Maybe it’s a swamped afternoon at the office coupled by some stress back home. Some days, we feel as if we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders—and what’s scary is that from a physiological standpoint, we kind of are. In almost every single activity we do regularly, from carrying a backpack during a commute and arranging furniture around the house to bringing groceries up the stairs, our backs are under constant strain. Which is why it’s super important to give it some extra thought at the gym and consider bodyweight back exercises.
Why bodyweight back exercises? “Building a strong back is important because the back supports strong posture and the ability to move with ease,” says kettlebell specialist Lacee Lazoff, trainer at Performix House in New York City. “Weakness in the back can result in overloading other areas of the body and lead to eventual pain in the hips and lower back, weakness in the core, and tension in the shoulders or neck.”
Bodyweight Back Exercises: The Workout
The good news? You don’t need a whole bunch of equipment to get in a solid back workout. In fact, bodyweight training can reduce your chance of exercise-related injury and lead to improved posture. Here, Lazoff offers up a simple back workout that can be done anytime, anywhere, with just your body weight. Do the entire workout once through.
Bodyweight Back Exercises #1: Jumping Pull-Up
Do it: Stand on a plyo box, gripping a pull-up bar with your palms out. Jump up off the box, bringing your chin above the bar while keeping your forearms close to your body and your core tight. Hold for two seconds, keeping your core engaged, for one rep. Do 15–20 reps. Do three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
Trainer Tip: “This is the perfect variation to work on pull-up skills and endurance on the bar,” says Lazoff. “Keep your back flat (don’t lean back), land softly on your feet, and keep your elbows tight to your body.”
Bodyweight Back Exercises #2 Flexed Arm Hang
Do it: Bring your chest to the bar with an overhand grip, legs suspended in the air (strict pull-up position). To get here, it’s OK to use assistance from a plyo box or resistance band. While keeping your lats and core tight, hold this position for as long as possible before dropping your chest below the bar. Aim for 30-second intervals. Do three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
Trainer tip: “Look straight ahead and pull your shoulders out of your ears,” says Lazoff. “Flex your armpits to activate your lats and keep squeezing the bar.”
Bodyweight Back Exercises #3: Single-Arm Fist Plank
Do it: Start in a forearm plank with both forearms creating a 90-degree angle with the bicep. Keeping your right forearm where it is and make a fist. While engaging your core and keeping your hips steady, bring your left arm around your back reaching for your right hip (you’ll be leaning on one arm). Hold this position for as long as possible. Aim for 30-second intervals. Do three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
Trainer tip: “Planks not only build core strength, they train posterior chain muscles when performed with maximum tension,” says Lazoff. “For this variation, squeeze your armpits to engage the back. Create an invisible line of tension and stability by pulling your fist toward the opposite big toe without moving. This will help keep your hips even.”
Bodyweight Back Exercises #4: Serratus Wall Sit
Do it: Sit with your back against a wall, knees over your ankles and in line with your hips. Place your hands above your head on the wall, palms facing the wall. Push your hands and back hard into the wall and tuck your pelvis. Hold for 45 seconds to activate your serratus anterior. Do three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
Trainer tip: “You can bring your hands up higher if your mobility doesn’t allow for a flat palm.”
Bodyweight Back Exercises #5: TRX Muscle-Up
Do it: Hold a pair of TRX straps and stand upright with your hands at hip height and your palms facing down on the strap handles. Lean back slightly, drop your hips toward the ground (it’s OK to touch it), and push hard into the handles while straightening your arms and legs. Slowly return to start for one rep. Do 15–20 reps. Do three sets, resting 30 seconds between each.
Trainer tip: “This push-pull motion builds strength in the back as well as the chest and arms,” says Lazoff. “Start with this variation before trying ring muscle-ups. Use force from your legs when coming up as an assist if you need to.”