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7 Bodyweight Back Exercises to Build Strength, Reduce Injury

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 7 Bodyweight Back Exercises to Build Strength, Reduce Injury

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Clients can’t always make it to the gym for a good back workout. Their schedule is too packed that week or they’re traveling for business (or pleasure). Maybe the gym is closed. Fortunately, there are a few bodyweight back exercises they can do anywhere to increase strength. Why is this so important?

Benefits of a Stronger Back

The World Health Organization reports that 60-70 percent of people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. One benefit of building strong back muscles is that it reduces your risk of developing pain in this area of your body. 

For example, a 2016 study involved 36 individuals with chronic back pain. Participants engaged in strength training exercise twice a week for 12 weeks had lower pain levels than those in the control group. When they combined these exercises with walking, their pain reduced even more.

Stronger back muscles also support a healthy posture. When your spine is straight while sitting or standing, your central nervous system can communicate effectively. Your spinal discs and vertebrae don’t impinge on the nerves flowing through them. This enables your brain to send and receive messages with your organs and other systems.

Research also reveals that strength training offers benefits for individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This type of exercise helps lead to healthier A1C levels. A1C refers to the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood. This indicates where you have diabetes or prediabetes.

Finally, having strong back muscles makes it easier to do everyday activities. This includes lifting grocery bags, picking up your children or grandchildren, and doing lawn work. 

Bodyweight Training Builds Strength While Offering Convenience

Oftentimes, people believe that the only way to build muscle is to use weights or other exercise equipment. Examples of this include using a chin bar to do pullups, dumbbells to do rows, or a machine to do lat pulldowns. However, you can also improve back strength with bodyweight exercise. 

Bodyweight exercises use your own body weight for resistance. No weights or machines are required. This enables you to engage in an effective back workout at home, in a hotel room, or even outside in a park. 

7 Most Effective Bodyweight Back Exercises 

When developing a bodyweight workout aimed toward the back, it’s important to hit every muscle group. This includes exercises geared toward the upper back as well as the lower back. 

It’s also important to keep the core muscles engaged while performing a bodyweight exercise. This helps support the back throughout the movement.

Which exercises are best for a complete and effective back workout? Here are seven to consider.

#1: Reverse Plank

A typical plank position involves lying on your front, then raising your body and balancing on your forearms or hands and your toes, holding this position for an extended period. This strengthens the muscles in your core, as well as your back. 

A reverse plank involves being in the same basic position except you are facing the ceiling versus the floor. This requires even more effort on your upper back to keep your body upright.

To do a reverse plank, begin in a sitting position. Your hands should be next to your butt (your glute muscles) with fingers pointing out to the side or toward the wall behind you. Lift your butt until your body is straight and hold.

As a beginner exercise, aim to hold this position for 10 seconds. For clients with higher levels of strength, 30-second holds provide more benefit.

#2: Side Plank

This bodyweight back exercise is another plank variation that works the entire upper body. This includes muscle in the back as well as the arms, shoulder, and core.

To do a side plank, lie on your right side with your legs extended. Place your right arm below your shoulder. Lift your hips off the ground and form a straight line with your body.

Hold this position while breathing in and out. Start with 10-second holds and work your way up to 30 seconds are longer. Do the same exercise on the left side.

#3: Superman

No top-notch back workout would be complete without the Superman. That said, this move does require a bit of muscle to perform correctly. So, it may be more suited for clients with a higher level of back strength versus beginners.

The Superman position is like what the superhero looks like while flying. While lying on your stomach, your arms are extended in front of you and your head is lifted so you are looking at the wall. Your right and left leg are also extended with your feet a few inches (or up to a foot) off the floor. 

This bodyweight movement will test your muscular endurance both in the back and your core. It also helps strengthen the glute muscles.

Like with the planks, hold this position for 10-30 seconds to work your upper and lower back.

#4: Bodyweight Row

Many gyms offer access to a row machine. Yet, you can also do this same movement with nothing more than your bodyweight and a fitness bar at the park or by grasping a sturdy fixture in your home. A pole in your basement or even a door frame would work for this purpose.

To do a bodyweight row, grasp the bar, pole, or some other non-moving fixture so your arms are at shoulder height. Position yourself so your upper body is leaning back. Pull yourself forward so you’re closer to the area you’re holding. You should feel the muscle working in your upper back.

Another option is to stand up and lean forward at the hips. Practice a rowing movement as if you’re lifting dumbbells. As you lift, squeeze each shoulder blade and try to bring them together.

#5: Pushup

Adding a pushup to your bodyweight workout routine builds muscle in the upper body. It also helps strengthen the lower body as you strive to keep proper form.

Performing a pushup correctly involves placing your hands at shoulder width and arms at a 45-degree angle. Tighten your abs as you push off the floor. When your elbows are fully extended, your shoulders, hips, and ankles should form a straight line.

#6: Glute Bridge

Though this move is generally used to strengthen your butt, the glute bridge is also effective at building the muscles in your lower back.

To do it, lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your butt toward the ceiling or sky while contracting your core. Hold in the top position before lowering back to the floor.

You can make this bodyweight exercise even harder by elevating your feet so they rest on a bench or chair instead of the floor. If this bothers your neck, stick to placing your feet on the floor.

#7: Crab Walk

The crab walk helps build the muscle in your upper body but is also good for building your leg muscles too. Because it requires more movement than some of the other bodyweight exercises, it may be difficult for beginners. 

Begin in a sitting position and lean back and place your hands on the floor so they rest below your shoulders. Lift your butt and start walking your feet forward, moving your arms so they continue to support your upper body.

If you have limited space, go forward a few steps and then go backward a few steps. In more open areas, you can do the crab walk even further. Try to cover more distance in each workout session.

How to Build Back Strength Even More

For clients who want even better results from their back workout, suggest that they try harder variations. 

For instance, instead of doing a regular pushup, do a wide grip pushup. This bodyweight movement involves placing your hands on the floor so they are greater than shoulder width apart. This is a great exercise for your upper back. It also works your chest, shoulder, and upper arms.

Another option is to use a plyo box or bench to do the pushup. Play around with a few different positions to see what feels best for your clients.

They can also perform these and additional movements with a resistance band or dumbbell to add more stress on the muscle without requiring a lot of expensive or bulky equipment.

Take your passion for fitness to the next level. For your own knowledge or to train others, get certified with the ISSA’s Personal Trainer course. With the Fast Track course, you can complete your course in as little as 4 weeks. Start your training today!

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