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Bodyweight Back Exercises At Home To Build A Strong Back
Fitness

Bodyweight Back Exercises At Home: Build A Strong Back With Just Your Body?

June 10, 2021

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A strong back is one of the keys to good fitness and overall health. Our backs are central to how we move – and even how we sit! Whether you’re experiencing pain, trying to enhance your overall health, or just want to look great, a strong back is important. 

Consider this: 

  • Up to 84% of people will have at least one episode of low back pain in their lifetime. Strengthening your back is one of the best ways to avoid that.
  • The back is the second largest muscle group in the body. (Only the legs are a larger group.) Larger muscles in a large muscle group equate to more energy burned every single day.
  • A strong core is important for your overall health and wellbeing. And a strong core includes your back. Although some fitness advice implies that a strong core is about building solid abs, an imbalance between the front and the back of your body can cause posture issues and even pain. 
  • Many of us are sedentary for at least part of the day, so having a strong back is especially important to counterbalance the hunching forward that often accompanies prolonged sitting.
  • A strong back helps stabilize the spine, your body’s central support structure.
  • Even if you can’t see it in the mirror, a strong back just looks good!

Despite all the reasons that we should focus on building a stronger back, it’s still tempting to skimp on (or skip altogether) exercises for the back. Why is that? Seeing results with our own eyes is rewarding and motivating, so we tend to work harder on what we can see. It’s much easier to see progress on the front of the body, and that gives us more incentive to keep going. 

Plus, the front of the body tends to be the focus of images for “fitness” in the media. Men’s Health Magazine has said that it rarely shows its cover models from the back because readers want to see the front of their fitness models’ beach bodies.

But strong back muscles are the opposing (and necessary!) force to those strong abs and anterior core muscles, so it is crucial that we exercise them. Even if we don’t see it on the cover of a magazine, healthy, fit people have backs that are equally strong to the fronts. In this article, we’ll go over some bodyweight back exercises you can do at home and add to your fitness plan.

Anatomy 101 – What, exactly, is the back?

Before exercising our back (or any muscles, really) it’s useful to understand some basic anatomy. (If you want to skip the anatomy lesson, you can jump right to the exercises.)

The muscles of the back start at the cervical vertebrae (top of the back) and go to the coccyx (tailbone). There are 40 main muscles in the back – 20 on either side of the body – and they are broken into two different groups, according to anatomy learning platform Ken Hub:

  • Superficial (or extrinsic) back muscles help you move your limbs.
  • Deep (or Intrinsic) back muscles are deeper and allow for rotation and bending.

Those back muscles primarily perform three different types of actions, according to Dr. Nick Efthimiou.

  • Pulling something towards you or pulling yourself towards something. 
  • Lifting, where you pick something up, usually from the ground.
  • Carrying an object for time or distance (or both).

Most back exercises utilize these three actions to target a few specific muscles: the lats (below your armpits down the side of your back), rhomboids (mid-upper back), traps (neck to mid-back), and the muscles that run along your spine (erector spinae).

All You Need Is You

If you’re ready to start strengthening your back but are concerned because you don’t have access to a gym or expensive equipment, there’s great news! The weight of your body can be just as effective as free weights or machines for working out your back. 

Additionally, bodyweight training can be safer because it allows for better control, and better control can translate into better gains! 

Most bodyweight exercises for the back, like the ones below, can be done from virtually anywhere – and they’re free! Bodyweight exercises at home are a great alternative to the gym.

Because the back is a complicated system of interconnected muscles, there is no single exercise that hits them all at once. (That’s why there are so many back machines at the gym.) There is a good variety of back exercises below, so choose a few to start and do 8 – 10 repetitions of each. Then, vary your routine overtime to ensure that you’re hitting different muscles at different angles. 

If all this seems a little overwhelming, you can get personalized, professional guidance on which exercises to do and how to do them with the System2 app. You’ll get your own elite human coach who will provide a personalized plan and daily feedback for not only strengthening your back, but also for reaching all your health and fitness goals.

Our app is a great way to motivate yourself to workout at home.

Bodyweight-Only Back Exercises

The exercises below use only your body weight. No equipment, no gym, no hassles! 

Pushup Variations

Pushups (or press-ups depending on where you live) can be an effective exercise for the back as well as the arms and the abs.

Wide Grip Pushup

Start in the upper position of a pushup/plank, with your hands on the floor a few inches more than chest width. 

Bend your elbows to lower your body to the ground.

Squeeze your back at the bottom of the movement.

Squeeze your chest to push back up to the starting position.

T Pushup

Start in the upper position of a pushup/plank, with your hands on the floor a few inches more than chest width. 

Bend your elbows to drop your chest down to the ground, squeezing your back at the bottom of the movement.

As you push yourself back up, rotate so that your upper body is balanced on your left hand, body turned so that it is facing to the right, and raise your right arm straight up toward the ceiling. 

Pause at the top of the movement, then carefully return to the starting position. Repeat the move on the other side of the body.

Dead Stop to Superman

Start in the upper position of a pushup/plank, with your hands on the floor a few inches more than chest width. 

Bend your elbows to lower your whole body to the ground. 

Lift your upper torso off the ground, then extend your arms straight out in front of you, squeezing your back at the top of the movement.

Retract your arms back to the starting position, then push yourself back up.

Superman Variations

There are several variations of this exercise. The starting position for all is lying face down on the floor with legs extended. Hold at the top of each move before lowering slowly back to the starting position.

Standard 

Lie with arms outstretched over your head in front of you.

Pull your abdominals in toward your spine.

Raise your arms, chest, and legs off the floor by squeezing your glutes and lower back.

Return to the starting position.

Y Superman

Position arms in front of you in a Y shape.

Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms and chest off the floor.

Return to the starting position.

W Superman

Arms should be bent at a 45-degree angle, with the upper arms aligned with your shoulders and forearms parallel to the body. 

Raise your arms and upper chest off the floor by squeezing your glutes and lower back. Squeeze your upper back together at the top position before lowering back down.

Return to the starting position.

Reverse Snow Angel

Start by lying on the floor, face down, with legs extended and arms by your sides with palms facing down.

Slightly lift your arms, upper chest and legs off the ground, and bring your arms to your sides in an arc.

Return to the starting position.

Prone Pull

Lie face down with legs extended and arms stretched in front of you with palms facing the floor.

While lifting your upper chest and head off the floor, pull your elbows down toward your lower back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Return to the starting position.

Plank Row

Start in a plank position. Lift the right hand up toward the outer right shoulder, bending the arm in a rowing motion. 

Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Bird Dog

Begin on all fours with knees under your hips and hands directly beneath your shoulders.

Extend one leg behind you so it is parallel to the floor while extending the opposite arm in front of you.

Repeat on the other side.

Bodyweight back exercises with (minimal) equipment

These exercises can be done at home using just minimal equipment and your bodyweight.

Pull-Up Variations

Pull-ups are a tried-and-true exercise for the upper body. Different variations, while largely using the same muscles, will target different areas more effectively.

Wide-Grip Pull-Ups (Bar required)

Grasp the bar with your hands slightly further than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.

If needed, lift your feet so that you are hanging from the bar.

Bend your elbows and pull your body up toward the bar until your chin is over the bar.

Lower back to the starting position.

(Try to keep your legs straight and pointing slightly forward. You can use a resistance band or a prop to take some of the weight off if necessary.)

Close-Grip Pull-Ups (Bar required)

This is the same as the wide-grip pull-up above, but in this variation grasp the bar with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width. You can experiment with different grip widths to hit different angles.

Around the World Pull-Ups (Bar required)

Grasp the bar with your hands 6-12 inches wider than shoulder-width, palms facing away from you. 

Pull your body up toward your right hand, then pull across toward your left hand.

Return to the starting position, and repeat going the opposite direction.

Yoga

Many forms of yoga incorporate back-strengthening positions and poses. If you don’t want to do a full yoga class, try a few of these:

Low Cobra

Lie on your stomach, legs and feet together, hands planted on the floor next to your ribs.

Lift the chest without pushing with the hands. 

For an extra challenge, left the hands off the floor slightly.

Cobra

Lie on your stomach, legs and feet together, hands planted on the floor next to your ribs.

Contract your glutes and hamstrings, without lifting your feet and tighten your abdominal wall to gently draw your belly button in toward your spine.

Push into your hands to lift your torso off the floor. Your arms will be extended and your back arched.

Bridge Pose

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet near the buttocks.

Tilt the tailbone to flatten the lower back.

Lift the hips.

Return to the starting position.

A word about body weight back exercises for posture

Bad posture is prevalent in today’s world, as we spend more time sitting and less time moving. But it’s important to understand that poor posture – which is often caused by a weak back – can lead to back pain, spinal instability, fatigue, headaches, and even the so-called potbelly.

Any of the exercises above can help improve posture by strengthening your back. Other stretching exercises for the back can also be effective at helping to improve posture. You can find some excellent posture-improving stretching exercises in this article: Hunched Over All Day? Here Are 13 Exercises To Improve Your Posture.

Keep in mind that, while bodyweight exercises can be safer than weights, injury is still possible. It’s very important to be careful with any exercises involving the back. Focus on proper form and not on the number of reps. Start slow, pay attention to your body, and take a break if you feel pain or discomfort. There’s always tomorrow! 

A new solution for all fitness levels

All of this is not to say that a gym workout doesn’t bring certain benefits. One of the biggest sacrifices of a home workout plan is not having access to a personal trainer to check form, offer encouragement, and suggest new exercises when our daily routines have gotten stale.

Until now.

System2’s new 1-on-1 app is an innovative training solution that addresses all of these issues, bringing you the best of both worlds.

System2 is a virtual training platform that pairs athletes with their own personal trainers. Using video combined with motion-analysis technology, users can work out at home while getting personalized feedback, direction, and motivation from a certified personal trainer.

The best thing about it? The program is designed to meet you where you are in your fitness journey, whether you’re renewing your commitment to getting back in shape or you’re a former gym rat looking to see enhanced results.

There are plenty of virtual home workout options, but several key factors set System2 apart.

UNIQUE BENEFITS OF SYSTEM2

  • Video integration. System2’s platform incorporates AI-technology so that your personal trainer can study how your body moves during the exercises, and help you correct form that could lead to injury.
  • Personalized attention. Your trainer is tuned into your goals, workout preferences, and, most importantly, your desired results.
  • Daily feedback. Your trainer will provide numbers reflecting how you’re progressing, so you’ll know how well your home fitness program is working for you.
  • 1-on-1 relationship. You can count on your trainer to hold you accountable. It’s a real relationship with a caring professional who’s as invested in your goals as you are.
  • Video holds you accountable, too. Knowing your trainer is going to see you performing each exercise is a motivator to use good form.

BOTTOM LINE

System2’s AI-enhanced platform can help you reach your goals, and costs less than most gym memberships.

Check it out if you a) want a plan to tone your entire body at home that is personalized for you, b) want daily feedback on your progress, c) want to be held accountable for completing your workouts, and, most importantly, d) want to finally achieve the results you’ve been visualizing for years.

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