The Best Back Exercises That You Can Do at Home
In this article, I'll go over my top 5 back exercises for building wider wings (latissimus dorsi) from the convenience of your home.
Some of these exercises might be hard for some. I've also included easy versions that you can progress from.
The back is one of the toughest parts of the body to train and one of the easiest to forget. You don't often see your back in photos or the mirror, which may make it a body part you focus on less at the gym. Even more, back exercises can be more complicated and physically demanding than a multitude of other exercises, such as those for the arms, abs, glutes, and legs.
However, just because it's a more difficult area to train doesn't mean it's okay to skip back workouts. Strong back muscles provide better posture, create a more balanced physique, protect your shoulders, and promote more power and strength overall. The muscles on the back of your body help balance the muscles on the front of your body, keeping you stable and protecting your spine.
Now that you have a better understanding of all your back muscles do to keep your body strong and balanced, you'll want to include back exercises in your usual workout routine. These bodyweight exercises for the back are ones that you can do in the comfort of your own home, without the need for a gym membership.
The Superman is a calisthenics exercise that can be performed just about anywhere and doesn't require any equipment. This back workout is called the Superman because when performed properly, you should look like Superman in flight.
- Lie on the floor with your chest down.
- Reach your arms straight out in front of you and make sure your legs are extended.
- Lift your arms and legs off the floor by squeezing your lower back and glutes.
Equipment: None required.
Easy version: The shorter the time you hold your arms and legs off the floor, the easier this exercise will be.
2. TRX Row
Your latissimus dorsi muscles, or "lats," are the largest muscles in your back, stretching from the middle of the back down to the waist. These are your main muscles for pulling, and row or pullup exercises are some of the best ways to strengthen them.
- Hold the TRX handles with your elbows bent and at chest height.
- Plant your feet firmly and lean back, until your arms are extended, and you're hanging by the handles.
- Use your upper back muscles and biceps to pull yourself up until you're standing vertically. Pause.
- Straighten your arms until you're back at the starting position.
Equipment: A TRX, jungle gym, or other suspension gym is required to do this exercise. Most of these can support up to 250 pounds and can be attached to a door in your home.
Easy version: To make this exercise easier, decrease your angle from the standing position until you can only do 10-15 repetitions. The closer your back is to the floor, the harder the exercise.
Pull-ups, or vertical pulling exercises, are another simple yet extremely effective back workout.
- Grip the pullup bar overhanded. Your arms should be straight.
- Use your arms and lats to pull yourself directly up until your chest meets the bar. Be sure to brace your core the entire time.
- Slowly, and in a controlled motion, lower yourself back down until your arms are straight.
- When your elbows are no longer bent, perform another rep.
- Complete as many reps as possible, then rest two minutes before repeating the exercise.
Equipment: I use an Iron Gym Extreme doorway pull-up bar. These usually support up to 300 pounds with a sturdy doorway. Another idea is to use the bars at a local park or schoolyard.
Easy version: You can use a chair or stepper below your feet for assistance. If this exercise is too difficult, use the chair to get into the contracted position where your chin is close to the bar and hold the position for as long as you can. This is called a static hold and will help you build strength. When done, lower your feet to the chair or stepper. This would be considered 1 set. Eventually, you'll be able to transition into a full pull up.
Generally speaking, the wider your hands are spread out, the harder the pullups. So if you want to make the exercise easier, use a narrow grip that closer to shoulder width. With the Iron Gym, the hammer hold was easier for me. That's the position where your palms are parallel to each other, using the shorter U-shaped bars instead of the long bar.
This variation of a pull-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises for your back muscles. The main difference is that you're using an underhand grip instead of an overhand grip. Pullups and chin-ups activate just about every muscle in the back as well as the arms and core, and they can easily be added to any workout routine as a regular exercise or finisher.
- Use an underhand grip to hold the pullup bar. Hang from the bar with your arms straightened.
- Use your lats and arms to pull your body up until your chin is over the bar. Keep your core tight throughout the entire exercise to ensure proper form.
- Slowly, and in a controlled motion, lower yourself back down until your arms are straight.
- Perform as many chin-up reps as possible, then rest for two minutes before repeating the exercise.
Equipment: I use an Iron Gym Extreme doorway pull-up bar. These usually support up to 300 pounds with a sturdy doorway.
Easy version: Similar to pull-ups, you can use a chair or stepper to help assist you. You can also do static holds as mentioned in the pull-up section above.
5. Inverted Row
The inverted row is a calisthenics exercise that works the upper back, shoulders, core, and glutes, and all you need is a dip stand. Prosource dip stands can handle up to 400 pounds and you can use it for many other exercises.
- Lower yourself underneath the barbell and use an overhand grip to grab the bar. Your hands should be roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly straighten your arms until you're hanging from the bar. Extend your legs to make this exercise more difficult.
- Use your upper back and squeeze your shoulder blades to pull your chest to the bar.
- Pause with your chest at the bar. Squeeze your glutes and core to keep your entire body extended.
- Return to the starting position by straightening your arms.
Equipment: If you don't have a dip stand, you can use the edge of a sturdy kitchen table. You would hold the edge of your table while your body is straight and close to parallel to the floor. In the past, I used a straight metal bar across 2 high surfaces. You'll want to take safety precautions and make sure the surfaces are sturdy and that the bar doesn't roll-off.
Another idea is to use the parallel bars at a local park or schoolyard.
Easy version: The higher the table is off the floor, the easier the exercise is. You can stack sturdy blocks or books under the table legs to elevate the table. Make sure that the blocks or books are wide enough in case the table shifts. The last thing you want is to feel a sudden jolt while doing a rep.
Develop A Routine
Performing the exercises above one time, then forgetting about them for weeks won't help you build a stronger, more powerful, and healthier back. Your back muscles are a major part of every activity you do, so it's important to train them regularly. It is recommended that you perform back calisthenics exercises up to three times a week on non-consecutive days.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are back exercises different for men and women?
These back exercises are ideal for men and women. Whether you're male or female, these exercises will help you build a stronger, better looking back.
Are back exercises okay for trainers over 50?
Certainly. These back exercises are ideal for trainers of all ages. However, it's always important to listen to your body, so if you feel that you need to take another day off between back workouts, it's important to do so.
Will these back exercises help my back pain?
Back pain can stem from a number of issues. If your back pain is caused by ineffective back workouts or weakness in the back, then these exercises can help improve or eliminate back pain.
A balanced body requires regular back workouts, and the simple calisthenics exercises above allow you to perform your back workout easily and efficiently in the comfort of your home. It's time to stop forgetting about the parts of your body you don't see in the mirror and start working toward a well-rounded fitness routine that includes working out the part of the body that works hardest for you -- your back.
How many sets should I do?
Each set contains a certain number of repetitions. The exercises that I've mentioned provide instructions for doing 1 repetition. For general health, toning, and strength building, I recommend doing 12-15 repetitions (AKA "reps") within each set. Some people aren't able to do that many. So the idea would be to listen to your body and do as much as you can until you hit 12-15 reps. After finishing a set, you can rest for 2 minutes until you do another set. If you're just starting out, strive for 1 set for the first 2 weeks and then move on to 2 sets. I would strive for 5 sets.
What if these back exercises are too easy?
If after 5 sets the 15th rep is too easy, then you'll have to make adjustments so that you can workout to failure. Here are several adjustments that you can make to make your workouts harder:
- Increase the number of sets. When I was working on getting toned, I performed the TRX rows at a 45-degree angle and did 10 sets of 18 repetitions.
- Do each repetition slowly. Try doing the positive movement with a 5-second count and then the negative movement for 5 seconds as well.
- Focus on good form. Sometimes bad form can make the exercise too easy. Especially if you're using momentum or swinging motions. Using the TRX row example again, increase the width of the space between both hands and use your back muscles more than your biceps. Since we're focused on working out the back in this section, it's important to focus on using your back versus the other supporting muscles.