The Best Bodyweight Back Exercises
A strong back is essential for protecting the spine, proper posture, and for preventing injuries from everyday activities. For those of you that don't have access to a gym, here are some of the best bodyweight back exercises you can do to build a strong, stable back.
In many ways, bodyweight back exercises can be better than weighted exercises, as they force you to focus on mastering the mechanics of your own body.
As you try these exercises, we challenge you to slow down and really focus on how your body is moving. If these feel unnantural or you feel uncoordinated, then you should probably work on these movements more regularly.
The Best Bodyweight Back Exercises to Have in Your Program
Bodyweight Back Exercise #1: Pull-ups
The best bodyweight back exercise of all time for the upper back has to be the pull up. The pull up is the king of bodyweight back exercises for working your lats, lower traps, and rear shoulder muscles.
They also work your biceps, grip, and abdominal muscles, which is why they are such great exercise.
When doing pull ups, focus on activating and pulling the shoulder blades down and back to fully engage the back. This will make sure the focus is on the back and not your arms.
Pull ups are difficult; that's a fact. Because of that we recommend the "grease the groove" training method made famous by Pavel Tsatsouline.
When greasing the groove, complete 3-5 pull ups throughout the day with at least 15 minutes of rest between sets. This will ensure high quality reps every time. A lot of people put pull up bars in door ways and then complete a set each time they walk by.
A few pull ups here and there will add up to a lot of work over time, which is how you master pull ups.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #2: Rows
Like pull ups, bodyweight rows are one of the best bodyweight back exercises for hitting a ton of upper back muscles all at once. If you're short on time, then pull ups and bodyweight rows are about all you need.
Bodyweight rows are easier than pull ups and may be a better place to start for most trainees. Olympic rings and suspension devices are a great way to train these in your home.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #3: Super Slow Push Ups
Slow and controlled reps work different energy systems than standard quick reps and have been shown in Dr. Mcguff's studies to stimulate a massive amount of muscle tissue.
Most people think of push ups only as a chest exercise, but when done properly they actually work the lats and lower traps. Slow push ups are like doing a negative row (picture lowering the weight in a seat row).
To do a super slow push up, start in the top position with your arms slighty wider than shoulder width apart. As you lower yourself down, corkscrew your wrists outwards, pulling your elbows slightly inwards.
Lower your self down at a speed of three seconds down or more. Pause at the botton for 3 seconds and then return to the starting position. Make sure to squeeze your abs, glutes, and lats through out the entire movement.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #4: Hyper-extensions
Hyper-extensions are on our list of the best bodyweight back exercises for their ability to build a strong lower back. They are also on the list because they give the hamstrings a great stretch and force the glutes to engage at the top of the movement.
Hyper-extensions tend to be low impact, so they are a great exercise that can be done multiple times each week.
Tip: The best way to get the most out of this exercise is to hold the top position of each rep for 3 to 5 seconds. This will force the lower back and glutes to really contract hard.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #5: Supermans
Supermans are another great bodyweight back exercise for building a strong lower back. They can also be a great exercise for working your brain.
To do a superman, start by lying face down on the ground with your arms straight out overhead. Then, raise your arms and legs up off the ground and hold for 3 to 5 seconds before lowering your arms and legs back down.
To work your brain, raise one arm and leg at a time instead of both all at once. Raising opposite limbs (left arm, right leg) is a type of cross functional patterning that forces the brain to really engage in the movement.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #6: Extended Planks
Extended planks are an advanced exercise, but they are definitely one of the best bodyweight back exercises you can do, as they engage nearly every muscle in the body.
To do an extended plank, start in the normal top plank position and then walk your hands out overhead. Walk out as far as you can and then hold the extended position for as long as you can.
Focus on really squeezing every muscle in your body and you'll see why this is such great exercise.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #7: Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is a great exercise for your lower back, as well as the glutes, hamstrings, and abs. In fact, if you want to keep your ass high and tight, then you should really be doing glute bridges as part of your regular warm up routine.
Tip: Experiment with different foot positions; i.e., feet together, feet out wide, toes in/out, etc. Changing the foot positioning changes the way the exercise stresses the back and glutes and keeps the exercise interesting.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #8: Reverse Hyper-extensions
Reverse hyper-extensions are another great way to target the mid-lower back. It is also another great way to hammer the glutes.
In a hyper-extension the lower body is supported and you hinge and move the upper body. A reverse hyperextension is the exact opposite of that, where the upper body is supported and you hinge and move the lower body. Watch the video below for a demonstration.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #9: Good Mornings
Good Mornings are the best bodyweight back exercise for stretching the lower back and training proper hinging. Though good mornings can be done with weight, you really don't need to load this exercise to experience the benefits.
The primary benefit of this bodyweight back exercise is really in training proper hinging, as bad form when hinging is one of the primary causes of lower back injuries.
Like glute bridges, good mornings are an amazing warm up drill that can and should be done almost daily to help stretch and strengthen these vital muscles.
Bodyweight Back Exercise #10: Reverse Planks
Reverse planks are another great bodyweight back exercise for building a strong mid-lower back. Like glute bridges and planks, they also engage the triceps, core, legs, and glutes provide a full body workout.
Tip: Experiment with different foot placements to change the difficulty of the exercise; e.g., feet close, wide, ankles crossed, etc.
WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW FOR AN EXPLANATION OF EACH EXERCISE.
Conclusion: The posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings) are incredibly important to maintaining a health posture and spine. The best bodyweight back exercises we've outline above hit all of the key muscles in that system and should be done regularly.
As previously mentioned, exercises like glute bridges, good mornings, and reverse planks are great warm up exercises and can be done daily to build a strong base level of strength.
Take care of those backs and happy training!