I’ve been to a plethora of gyms. Many of which have a wide variety of areas for weightlifting, CrossFit, and cardio training – but one thing that always stands out to me is the bodyweight training section (1, 2, 3, 4).
In most cases, bodyweight training does not require very much equipment – in fact, most of the time, you can do it from home.
The biggest challenge with any athlete or person trying to meet their fitness goals is understanding how to train correctly within their specific training regime.
Sometimes it is not as simple as saying you want to lose weight and build muscle – there is a lot of process and structure that goes into your training.
Those who, like me, have been to many gyms will know that bodyweight training is the style that is easiest to complete with minimal equipment.
The biggest challenge is not to get into the workout but to hit the specific muscles you want to train.
This is why we have composed a list of the best bodyweight back exercises to help anyone hit their fitness goals without fault.
Before we get into our list of the top bodyweight back exercises for bodybuilding, we are going to break down how to train correctly, which muscles to target, and how you can make the most of your fitness through bodyweight training.
What Is Bodyweight Training?
The first and most important question we need to address is rather simple.
Bodyweight training is a style of training that only uses movements and workouts with your own body as resistance.
Traditional bodybuilding will use dumbbells or barbells to allow for more weight to be placed on the muscle – to stimulate change and strength.
In bodyweight training, you usually do not use any weight aside from your bodyweight.
This means you are not only completing more simplistic (in the beginning) exercises, but you are also using a very minimal set of equipment – which is perfect for anyone training at a gym or at home.
Bodyweight training is one of the most beautiful styles of training but does pose the challenge of building muscles in a specific area – i.e., isolating particular muscles.
A quick anatomy refresher will help us to decide how we should be training the back and which exercises to use for targeting specific areas of the back.
Brief Anatomy Refresher
Let’s break down some of the best ways to target the muscles in your back – through an understanding of basic anatomy.
Movements and Muscles
Many of the muscles on your back work through posture. This means that they work in extension of the spine and retraction of the scapula – fancy ways of saying that they help you stand upright and tall.
Understanding which exercises work best for bodyweight means learning which muscles you should focus on.
The “lats” – as they are commonly known, are one of the biggest muscles in the body.
They serve to extend the arm, retract the scapula, and have a lot of power when it comes to posture.
Targeting the lats through bodyweight exercises can be difficult but will usually require a rowing motion like bodyweight rows or pull-ups.
In both of these exercises, you will be retracting the scapula and extending the arm – which will help to build strong and sexy lats.
Perhaps one of the most forgotten exercises in the back system.
Most people will go for the low back, but the posterior deltoids are one of the most important muscles to help build long-term strength without injury.
The posterior deltoids help in external rotation – as you would see in an exercise like the face pull.
Hitting these muscles through bodyweight training is difficult but not impossible. Your best shot is to grab yourself a suspension trainer or gymnastics rings.
In this way, you will be able to work in external rotation with your own body as resistance.
One of the standout muscles on any bodybuilder or athlete.
These muscles are in the middle of your back and work almost exclusively on scapula retraction and depression.
Training the rhomboids means you need to pull your arms back for a back fly (the opposite of a chest fly).
Having strong rhomboids will not only help you to avoid injury, but it will also drastically improve your strength in many other exercises.
A low back muscle is primarily responsible for the extension at the hip.
Postural and strong, the erector system does precisely that – erects your torso to help you stand tall.
Drinking birds or any other exercise that works primarily in extension will help to develop these muscles for a leaner and stronger look.
Bodyweight Back Exercises for Bodybuilding
Now that you have a basis of understanding for the primary muscles we want to target in bodyweight back exercises, let’s start to break down how you are going to train and which exercises you should use.
Building The Upper Back vs. Lower Back
This is by far the biggest challenge that most people face.
The back is notoriously difficult to train because of the depth of muscles and the amount of area they cover your body.
It isn’t as simple as saying do a bunch of pull-ups – this will only get you so far and will likely lead to injury anyways.
Targeting different muscles in the body will require you to complete a wide variety of exercises.
Building the Upper Back
When we train the upper back, we want to develop the muscles around the posterior shoulder and surrounding shoulder blades.
This means we are trying to hit muscles involved in scapular retraction, depression, and external rotation.
I can appreciate that this may sound complex, but it is quite simple.
Bodyweight back exercises for the upper back are as simple as doing exercises where you are rowing your body (bringing it closer to the bar) or extending your arms overhead (while lying down).
Below we delve into the best bodyweight exercises, so continue reading to find which exercises would be best to build the upper back.
Building the Lower Back
The low back is rather simple to train – much more straightforward than the upper back. This is mainly due to the amount of movement that occurs in this area.
While the upper back has movements that include the arms, the low back only has flexion/extension at the hip, some rotational movement, and some movement from the legs.
The most significant benefit of training the lower back is the amount of strength you have in this area.
Since the muscles are much larger, they will be able to deal with much more stress – far more than the upper back.
This means you can use tempo schemes, isometrics, and many other tools to help grow stronger without worrying about complex movements – like those required for the upper back.
Importance of Training Both for Strength and Posture
I can appreciate that a lot of people start working out to look better – this is an obvious benefit, but I must mention the importance of training both the upper and lower back and its relevance to strength and posture.
Just like any other muscular system, there is a certain amount of balance that needs to be kept. You should never just do pull-ups just as you should never just squat.
The body requires balance.
Training for strength, physique, and posture requires that you have a complete set of bodyweight back exercises that develop and condition the body.
To ensure you have complete strength and physique, we have put a set of exercises that are best for any style of training, equipment, or physique.
Bodyweight Exercises for The Back
Back training is all about versatility and consistency.
Finding the right exercises for your body and completing these exercises with perfect form and consistent practice.
No matter the equipment, we have a set of the best exercises below.
By far, the easiest way to hit the back.
Yes, we know these are not entirely bodyweight exercises, but it is always effective to use the tools necessary to develop strength and posture.
1. Dumbbell Renegade Row
In a plank position, you will set your hands on the dumbells and row each dumbbell in – alternating each arm until you have completed your set.
We suggest using a weight that makes 12 reps (on each arm, 24 total) difficult but not impossible to accomplish.
2. Dumbbell Back Fly
Assume slight hip flexion – just enough to let the dumbbells fall to your hips.
Contract your back muscles and pull your shoulder blades together to bring the dumbbell from your hips to a parallel level with your ears.
These exercises should be completed with a lighter weight – something you can complete 12-15 without very much difficulty.
Exercises Without Pull Up Bar
Although a pull-up bar is one of the best tools for developing a stronger back, some people do not have access to one or are not interested in training on one.
Here are the best back exercises you can do without the need for a pull-up bar.
Hands down one of the best and most underrated back exercises. Lying flat on the ground, you will work to alternate the opposite leg/hand into extension.
In other words, you are lying on your stomach and reaching your arm and leg (opposite at the same time) into the air above you while maintaining a straight line.
This exercise is excellent for developing postural strength.
Although not commonly used as a back exercise, a plank can be one of the most effective ways to build a strong core and low back. The positioning of a plank is the most critical part.
A strong plank will help to build a foundation of strength which you can work from into the coming months of training.
Exercises for TRX or Rings
Suspension trainers are the best way to target some of the big muscles in your back – whether that be at the gym or home. They allow for seamless integration into your routine, are low cost, and can be adapted to virtually any skill level.
1. Ring Pull-up
The king of all back exercises.
Rings or any suspension trainer will make bodyweight back exercises more challenging to complete – purely because they are relatively unstable throughout the training. Check out the video below for a perfect example of ring pull-ups.
Learn more about the Ring Pull-up in the video below.
2. Ring Skin the Cat
One of my personal favorite exercises. Skinning the cat may look challenging to complete, but it is mostly an exercise where you need confidence in your body more than strength.
This exercise will help to train the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade and can even help with postural muscles in the low back.
Keep in mind: Those who are new to this exercise should undoubtedly keep their training volume low. There is no need to complete this exercise in high repetitions.
At-Home Bodyweight Back Exercises
Exercising at home can be one of the most time-efficient ways to get through your workout regime.
The biggest challenge is to use the environment to your advantage.
Let’s take a look at the best bodyweight back exercises you can complete in your own home.
1. Seated Good Mornings
Traditionally completed with a barbell, seated good mornings are an excellent exercise for targeting the low back and glutes with any resistance.
Just sit down, grab some weight (a bag of rice will do), place it on your upper back, and with strong posture, hinge at the hip – lowering your torso to your thigh and return to the start position.
Check out the video link below for a perfect example of good textbook mornings.
2. Glute Bridge
The bridge is by far the best exercise for targeting the muscles of the low back and glutes.
To complete this exercise correctly, you should lie down on your back and raise your hips to a neutral level with your torso.
This is an exercise where isometrics will help a great deal in developing strength.
Feel free to complete a rep, hold at the top for 3-5 seconds, and complete the second rep – this will only make you stronger and help build muscle faster.
Bodyweight Back Workout
I can appreciate that a list of exercises, no matter how profound it may be, is not an actual workout.
For all those out there that want to test their body, grow stronger, and boost their metabolism, we have created a unique back workout.
This workout is built to help strengthen both the upper and lower back. You will be completing a series of exercises in reps and sets.
The goal here is not to destroy your body with one set of reps to failure – instead, we want to build a foundation of strength on which to train for our long-term goals.
Check out the bodyweight back workout below. The entire workout can be completed at home with minimal equipment.
|BODYWEIGHT BACK WORKOUT||REPS||SETS||RBS|
|Dumbbell Renegade Row||12||3||2m|
|Seated Good Mornings (use about 20 lbs of resistance)||8||4||2m|
|Glute Bridge (5s hold at the top of each rep)||12||3||2m|
*RBS: Rest Between Sets – this is the amount of time you will be resting between each set. When you complete your designated reps, you will move into your RBS.
When that time expires (either in minutes or seconds), you will move into the next set to complete the exercise.
NOTE: this is a traditional rep/set scheme used for bodybuilding in bodyweight training. This is not designed to be high-intensity or metabolic boosting like HIIT workouts.
If you prefer to train with HIIT methods, you can decrease the reps, increase the sets, and reduce the time resting to 10-20s between each set.
Your HIIT workout would then look something like this…
|BODYWEIGHT BACK WORKOUT (HIIT)||REPS||SETS||RBS|
|Dumbbell Renegade Row||6||4||20 sec|
|Seated Good Mornings (use about 20 lbs of resistance)||4||6||20 sec|
|Glute Bridge (5s hold at the top of each rep)||6||4||20 sec|
Bottom Line: Bodyweight Back Training
Bodyweight training is one of the most beautiful styles of training.
It can be completed anywhere, anytime, and with a very minimal amount of equipment.
Targeting the back does pose some unique challenges, but with time and consistent dedication, you can achieve a strong and sexy back like you have always dreamt of.
Do you have questions about how this program works?
Maybe you want to ask the author about an exercise, or you are looking for some extra guidance.
Feel free to comment below with any question or concern you might have – we’d be happy to help you crush your goals.
CSEP-CPT, Expert in Exercise Physiology.
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based yet practical approach to exercise physiology, nutrition, and strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello's articles have been published globally, in several languages, on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who seek strength, mobility, and conditioning. Through individualized and progressive programming he can optimize your fitness through his Earned Fitness program.