Workout out your back is important because it helps give you good posture. Doing so gets rid of or reduces back pain.
In this installment of our bodyweight exercise series, we break down the workouts into those for your upper back and your lower back. These are two distinct regions that both need strengthening to keep healthy.
This way you can target the area that bothers you the most. And, improve posture in your upper and lower back as well.
Best Bodyweight Back Exercises
The back is such a large muscle that using one exercise to cover all of it is almost impossible. So, instead of grouping all the exercise together, we’ve decided to split them up into 3 main groups.
The first two groups are more strength and muscle building oriented. The third group on the other hand focuses on overall back health and stability.
- Upper back exercises: These work the upper part of your back.
- Lower back exercises: These target the lower section closer to your butt.
- Stability exercises: These are less focused on strength, although they built strength and tone muscles as well. Instead, they are more concerned with keeping your back healthy. These are great for anyone with upper or lower back pain.
Upper Back Bodyweight Exercises
1. Bodyweight Inverted Rows
This exercise works your upper back muscles and the biceps. We start with these because they’re easier to do compared to pull ups/chin ups. This allows everyone to benefit from them.
How to Perform Inverted Rows
- Use a smith machine, your gym’s barbell bar or any bar that’s about waist high. Make sure that the bar is stable so it won’t move when you’re hanging from it. Also, it has to be strong enough to hold your weight.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Suspend yourself underneath the bar while keeping your heels on the ground.
- Make sure to keep your body straight throughout the exercise.
- Extend your arms fully.
- Flex your elbow and pull your chest towards the bar.
- Retract your shoulder blades at the top position.
- Take a pose and then repeat the exercise over and over again
2. Pull Ups
This is the best exercise to work the entire back. Note that it does focus more on the upper and middle back, less on the lower back.
Pull ups are a great compound. In addition to your back, they also work almost all your upper body muscles as well.
For most of us, pull ups are among the most challenging things to do. So, instead of showing you how to do a pull up, we’ve decided to show progressions you can follow to get to your first pull up.
How to Perform a Pull Up
- Find a bar that’s high enough where you can suspend yourself from it.
- Grab hold of the bar about shoulder width apart and let your arms relax. This lets you hang from the bar.
- Pull yourself up so that your chin goes over the bar.
- Stay in that position for around two seconds
- Slowly lower yourself by extending your arms back down. This will bring you back to where you started
- Repeat the above steps several times.
You can do pull ups or chin ups. Both are great bodyweight exercises. Chin ups are easier than pull ups because of the position of your hands. This allows you to recruit your biceps more in pulling yourself up.
- Pull ups are done with an overhand grip. This means you hold the bar with palms facing away from you.
- Chin up are done with an underhand grip. This means you hold the bar with your palms facing towards you.
Lower Back Bodyweight Exercises
1. Hyperextensions (Back Extensions)
Back extensions are great for strengthening the lower back. In addition to building the muscles in this region they also engage your hamstrings and calves.
If you belong to a gym, you can use their back extension machine which is pretty much a bench. There’s no weights or moving parts included with the machine.
If you work out at home, you can use a bench or the edge of your bed. You do need a partner or something to anchor your legs down.
How to Perform Back Extensions
- Position yourself on the back extension machine.
- Stand up straight on the machine and secure your ankles on the anchors.
- Keeping your core tight, slowly lower your upper body by bending on your hips.
- Once you get to the bottom, use your back to slowly pull yourself back up.
This is an exercise that works your posterior chain. It engages the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
Glute bridges are great if you want to have a strong lower back and well-toned butt and legs. They work all these muscles in one movement.
How to Do the Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back and bend your knees. Keep your arms on your sides.
- With your feet flat on the floor, push your hips up using your heels.
- Try to bring your hips up until they’re level with your legs and body.
- At the top position, squeeze your glutes and hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
- Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
Bodyweight Back Stabilization Exercises
Stabilization exercises, as opposed to strength exercises, focus on the small stabilizer muscles. These don’t help you get toned or more defined. But, strengthening them will allow the bigger muscles the function properly.
More importantly, doing stabilization exercises daily are very effective in getting rid of or reducing nagging back pain.
Upper Back Stabilization Exercises
1. Reverse Snow Angels
This is a unique exercise that helps improve strength and stability of the scapula region. This works wonders for anyone with upper and middle back pain.
We love this exercise because it lets your shoulders go through a full range of motion. This mimics the things we do on a day to day basis with our arms.
The video below shows the exercise done with light weighs. You don’t really need the weights to do the exercise. Of course, if you want to you can always substitute the weights for bottled water.
How to Perform Reverse Snow Angels
- Lie on the floor with your arms at your sides.
- Raise your hands and shoulders a few inches above the ground.
- Keeping your arms straight and parallel to the ground, raise them over your head.
- Touch both of your thumbs above your head.
- Return your arms to the starting point.
Note: Keep your face down, your arms straight, and your elbows locked throughout the repetition.
Do this exercise for 10 to 15 reps daily and you’ll notice your upper back and shoulders feel much better.
2. Nose and Toes Against The Wall
This exercise works your upper back around the trapezius area. It engages these muscles to stabilize your body when you’re walking up the wall into a vertical position.
Incidentally, this exercise is a great way to start learning handstand push ups.
How to Perform the Exercise
For this exercise, you’ll need to position yourself against a wall.
- Start the exercise in a push-up position. Make sure that your feet are close enough to the wall.
- Put your feet against the wall.
- Slowly walk your feet up the wall.
- Keep your core tight throughout the exercise.
- Slowly move your hands towards the supporting wall. Do so until your nose almost touches the wall.
- From this top position, walk your hands away from the wall.
- Then, carefully walk down the wall.
Lower Back Stabilization Exercises
1. Superman Back Extension
This lower back exercise is similar to the back extension. But, instead of doing the entire range of motion, you’re only going to do a small portion of it.
Also, you won’t need any type of bench. Instead, you’ll be performing the superman exercise on the floor.
The superman exercise allows helps stabilize your spine. It does so by letting you lie on the ground with your belly on the floor.
This is a great move for preventing or getting rid of lower back pain.
How to Perform the Superman Back Extension
- Lie on your stomach on the floor.
- Bring your head up so that your eyes look straight ahead instead of the floor.
- Raise your arms straight above your shoulders while lifting your legs up at the same time.
- You can do the exercise a few ways. One is to lift both arms and both legs up at the same time. Another option is to lift your right arm and left leg at the same time. Then, do the same for the opposing arm and leg after that.
- When doing the exercise, keep your core, glutes, arms and leg muscles engaged.
- Hold the position for a few seconds.
- Lower your arms and legs.
- Repeat the exercise to 6 to 8 times.
2. Bird Dog
This is another stability exercise that strengthens your core and glutes. Additionally, it makes you work on your shoulder stability as well.
Balance is key with this exercise.
How to Perform the Bird Dog Exercise
- Get on all fours by kneeling down and placing both hands on the floor.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Slowly extend your left leg behind you.
- While holding your left leg back, stretch your right arm forward.
- Keep your hips and shoulders square when doing this exercise.
- Stay in this top position for five seconds.
- Slowly return to your starting position by lowing both your arm and leg.
- Repeat the above moves but with the right leg and left arm.
- Repeat the exercise several times.
3. Hip Hinge
The hip hinge exercise helps you learn to bend from your hips instead of using your knees. This helps you sit down without putting as much stress on your knees.
If you’re a regular gym goer, this basic exercise will help you learn to do deadlifts properly.
Doing this exercise regularly helps with hip stability as well as back pain relief. We also like that it is very functional.
The video below shows you how to perform the hip hinge. As guide tools, you can use a broom or any kind of stick. This ensures that your head and back are aligned throughout the movement.
How to Perform the Hip Hinge
- Stand in the upright position.
- Place your hands on your hips
- Plant your feet firmly on the ground and widen them.
- Engage your core.
- Bend forward at your waist in a slow and controlled manner.
- To do so, try imaging trying to close a door behind you with your butt. That’s the motion you’re looking for with the hip hinge.
- Bend until you’re about 45 degrees forward.
- Slowly bring yourself up back to upright positon. Again, by using your hips to do so.
4. Single Leg Deadlift
Single leg deadlifts work on your balance and coordination. It requires a few movements.
We like this exercise because it works your right and left sides separately. This means both right and left legs get the same amount of work. Doing so reduces imbalances between our dominant and non-dominant sides.
Single leg deadlifts or SLDLs work the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
How to Perform a Single Leg Deadlift
- Stand up straight with your spine in a neutral position.
- Bend from your hip to lift your left leg to the back.
- Keep your upper body neutral as it drops forward. Allow your arms to drop straight down.
- When your body and left leg make a letter “T” with your right leg, use your hips to bring yourself back to the starting upright position.
- Do 8 to 12 repetitions. Then do the same number of repetitions on the right leg.
If you have difficulty balancing yourself as you descend, try holding on to a chair in the beginning. As your stabilizer muscles get stronger, you’ll be able to do the exercise without a chair.