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How To Build Strength With Bodyweight Back Exercises

by grace gallagher and jordan smith, NASM-CPT - August 16, 2021

It can be easy to forget about your back when you're working out — after all, you don’t see it every day. Having a strong back can help stabilize your spine, build core strength and improve posture. So whether you're a runner, into Pilates or weightlifting is your jam, it's important to strengthen your back. But if you're not ready to hit the gym for back day, we've got good news — you don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership to build your back. You can do it with body weight only. 

We tapped the experts to bring you everything you need to know about building strength with bodyweight back exercises. Keep reading to find out how to strengthen your back without weights.

Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.

bodyweight back exercises

How can I build my back without weights?

If you're just getting started in the gym or haven't worked out your back much, you're probably not ready to lift heavy yet (and that's okay!) Or, if you're working out at home, you probably don’t have a ton of heavy weights. So you may be asking yourself, can you build back muscle with body weight?

Short answer — yes!

"If you don't have any weights to strengthen your back, all you need to do is perform bodyweight exercises that focus on pushing and stabilizing," Jamie Hickey, nutritionist, trainer and Founder of Truism Fitness, tells Lively.

What bodyweight exercises build back?

According to Hickey, these are the best bodyweight back exercises to add to your routine:

  • hip hinge
  • superman
  • locust
  • lying lat pulldown
  • reverse snow angel
  • lying back extensions

If you aren't familiar with these moves, it can be helpful to schedule a session with a personal trainer (which can be done virtually if you don't want to go to a gym). Hickey also suggests heading to YouTube, where you can find videos to show you the correct way to perform each move. But make sure any videos you reference are made by a reputable trainer. 

Can you get ripped with just bodyweight back exercises?

While you can definitely strengthen your back doing bodyweight exercises (also called calisthenics) Hickey says you'll need to make sure you're eating the correct diet to fuel your workouts and recovery. And, you'll want to adjust your routine based on your fitness level and goals.

For example, if you're new to exercising, then your bodyweight will cause enough resistance to create fatigue and cause hypertrophy (growth of your muscles).

But if you're an experienced lifter, you will have to find bodyweight exercises you don't typically do or those that will raise the intensity so that you're efficiently fatiguing your muscles.

"Sometimes it's as simple as performing the exercise faster. Just make sure you keep the proper technique," Hickey adds.

bodyweight back exercises

How can a towel be used to work out your back?

Everyone has a towel at home, but did you know a towel could double as a go-to workout equipment?

"A hand towel may not sound like an effective piece of exercise equipment but it does work to create resistance," Hickeys says. "Your muscles will fatigue from holding it tight above your head during alternating lunges or out in front of you during a superman move."

As for the most popular and effective bodyweight exercises that can be done with just a towel?

The bodyweight back exercises include:

  • back pull
  • alternating knee tuck
  • lying lat pull down
  • reverse snow angel
  • superman
  • lat pulldown
  • reacher row
  • lying back extension
  • towel row

What are some good bodyweight back exercises?

The thing about working out from home is that you may not know where to start, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. “Any exercise that forces you to pull your body weight up or to stabilize your body will effectively work your back muscles,” Hickey tells Lively. “This is why deadlifts and pull-ups are so effective at working your lower and upper back muscles.” 

Do push-ups work back muscles?

Push-ups are an easy and effective workout to do basically anywhere — but do they work the back? Kind of, but they're not the most effective move you can do.

"Push-ups primarily train your chest, triceps and shoulders. Your abs and lower back muscles can be targeted as secondary muscles since you do engage your core," Hickey explains.

What bodyweight exercises work lower back?

You can hit every part of your back with bodyweight back exercises. Some effective moves for working your lower back include the tride-and-true full-body stabilization exercise — the plank. You can also incorporate the bird dog, a side plank, back extensions and a glute bridge. Strengthening your lower back can also help alleviate pain that can be caused by sitting all day. As always, you should work with a certified trainer to make sure you're doing all moves with proper form to avoid injury.

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