9 of the Best Bodyweight Back Exercises

9 of the Best Bodyweight Back Exercises

News flash: You don’t need a fully-stocked gym to build a strong, muscular back. Sure, lat pulldowns and barbell rows are effective, but all you really need to create an enviable rear view is your own body weight.

Don’t believe it? Here are nine of the best bodyweight back exercises to strengthen your upper body. Sprinkle these moves into your weekly workout routine.

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1. Pull-Up

Benefits: This total-body strength builder hones in on the lats, traps, biceps, and core.

  • Grip a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and hang at arms’ length, your arms fully extended.
  • Brace your core and engage your lats to squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your chest to the bar.
  • Pause, and then lower yourself back down until your arms are fully extended again.

Wide-grip variation

For greater focus on your lats, widen your grip so your hands are wider than shoulder-width apart.

 

2. Chin-Up

chin up exercise demonstration | bodyweight back exercises

Benefits: Like pull-ups, the chin-up targets your lats, shoulders, upper back muscles, and core, but adds emphasis to the biceps.

  • Hang from a pull-up bar with an underhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar.
  • Pause, and then lower yourself back down until your arms are fully extended again.

 

3. Cobra Pose

Benefits: Strengthen your spine with this classic yoga pose.

  • Lie face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you. Walk your hands so they’re directly under your shoulders, elbows tight at your sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to open up your chest. Keeping your elbows tucked at your sides, press into your palms and the tops of your feet to lift your chest off the floor. (The goal is to straighten your arms, but make sure you only lift your chest to a height that feels comfortable and doesn’t pinch your lower back. If this feels challenging, try these back stretches to help improve your range of motion.)
  • Keep your neck neutral and open your chest, drawing your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Hold for a few breaths.

 

4. Superman

superman exercise demonstration | bodyweight back exercises

Benefits: Improve your posture by strengthening the muscles that support your spine.

  • Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended overhead and your legs extended behind you.
  • Keeping your neck in line with your spine, lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor simultaneously. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Pause briefly, and then lower back down to the floor.

 

5. Inverted Row

inverted row exercise demonstration | bodyweight back exercises

Benefits: Hit all the major muscle groups in your back, along with your core and biceps.

  • Set up a barbell in a Smith machine or rack at waist height. Lie face-up on the floor beneath it so the bar is over your chest. Make sure the bar is secure.
  • Hold the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Hang so your arms are fully extended and your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels. Your heels should be hip-width apart. (If keeping legs straight is too challenging, bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor.)
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your chest to the bar.
  • Pause, and lower yourself back to the starting position with control.

 

6. Pilates Swimming

swimmers exercise demonstration | bodyweight back exercises

Benefits: Build healthy posture muscles with this Pilates move.

  • Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended overhead and your legs extended behind you.
  • Lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor. Keep your neck in line with your spine and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • With your arms, chest, and legs lifted, begin pumping your opposite arm and leg in small pulses. Alternate right arm/left leg and left arm/right leg pulses.
  • Continue alternating for reps.

 

7. Sphinx Reaches

Benefits: This yoga-inspired move gently strengthens your spine and glutes.

  • Lie face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you. Walk your hands so they’re directly under your shoulders, elbows tight at your sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to open up your chest. Press into your palms and the tops of your feet to lift your chest off the floor. Squeeze your glutes while you’re in this lifted position.
  • With your neck neutral, reach forward with one hand. Place your hand back on the floor and repeat with the opposite hand.
  • Keep alternating for reps.

 

8. Plank Row

Benefits: Light up your upper- and mid-back muscles with this plank variation.

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and legs extended. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
  • Brace your core and lift one hand off the floor. Row your elbow toward your ribs, keeping it close to your side. Keep your hips square to the floor and don’t let your lower back sag.
  • Return your hand to the floor and repeat with the other arm. Alternate sides for reps.

 

9. Prone IYTs

Benefits: This move strengthens your mid-back and shoulder muscles.

  • Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended overhead and your legs extended behind you.
  • With your palms facing each other, lift your arms and chest off the floor. Keeping your arms and chest lifted, raise your arms a few inches to form an ‘I’ with your body.
  • Without lowering your arms or chest back down to the floor, widen your arms into a ‘Y’ and raise them a few inches.
  • Again, keeping your arms and chest lifted, widen your arms into a ‘T’ (palms facing forward) and raise them a few inches. Lower your arms and chest to the floor. That’s one rep.
Lauren Bedosky

About

Lauren Bedosky is an experienced health and fitness writer who specializes in running, strength training, sports nutrition, and injury prevention. She writes for a variety of companies and publications, including Men’s Health, MyFitnessPal, Everyday Health, and BlueCross BlueShield. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, with her husband and their three dogs. You can find here on Twitter here.