I’ve learned through my fitness career that those who swear by calisthenics are living proof that bodyweight back exercises are sufficient to strengthen this muscle group.
That’s why I always pick those exercises as a foundation for my clients’ back workouts.
I decided to share with you the most effective back exercises and a workout plan I devised for my clients, which can help you build massive back muscles without touching a single dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell.
Let’s get started.
- Bodyweight exercises for the back, such as inverted rows, are a convenient and effective but often challenging way to build muscle.
- Some of the most effective exercises include supermans, pull-ups, push-ups, and chin-ups.
- Consistently incorporating bodyweight exercises that target each back muscle will help you develop a strong and defined back relatively quickly.
Eight Most Effective Bodyweight Exercises for Your Back
Bodyweight workouts are effective but challenging. You need to fight against the resistance of your own weight, and that’s the main reason why results come relatively fast.
Here are the ten most effective ones for getting that V-shaped back, sorted by difficulty level.
- Lie facedown, legs straight, arms fully extended straight in front of you.
- Squeeze your lower back and glutes to lift the top of your chest.
- Simultaneously, lift arms and legs off the floor.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Return to the starting position in a slow fashion.
When you overcome the basic superman exercise, try superman variations like y-superman, w-superman, t-superman, pull-up superman (prone pull), or dead stop superman.
- With your arms straight and your body in a straight line, start in a plank position.
- Lift your left arm in a rowing motion, then slowly lower it.
- Repeat with the right arm.
Imagining you’re lifting something heavy off the floor will additionally activate lats to lift your arms.
- Stand on the left leg with a slight knee bend and the right leg lifted.
- Hinge at the hip and lower your torso towards the ground while lifting your right leg behind you.
- Return to the starting position by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward.
- Alternate arms.
Remember to keep your arms extended during a movement to maximize upper-body engagement.
- Start in a high plank with hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your chest towards the ground, keeping your elbows out.
- Keep core muscles engaged and back straight.
- Push back up, squeezing your back at the bottom of the movement.
It’s a challenging exercise, so try to keep proper form and control throughout the movement.
- Begin face down, in a downward dog.
- Lower your body towards the ground while shifting your weight forward.
- Arch your back and lift your head towards the ceiling.
- Push back up to the starting position.
The exercise can also be modified to suit different fitness levels.
Level: Hard (Equipment required)
- Lie on your back underneath a bar or a suspension trainer, with your hands gripping the bar or handles.
- Keep your body straight and engage your core.
- Pull your chest towards the bar by retracting your shoulder blades and bending your elbows.
- Lower yourself down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
To make this upper back exercise even more challenging, you can elevate your feet a few inches or use a narrower grip.
- Hang from a bar with your palms facing your body and your hands shoulder-width apart.
- With your torso muscles, stabilize your lower body.
- With a focus on pulling the shoulder blades together and away from your ears, pull your body towards the bar.
- Once your chin meets the bar, lower yourself in a controlled manner.
For more challenging chin-ups, you can try overhand grip, wide-grip chin-up, l-sit chin-up, eccentric chin-up, or commando chin-up.
- Keeping your arms stretched, hang from a bar with hands wider than your shoulders.
- Pull the chest towards the bar and squeeze the shoulder blades.
- Lower down and straighten your arms completely at the bottom.
Don’t give up if you can only start with one rep. Practice will strengthen the muscle-mind connection and exercise form. Remember, this is the most challenging bodyweight exercise.
Related Article: The Best Bodyweight Home Gym Equipment
A Bodyweight Workout Plan
You should start every workout routine with a quick warm-up, like five minutes of light cardio (jumping jacks, jogging in place, etc.), while also dynamically stretching the back, shoulders, and arms muscles.
“Warming up before exercise is essential. It helps to increase blood flow to the muscles, which reduces the risk of injury and improves performance.” -
Dr. Richard Weiler, Sports Medicine Physician
You begin a strength workout with a wide-grip pull-up and inverted row while your muscles are strongest.
They are challenging pulling exercises that target the larger muscles of the back:
- Wide-grip pull-up: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Inverted row: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
After that, you continue with chin-ups and push-ups, incorporating more of your chest, triceps, and upper back muscles.
- Chin-up: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Hindu push-up: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Wide-grip push-up: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
Finally, you will end with exercises focusing more on lower back muscles, hamstrings, and glutes (you’re going to need an exercise mat for this).
- Plank row: 3 sets of 10-15 reps per arm
- Superman: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Single-leg deadlift: 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg
Rest for 60-90 seconds between sets and exercises.
Always use challenging but manageable weight or variation for each exercise. And remember that proper form and consistency are crucial for good results .
Can I Build Back Without Pull-Ups?
Yes, you can build back without pull-ups since they aren’t the only option. Other exercises like push-ups, rows, and supermans can also be effective. Consistency, technique, and progressive overload are vital to building muscles.
What Are Bodyweight Exercises for the Lower Back?
Bodyweight exercises for the lower back include the superman, hip bridge, bird dog, and quadruped extension. These exercises target the erector spinae muscles, which help support the lower back and promote good posture.
Get the Most Out of Your Workouts
These exercises can be a great way to build a strong and defined back without needing weights or equipment.
Consistency and proper form will always reward you with bigger muscles. I usually advise my clients who struggle with consistency, to consider taking pre-workouts to help with motivation and pump.
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