Bodyweight exercises are extremely beneficial and convenient as you can complete them at home or in the gym setting. Working out your back, whether you are male or female stretches and strengthens the muscles of your posterior trunk wall that support its structure. Working your back also helps to reduce stiffness, improves mobility and strengthen your muscles.
We have selected exercises in this article based on their effectiveness, safety, doability and research to ensure you are hitting all the muscles effectively in this area.
Is the anatomy of the back different in men and women ?
When training any particular group of muscles, it’s important to understand what you are training and where the muscles are. Men and women have the same back muscles and training requirements.
Muscles of the upper back include the trapezius, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, rear deltoid, lattimus dorsi and levator scapulae muscles.
Muscles of the lower back include external and internal obliques, multifidus, longissimus spinalis, quadratus lumborum.
Your back muscles are used as the main structural support for your trunk (torso). These muscles are imperative in helping you move your body, such as your head, neck, shoulders, arms and legs. You have upper and lower back muscles that work together to allow you to bend over, twist, turn your head and extend your back.
So what exercises are the best?
A good training programme will use exercises that will hit all areas of the back with the chosen moves ensuring your entire back gets a good, structured workout.
Bodyweight back exercises for the gym and home for men and women
When it comes to building mass on the back the best bodyweight exercise you can do is the pull-up. You are lifting your entire body mass with your arms and back, they work your biceps, lats and middle back muscles.
The best bodyweight back exercises for lean muscle include moves such as the inverted row and the TRX row.
Moves such as the glute bridge, work your lower back muscles while the plank works your entire trunk. We have been careful to hit every muscle of the posterior trunk to give you a comprehensive workout! No stone is left unturned here.
Effective bodyweight back exercises
All of the exercises below can be executed by beginners and the more experienced exerciser.
Assisted pull ups (with bands)
Loop a resistance band around a higher bar to create a hanging loop. Stand under the pullup bar using an overhand grip, just wider than your shoulders. Position either your knees or feet in the band. Raise your chin over the bar and slowly lower back down to the starting position.
Grip the handles, stand with your feet under the handles so your body is almost horizontal, keeping your elbows close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you pull yourself up. Pause at the top of the move, then slowly lower until your arms are extended again.
TRX Reverse Fly
Grip the handles, stand with your feet under the handles so your body is almost horizontal, pull your arms away from one another with a slight bend in the arms, and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do this. Pause at the top of the move, then slowly lower until your arms are in front of your body again.
Neutral Grip Pullup
Very similar to a pullup, however instead of having your palms facing away from you, they now face one another. The goal is to drive the elbows into the sides of the back as you raise your chin towards the bar before lowering to the starting position again.
Lay with your back on the floor, bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground. Keep your arms at your side with your palms down. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Hold your bridged position for a couple of seconds before easing back down.
Wide stance push-up
Begin in a plank stance having your hands wider than your shoulders. Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping your core tight and your back flat, until your chest grazes the floor. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up. Keep your knees on the floor for the beginner version.
Plank with shoulder tap
Begin in a high plank position, your feet wider than shoulders. Keep shoulders and hips level and lift your right hand off the floor, touch each shoulder alternatively with each hand, then return to start then repeat on the opposite side.
Lie under a bar, with the bar crossing over just above your chest. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, and while keeping your body straight, pull your body up, with the bar aiming for your lower chest. Once your body reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself and repeat.
Inverted Row, with Underhand Grip
Lie under a bar, with the bar crossing over just above your navel. Grab the bar with an underhand grip, and while keeping your body straight, pull your body up by driving the elbows towards the lower back. Once your body reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself and repeat.
Inverted Row, with Scapula Focus
Lie under a bar, with the bar crossing over just above your upper chest. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, and while keeping your body straight, pull your body up, forcing your two shoulder blades to press into one another, bar aiming to your upper chest. Once your body reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself and repeat.
Begin in a high plank position, your feet wider than shoulders. Keep shoulders and hips level and lift your right hand off the floor, bending arm and pulling elbow up until wrist reaches ribs. Pause at the top, then return to start then repeat on the opposite side.
Reverse snow angel
Lie face-down on the floor, legs extended straight, forehead resting on a folded mat or towel, with arms placed by sides lifted in line with hips, palms down. Keeping arms straight and palms facing the floor, bring your arms out to the side in a wide arc and overhead, bringing biceps by ears. Reverse the movement to return to start.
RDL – Romanian Deadlift
Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart and toes slightly pointing out. With a straight back, drive your hips back (not bending the legs or around the hips). This will obviously lower your upper body towards the ground, as the stretch in your glutes and hamstrings becomes too much to maintain a neutral back, then and only then do you return to the starting position.
Assisted pull ups ( with bands) – 3 sets of 10 reps
TRX Row – 3 sets of 10 reps
Inverted row – 3 sets of 10 reps
RDL – 5 sets of 10 reps
Plank – 4 sets of 10 reps
Pull ups – 3 sets of 12 reps
TRX Reverse Fly – 3 sets of 12 reps
Inverted row, with underhand grip – 3 sets of 12 reps
Inverted row, with scapula focus – 4 sets of 12 reps
Neutral Grip Pullups – 3 sets of 15 reps
Wide stance push up with knees on the floor – 3 sets of 10 reps
RDL – 4 sets of 10 reps
Reverse snow angel – 3 sets of 10 reps
Plank row – 5 sets of 10 reps
Inverted Row – 3 sets of 12
One Leg RDL – 4 sets of 12
Inverted Row with Underhand Grip – 3 sets of 12 reps
Glute Bridge – 4 sets of 12 reps
Back stretches to do before and after a workout
Stretching before and after a workout is always excellent practice and a great habit to develp. Stretching your back reduces tension in muscles supporting your spine. Stretching also improves the range of motion and overall mobility in your back reducing the risk of injury. Peform this stretching routine before and after your back workout.
Knees to Chest Stretch
Place your hands on the back of your thighs or below your knees and pull your legs toward your chest. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat for 7 times.
Prone Bridging Stretch
Prop yourself up on your elbows, extending your back, start straightening your elbows, further extending your back until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat for 7 times.
Kneel on the floor in an all-fours position on your hands and knees. Curl your back up toward the ceiling like an irate cat, hold for return to the starting position. Pull your stomach down to the floor, hollowing out your back. Hold for 5. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat for 7 times.
Toe to touch overhead reach dynamic stretch
Stand tall with your arms overhead and your biceps by your ears. Bend forward to touch your toes and stick your butt back. Reach as far down as possible while keeping your knees straight but not locked. Slowly stand up tall, reaching your arms back overhead and bending your back slightly. Repeat 7 times.
You now have some seriously effective back workouts at beginner and intermediate levels to complete in and out of the gym. These workouts are of course bodyweight, but if you wanted to progress any of the moves with weights in the gym you can do so, especially the glute bridges. Aim to work your back at least once a week.