When you think of working out, the last thing you think about is your back. For a lot of people, what their back looks like isn’t very high on their priority list. After all, when we look in the mirror, the one part of our body we can’t really see is our back, so why bother putting effort into exercising it, right?
But, exercising this much-neglected area actually has a ton of health benefits.
When we workout, a lot of the time it’s because we want to look and feel better in ourselves. So, why don’t we think about taking care of one of the most important parts of our body?
The strength of our back actually effects most aspects of everyday life. It helps us with lifting, walking, posture and even our confidence. A strong back allows us to walk more upright, exuding confidence as we go.
Plus, everyone experiences some kind of back pain at some point in their lives. Be it, pain from sitting at a desk all day or just getting older. Taking care of your back when you’re younger could save you a world of pain in the future.
So, if you’re looking to give your back some much deserved TLC, we have got you covered with the top 5 bodyweight back exercises for working out at home.
“But, I don’t have time to go to the gym and there’s no room in my house for exercise equipment”, we hear you say. Not to worry, because these exercises don’t require any additional equipment like weights, and they can all be done easily from the comfort of your own home. It only takes a few minutes to complete each exercise too.
Why should we exercise our back?
A huge problem we as humans face is poor posture. We spend a lot of our time sitting at desks, in the car, on the couch, wherever. Slouching while we sit is a huge contributor to developing back problems.
Additionally, if you already suffer with back pain, daily exercises can relieve symptoms.
Below are the main reasons why we should be taking back exercise seriously, there’s probably more than you expected:
- Office job stiffness – going from bed, to car, to desk, to car, to couch every day weakens your back muscles, putting you at risk of back problems
- Posture & Confidence – adding on from the last point, poor posture is common. This is caused by weak muscles which only causes our muscles to weaken further. It’s a vicious cycle we need to get out of ASAP before real back problems catch up with us. Plus, slouching doesn’t exert confidence. Sitting up straight will make you look powerful and confident. A stronger back will also make us less likely to slouch and prevent neck, shoulder and back pain
- Back pain – weak core muscles cannot support the spine properly. This puts all the strain of walking, lifting, etc. on to the ligaments, causing possible long-term damage to the spine. If you experience back pain on a daily basis it’s probably due to weak muscles. Simple back exercises can relieve this
- Core strength – exercising your back will build-up your core strength. This will prevent injuries and allow you to carry out every day activities much more comfortably
- Injuries – the most common back injuries are stiffness, strain, and even slipped disks. Weak back muscles can also cause shoulder and neck pain from slouching. A strong back will help to prevent injury
- Balance – we typically push heavy things before we try to pull them. So, our chest muscles see a lot more action. This throws our muscles off balance. Exercising our back will help to keep our bodies balanced. Moreover, general balance issues could be due to a weak core
Back Muscles Explained
Our back’s anatomical structure is actually very complex. It consists of muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons and more, all designed to function as one.
Each component affects how we do things day-to-day, like lifting and standing etc. That’s why it is so important to exercise every single one.
Lack of spine support is what causes lower back pain. There are three main back muscles which are designed to support the spine:
- Flexor muscles – these muscles allow us to bend, flex, lift and arch our backs. They attach at the front of the spine
- Extensor muscles – these enable us to stand up straight and lift things. They attach at the back of the spine
- Oblique muscles – the obliques help to rotate the spine and help with good posture. Situated to the side of the spine
Other important back muscles include:
- Rhomboids – these push the shoulder blades together when we arch our backs. Situated between the shoulder blades and the middle of our back
- Spinal erectors – these allow us to bend, extend and rotate the spine and help us to go from a flexed position to standing. Situated along the length of the spine
- Trapezius – these get to work whenever we press down or lift things. Situated on the upper back and neck
- Latissimus Dorsi – we engage these muscles when we do exercises such as pull-ups and rowing. Situated on in the middle of our back and extend to our armpits
- Rotator cuffs – we engage these muscles anytime we move our shoulders. Situated on the shoulder blade and upper arms
Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises
Exercise equipment is not entirely necessary when working out your back, only if you plan to visibly build lots of muscle. Bodyweight exercises are really all you need to maintain a strong, healthy core.
However, if you do have the option, investing in an exercise mat will make exercises that require you to lie on the ground more comfortable on your back – but this is completely optional. Alternatively, a good blanket should do the trick.
Below are just some of the benefits of bodyweight exercises:
- Save money – no need for equipment means no need to join a gym or spend money on home weights
- Accessible anywhere, anytime – if you’re short on time between work and other commitments you can easily squeeze in a quick workout at home or in a local park
- Safer – working out your back with heavy weights can be an injury risk, especially if you don’t properly know what you’re doing. Simply using your bodyweight is all you need
- Easier – beginning a new exercise regime can be daunting at first, adding in confusing machines and heavy weights will only make it harder. Bodyweight exercises are much easier to get the hang of
5 Bodyweight Back Exercises to Do at Home
So, you’ve made it this far, and you’re motivated to spend some much-needed time on your back – awesome! Below are the 5 best bodyweight back exercises to be done at home, or anywhere you like.
Before you get stuck in, it’s a good idea to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up. You want your muscles to be nice and warm and your blood flowing nicely, so you’ll be less likely to cause yourself an injury.
Set yourself a timer for five minutes and do some jumping jacks or jogging on the spot. It may also be a good idea to do some arm circles and shoulder shrugs too.
You should expect to feel some soreness in your muscles the next day, that’s normal don’t worry. But, once you’ve completed each exercise in turn, it’s recommended that you do some stretching to help minimize any aches and pains.
Now you’re ready to go – remember to start off slow and don’t push yourself too hard straight away. These exercises will push you and your back more than you’re used to, but you shouldn’t be experiencing any severe pain. If you think you may have over done it, take a break and get in touch with your physician.
1. Bird Dog
This move is all about stability, and it’s a great exercise to train your back muscles. Plus, it’s easy for both beginners and more confident trainers.
You’ll be focussing on your core here, but you’ll be working with your legs and arms too. It targets your upper back muscles and trains your core. It’s great because it pretty much uses all your back muscles as well as your glutes and hamstrings!
Here’s how to do it:
- Start off on all four’s, make sure your knees are under your hips and your hands are directly under your shoulders. Your back should be completely straight too. If it’s uncomfortable on your hands and knees try using an exercise mat or folded blanket underneath you
- Engage your core by holding in your stomach muscles. To know you’re doing it right, check your stomach isn’t dropping and your back doesn’t arch or collapse
- Extend your left arm straight out in front of you and your right leg, so both are in a straight line – pause there and keep your core engaged. You should feel the stretch in your back
- Return to the starting position
- When you’re ready, do the same again but on the opposite side and repeat
Aim to complete three sets of 10 with 30 seconds rest in between. If you want to push yourself try upping the reps with each set. So, one set of 10, one set of 12 and the third set of 15 reps.
This pose is one of the most well-known back exercises. It’s suitable for all ages, genders and skill-levels, and it’s great for strengthening your upper and middle back muscles.
It’s particularly good if you struggle with lower back pain. So, if you spend most of your day sitting behind a desk, this is the exercise for you!
Not to mention it also works your hamstrings, glutes and helps the V formation of your back.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie chest down, flat on the ground and extend your arms forward, make sure they’re nice and straight. To make it more comfortable use an exercise mat or folded blanket
- Keeping your back straight, squeeze your glutes and then lift your legs as high as you can without over-arching your back. Inhale as you do this
- Keep this pose for about 5 – 10 seconds to feel the stretch
- Then, slowly return to the starting position, exhaling as you go
- Repeat this a maximum of three times
3. Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is an incredibly versatile move that can be done by anyone. The move is based around flexing your body, bending forward at the hips.
When you are bent at the hips, your lower back, glutes and hamstrings are activated. Plus, in order to hold yourself in position, your core muscled are also engaged.
This move is all about control and proper alignment so try standing in front of a mirror to check your form.
Here’s how to do it:
- Stand straight with both feet hip width apart, making sure your toes are facing forward and your head is in a neutral position looking forward
- Then, placing your hands on your hips, push them backwards, bending in the middle as you do it. Engage your core and activate your back to keep your shoulders down and bend slightly at the knees for your comfort
- At this point you should feel the stretch at the back of your thighs
- You should not be bending your back at any point in this exercise, doing so could cause injury
- After about 5 seconds, slowly start to straighten your back, to return to the standing position. Straighten your knees too. While you do this, squeeze your thighs and glutes
- Repeat this move 10 times then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat as many times as you see fit but do not exceed 5 sets
- What’s great about this move is that it can be endlessly adapted to suit your skill level. Once you’re comfortable doing it with just your bodyweight, try using a weight for added resistance.
4. Wide Grip Push-up
Another popular exercise but very effective is the wide grip push-up. It’s a slightly more challenging exercise, and will put your back muscles to the test.
Compared to a standard push-up, this variation puts more pressure on your chest and biceps.
It’s a great exercise to get a really good stretch in and train your back muscles at the same time. It also trains your core, which is always a plus!
Here are some form tips before you take on this move:
- Make sure your back is fully straight throughout the range of movement
- Don’t let your hips and lower back drop towards the floor
- Keep your neck steady and look forward toward the ground throughout the whole move
Here’s how to do it:
- Start off on the ground, you can use an exercise mat for extra comfort, place your hands and feet in the push-up or plank position – you can rest on your knees instead of your feet if you need a slightly easier variation
- Make sure your hands are wider than your shoulders and engage your core and quads as if you are doing a plank
- Then, bending your elbows out to the side, descend your body toward the floor
- Pause here, squeezing your back muscles before exhaling and pushing back up to the starting position, move your hips and shoulders simultaneously
- Repeat for three sets, doing 10 reps each time
5. Reverse Snow Angels
The reverse snow angel helps to build strength in your shoulders and upper-back. It’s great for improving mobility in these areas as well as improving posture. It can also help to relieve neck and shoulder pain!
It can be a tricky one to master straight away, so beginners can just reach their arms as far as they can rather than all the way over their heads. Keep at it, and eventually you’ll be able to complete the full range of motion like a pro.
If you’re feeling confident, add in some extra weight with a wrist cuff and reach your arms all the way over your head and feel the burn!
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie face down on your stomach. Use an exercise mat if you can or a folded blanket. With your arms at the side of you, place your hands flat on the ground
- Keeping your arms straight and hands flat, lightly lift above your head, the same way you would a snow angel
- Make sure the bottom of your chin doesn’t touch the ground, this will hurt your neck. Instead, rest the front of your chin on the ground
- Bring them back to the start position but do not let them rest on the ground
- Repeat 10 times for three reps with 30 seconds of rest in between
Ways to Advance Your Workout
Once you’ve mastered the exercises above, you may be feeling motivated to push yourself a little harder. A great way to do this is by adding in some extra equipment.
So, we’ve compiled a list of popular equipment you can easily add to your workout routine. Most can be done at home, too.
- Weights – weights are a great, simple way to improve your workout. You can start easy with some light dumbbells or go one step further with a heavier kettlebell
- Resistance bands – if you’re not quite ready to introduce weights, resistance bands are a great way to increase resistance without the added weight. Placing a band under your feet and pulling it towards your face is a great resistance band exercise for your back muscles
- Pull-up bar – a super compact addition to your home, a pull-up bar is easy to install and is pretty inexpensive as exercise equipment goes. Try rounding off your next workout by working towards a pull-up. This will really engage your back and strengthen your core
- Machines at the gym – if you’ve tried all of the above and are still hungry for more, consider joining a gym and making use of the countless machines available. Most gyms will have several machines that target the back and shoulders. Some machines you could try are the rowing machine, assisted pull-up machine, the iron cross and more
Ways to Further Build Muscle with Weights
If you want to exercise your back in hopes to visibly build muscle, there are plenty of weighted exercises you can do at the gym or at home if you have the equipment.
You won’t be able to get that body builder style chiseled back without putting the work in. This is where weights come in.
Here are some weighted back exercises you could try at the gym:
- Romanian or trap bar deadlifts – the weight you use will depend on your ability but dead lifts are a great way to train your back. The heavier you go, the fewer the reps
- Pull-up – a back workout classic, pull-ups are a great place to start if you want to build back muscle. If you’re just starting out, stick to machine-assisted variations until you build up your strength
- T-Bar row – this one is for the experienced lifters because form is super important, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work towards this exercise. It’s a great move for back development
- Seated row – almost all gyms will have plenty of rowing machines, and they’re easy to use, so this is a great non-threatening place to start if you’re a beginner. You can increase the weight and reps depending on your ability. Start off on a lower weight, so you don’t cause an injury as this exercise maintains constant strain on your muscles throughout the movement
- Dumbbell pull-over – this one specifically targets your lats. Try it on a decline rather than a flat bench to put more tension on your muscles for longer if you’re feeling confident. Aim to do this move towards the end of your workout
What Else You Can Do to Ease Back Pain
Running can be super beneficial for those with back pain. While you may think running is the last thing you should do if you’re in debilitating pain, but, experts say going for a run can actually help to ease the pain because aerobic exercise is an effective way to treat lower back pain.
This is because running can help to further strengthen your core and often those suffering with back pain will have a weak back and core.
Moreover, obesity is a common cause of back pain so, weight loss will help to combat both issues. Running also releases endorphins which will further improve our overall health and mood.
However, if you have a structural issue with your spine, running may not be an option for you. Running can cause further stress to the inflamed area and could irritate your symptoms and worsen your condition. So, make sure to consult a doctor before taking on a running regime.
If running isn’t an option for you, try walking in flat areas at a slow, easy pace to introduce some healthy, manageable cardio into your weekly exercise routine.
Back muscles are often under trained due to a lack of knowledge or motivation to train this area of our bodies. Plus, modern life sees us spend most of our days sitting down, causing us to slouch. Slouching weakens our back muscles and puts us at risk of developing back pains as we age.
Posture is super important, so, before you even start exercising, practice sitting up straight at your desk or in your car, this will be a huge help, and you’ll notice the difference straight away.
Whether you’re suffering with back problems or you want to ease that horrible stiff feeling you get after a day spent behind a desk, these exercises are a great way to introduce you to back exercises and taking better care of your back.
If you manage to keep up a good routine using these exercises, you will improve your posture, strength, balance and ability to do every day tasks with no issues. They are so easy to do but incredibly effective! For even better results, add in a daily walk for some light cardio or a run a few times a week if you’re up to it.
To begin with, you could just do these exercises two to three times a week to notice a difference. The lack of added weight is perfect for beginners and should leave you feeling stretched without being super sore the next day.
Once you gain more confidence and stamina, you can work up to exercising your back four to five times a week and even adding in extra equipment like weights and resistance bands. Just be sure to do some chest exercises to counter-balance your (now) super strong back!
These exercises are super flexible and can be modified to suit your fitness level. Plus, they can be done anywhere, anytime depending on your schedule. So, there’s no reason why you can’t train your back and work towards feeling stronger and more comfortable in your body!
If you suffer with severe back pain, make sure to check with your physician before taking on any exercise to avoid any further injuries.