If you are working out from home (or anywhere but a gym) and you have no equipment, you are probably struggling to come up with bodyweight exercises that target your back muscles.
Other muscles are easier to target with just your bodyweight...Chest? There’s push ups (and the countless variations of them). Legs? Simple, air squats, jumping lunges, glute bridges, and the list goes on…But back? It’s not as simple. The back is one of the more tricky areas of the body to target with just your bodyweight alone…That is, unless you know what you are doing.
So, if you think you need to buy some free weights to target your back muscles properly, think again…You absolutely can target your back muscles and get a great back workout in without equipment, and even, without a pull bar.
In this post, we are going to show you the best bodyweight back exercises with no equipment and no pull up bar. The only thing we will use is our bodyweight...and a towel. That’s right, a towel. Like the thing you use to wipe off your sweat or dry off after a shower. The thing everyone has access to. The most surprisingly effective complementary piece of “equipment” for bodyweight back exercises.
The bodyweight back exercises that we chose to demonstrate for you here can be done from home or anywhere you please. Make note, these aren't useless back exercises, they are actually effective for building muscle, gaining strength, and getting tone. With the bodyweight exercises that you will see below, you can develop a V-shape back that each and every one of us desires.
If you want to build your back muscles at home, all you really need are two things, your body and knowledge of how to target your back muscles with bodyweight exercises. It’s not as difficult as you may think. There are tons of bodyweight exercises that you can do to target your back effectively. As long as you do the bodyweight back exercises with enough intensity and time under tension, and then progressively overload the stress on your muscles over time, your back will grow and get strong.
PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD FOR BODYWEIGHT BACK EXERCISES
If you want to build muscle and continue gaining strength, you need to use a progressive overload technique for your back workouts at home. Progressive overload simply means you are making your workouts harder and harder each time. Progressive overload is a gradual process that provides significant results.
Here are a few progressive overload techniques that make sense for bodyweight back exercises/workouts:
Think you need equipment like dumbbells and kettlebells to get a good back workout in at home? Think again. And although a pull up bar is obviously great to have, even that isn’t needed. You absolutely can get a good back workout in without any equipment and with no pull up bar. All you need is the right movements and the necessary amount of intensity and time under tension. If you put enough stress on your back muscles and use a steady progressive overload technique, your back will get stronger and you can build your back build muscle with only bodyweight exercises.
All in all, you want to increase the intensity of your back workouts. Push yourself hard each workout. You will know if it’s an effective workout by the way you feel during and after the workout. Each workout should be just as hard as your last (or harder). If things are getting easier, then you are not employing progressive overload properly...
“Towels?" you ask..."please explain".
One great piece of “equipment” for bodyweight back exercise that everyone owns is a towel. A towel is a great tool to use for increasing the intensity of your bodyweight back exercises, as surprising as that might be.
We said all you need is your body for your back workouts at home, and while that’s true, we prefer to use a towel for certain exercises to ensure they are challenging enough to build muscle and strength.
Everyone has a towel at home, so we figure this is as good as having “no equipment”. With a towel you can get a seriously killer back workout in, as you will see if you try the bodyweight back exercises in the video further below.
DO TOWEL WORKOUTS WORK?
Essentially, the towel is used to increase the tension on your back muscles, simply by making sure you are squeezing them and focusing on them. By pulling the towel apart during your movement, you are increasing tension. As we all know, the more tension/resistance, the more difficult the exercise becomes, and the more you can grow. So, yes, towel workouts absolutely do work. They can actually be quite brutal as you become completely focused on pulling the towel apart with each rep, which intensifies the movement tenfold. It really makes you focus on the muscles you are targeting, breaking them down so they can grow back stronger. Focus is key with bodyweight exercises, as without it, you will eventually just be going through the motion, and that’s not ideal if you want to build muscle and get stronger. Each rep and set should be challenging, to the point where all you can think about is the exercise at hand (or in this case, the towel in hands).
BENEFITS OF TOWEL EXERCISES
Try to simply pull a towel apart for 15 seconds, see how difficult that is and then you will understand what you are about to get yourself into with the bodyweight towel back exercises below.
Before we get into the bodyweight back exercises (some of which include the use of a towel), let’s talk about the back anatomy quickly.
We will be noting which muscles each exercise works, so we want you to know exactly where the muscle is located on your back. This will help you hone in on the targeted muscles with each bodyweight back exercise.
Superficial vs Deep Muscles
Superficial muscles are close to the surface skin, while deep muscles are closer to the bone or internal organs.
Latissimus Dorsi Muscles - LATS (Superficial)
The lats are the largest muscles of the back. They provide force in a wide range of body positions.
Trapezius - TRAPS (Superficial)
The trap is a long muscle shaped like a trapezoid, hence the name. It runs down the upper section of the spine, starting at the base of the skull. The traps provide pulling strength in three motions, up, down, and toward the center of the body.
Erector Spinae (Deep)
The erector spinae is a group of muscles that run down the length of the spine. They attach to the neck, vetebrae, ribs and pelvis. These muscles function to support, extend and rotate the spine.
Teres Major & Minor (Superficial)
The teres major is located on the outer edge of the scapula, attaching to the humerus. This muscle stabilizes the shoulder joints and works with the lats to pull the humerus back.
The rhomboids, major and minor, are shaped as the name suggests. They start at the spinal column and attach to the middle surface of the scapula. They help hold the scapula, and thus the upper limb, to the rib cage, as well as act to retract and pull the scapula towards the vertebral column.
The Glutes and Biceps Relation with the Back
Much of the back’s responsibilities are shared with the glutes and biceps. So, many back exercises will also target your glutes and/or biceps as well.
It’s important to strengthen your glutes evenly with you back, as underactive gluteal muscles can lead to low back pain.
In this video, Christian demonstrates 7 effective bodyweight back exercises. They require nothing but your body, although for some of them he uses a towel to increase the tension on the back muscles. Because these back exercises don’t require any equipment or a pull up bar, you can do these anywhere you please. They are perfect for home workouts, travel and hotel workouts, outdoor workouts, and even for supersetting free-weight back exercises at the gym. By performing all of these exercises, you can target your entire back musculature.
Target: Lats, Erector Spinae, Glutes, Biceps
Target: Erector Spinae, Traps, Rhomboids, Glutes
Target: Erector Spinae, Glutes
Target: Lats, Biceps, Erector Spinae
Target: Lats, Biceps, Teres Major/Minor
Note: If you go overhand grip, you will target your traps and rhomboids more. Underhand as seen in the video targets the lats more.
Target: Lats, Erector Spinae, Glutes, Rear Delts, Teres Major
Target: Erector Spinae, Glutes
THESE BODYWEIGHT BACK EXERCISES PUT EMPHASIS ON THE LATS AND LOW BACK
We put extra emphasis on the low back and lats as they are the powerful stabilizers of the spine. It’s vital that these two muscle groups have good strength and endurance as it will help make you injury resilient and powerful with your movements in life.
Let’s create back workouts using the exercises above
For a complete back workout, do all 7 exercises for 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. Once you complete one exercise for 3-4 sets, move to the next. Rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute between each set and exercise.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds, one after the other. Rest 1 minute between rounds. Complete 4 rounds.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds, one after the other. Rest 1 minute between rounds. Complete 3 rounds.
1A: Low Rows
1B: Kneeling Lat Pull Downs
- 4 sets x 10 reps each
2A: Reacher Rows
2B: Lying Lat Pull Downs
- 4 sets x 10 reps each
3A: Reverse Snow Angel
3B: Superman / Lying Back Extension (2 sets of one, 2 sets of the other, every other)
- 4 sets x 10 reps each
It depends on your schedule but ideally if you do bodyweight workouts only, you should hit your back muscles twice a week. Once at a minimum.
Full Body Routine
If you do full body workouts, choose two back exercises for each full body workout, In this case, you’d work your back muscles two to three times a week on average.
If you do an upper/lower routine, you should be hitting your back muscles twice a week. For example, day 1 and 4 would be upper body day, so on both those days you are doing a few back exercises.
If you do a split routine, you will probably hit your back once a week, maybe twice if you do a multi-muscle group split. For splits, your back workouts will be higher volume. Instead of doing just a few back exercises, you will be doing 6-8 back exercises.
No matter what kind of routine you choose, push yourself hard each workout and give your body the recovery it needs before you train your back again!
Also, employ the progressive overload techniques we mentioned earlier in this article.
As you can see, you don’t need anything but your body (and a towel for extra tension) to get a great back workout in. That being said, a pull up bar would be advantageous. With a pull up bar, you can target every muscle in your back using pull up variations. Pull ups will, of course, offer you a lot more resistance for your pulling exercises. After all, you are fighting against gravity to pull your entire bodyweight up! Thus, you will have a far greater opportunity to build bigger, stronger muscles.
If you have a pull up bar, do pull ups and various pull up variations, along with these bodyweight-only back exercises and you will be on your way to being a lean, mean, v-shape back machine.
For beginners, if you can't do a pull up, follow a pull up progression plan. Also, utilize the back exercises in this article as these are absolutely perfect for beginners looking to build strength needed for more advanced back exercises.
Don’t have a pull up bar? Anything you hang from can work. Even if the grip is awkward, that’s great. It may be harder, but harder is what makes you stronger. it also builds more grip strength. You can do pull ups from beams, bleachers, and whatever you can find to hang from (just make sure it’s strong enough to hold you!).
Although it’s important to strengthen all of your muscles, strengthening your back is especially vital to your well being. It’s involved in every pulling, lifting, and carrying action you make. Moreover, it protects your spine from injury!
Here are some of the main benefits of strengthening your back with these bodyweight back exercises:
What’s more, your back makes up the second largest portion of your musculature (after the legs), so training them expends a lot of energy, allowing you to burn tons of calories.
If you want to use some weights, but you prefer to keep things minimal, check out steel mace training and get yourself a set of resistance bands...
The steel mace is a great tool for conditioning all your muscles in a dynamic way, especially your upper body. With a steel mace and a pull up bar, you can get into the best shape of your life. It’s really all you need. It compliments bodyweight and calisthenics training perfectly.
Resistance bands are also great for home workouts as they are effective, portable, and affordable. You can lose weight with resistance bands and you can build muscle with resistance bands. You can replicate all the typical free weight exercises using 41" loop resistance bands. Here are 24 resistance band exercises (some targeting the back) that will show you how.
Read about our 4 favorite home workout equipment (all of which are affordable and portable).
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