then release. Form is important for this exercise so check out this example to see how it's done:

Bodyweight Back Exercises
with Minimal Equipment

Pull Ups 

Pull ups can be considered as the ultimate show of strength when working out. They aren't easy to do--even strong people sometimes have trouble doing pull ups. Despite the difficulty, pull ups are a popular exercise that works your upper and lower back muscles as well as your abs[2].

You'll obviously need a little bit of equipment for this exercise. A pull up bar is the best choice, but you could use other objects if they are strong enough to support your full weight.

To do a pull up, simply hang from a bar with arms spread a little more than shoulder width apart. Your feet should be off of the ground. Generally your legs should be straight, though you may want to bend your knees back and cross your legs. Crossing your legs will help you to stabilize your body as you're learning to do pull ups. Pull your body up until your chin goes above the bar, then lift your body down. 

An important note about the shoulders is that you need to keep your shoulders down at the beginning of the exercise, and then try to squeeze them together at the top. This will ensure that you are targeting the lats and traps. You should also try to arch your back at the top of the movement, to help ensure you're working your back muscles as much as possible.

Don't use your legs or knees to "swing" yourself into the pull up position. You should specifically be using your arms, shoulders, and back muscles only to do the exercise.

You can see why getting a good pull up bar can be so crucial to a home gym. Here's a great example of what to do and what not to do when performing pull ups in this video featuring Sven from Calisthenic Movement:

Plyometric Inverted Row 

Fair warning: you need to already have a good bit of upper body strength, or at least strong arms, to do this exercise. This is an exercise that will help you build explosive power by developing the back muscles. 

Start with a secure bar about waist high that you can comfortably fit under. Bend over backwards (grip the bar), under the bar. Your body should be bent at the knees and you should be supporting your weight by gripping the bar with both arms. Stretch your arms out all the way.

Your feet should be planted, legs parallel with the ground. Begin quickly pulling yourself up, letting the bar go as you go back down, but catching yourself by grabbing the bar and pulling yourself back up.

Alternate hand grip from a wide stance to a narrow stance. This is an endurance exercise so continue to move without any rest between repetitions. Check out the proper form in this video from Men's Health:

Towel Row

This is a great exercise for the back if you have access to a towel and a relatively stable post. I really like that it is similar to some of the cable row exercises that a lot of people like at the gym.

The towel row looks like a squat except that you are leaning back and supporting your weight with your arms. Wrap a towel around a pole and hold on to it with each end of the towel being in one hand. 

The more you let the towel out, the more intense the workout will be. Lean your body backwards--your legs should be slightly bent and you should almost be in a seated position.

Using your feet as anchors, pull yourself up and towards the pole until your arms are parallel with the ground. Then lower yourself back. Here is a great demonstration of the towel row from Strong 'N' Sexy Fitness:

Summary

All of the exercises above are great body weight exercises that really give your back a great workout. Remember that in order to get the maximum benefit from your workouts, having proper form is key. This will also help to prevent injuries.

By following the instructions, practicing safe exercising, and using proper form, you will be on your way to having a strong back that can support a strong body.

Sources:
[1]https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spine-anatomy/back-muscles-and-low-back-pain
[2]https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/back-exercises/pullups-king-back-development

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