Calisthenics Back Exercises

The 8 Best Calisthenics Back Exercises

The great thing about calisthenics is that it can be achieved with minimal equipment. However, it can also be just as effective, if not more effective, than any weight room workout that one can do.

In addition, many calisthenics exercises target a number of muscle groups at once, though it does have its primary movers. In other words, while a calisthenics back exercise primarily targets the back, in many cases, it also targets the chest, triceps, biceps, and core, just to give you an example.

In this article, the exercises that will be shared will only require a few pieces of equipment. Although sometimes it holds true that “the more equipment, the better,” if you have access to the list below, your workout will still be smooth and effective.

With that said, the equipment needed for the movements discussed in this article is as follows:

  1. A Pull-Up Bar (The sturdier, the better)
  2. Resistance Bands
  3. Suspension Trainer (TRX or Rings would be the premium option)
  4. Weight of any kind for added difficulty (This is optional, of course)

And that’s it. It’s that simple!

However, as you probably know by now, simple doesn’t always mean easy, so don’t get confused.

Calisthenics Back Exercises

In this section, we’ll be diving deep into the best calisthenics back exercises that you can do! While some of them aren’t totally complex, they’re not easy by any means!

While the primary objective of exercise for most is to reach muscle hypertrophy and improve the physique, these exercises below accomplish that and more.

The advantage that calisthenics has over any other exercise methodology is that it simultaneously improves mobility, flexibility, and body control, all the while improving strength, physique, and muscle hypertrophy too!

So, without further ado, below are the eight best calisthenics back exercises:

Inverted Rows

When it comes to the entirety of the back musculature, what is often portrayed as the #1 movement to grow it?

You got it! The Pull-Up.

Well, what about those that don’t yet have the ability to perform a proper pull-up? In comes the inverted row!

An inverted row can be performed in a multitude of ways; with a propped-up barbell, rings, or with portable L-sit/dip bars. Think of it being the exact mirror opposite of a pushup…

Here’s how we execute the perfect inverted row:

  • Set the contraption you’ve opted to use around waist height (the higher the bar, the easier the movement, the lower the bar is, the harder)
  • Position yourself directly under the contraption, face up, of course.
  • Grabbing the contraption with an overhand grip, you pull yourself up until the chest reaches the bar/rings.
  • Lower back to the starting position, and repeat.

The benefits of inverted rows are vast. Not only do they provide accessibility for those that can’t yet perform pull-ups, but they also eliminate any stress on the back, strengthens and engages the core, improves balance, and also has great carry over to calisthenic movements like the high pull-up, muscle up, and more.

Lever Raises

Lever raises are an extremely complex calisthenics movement. You can think of it as a progressive inverted row. You can also think of it as a levitated inverted row!

So what is it, exactly? The lever raise, or front lever raise begins in a fully horizontal dead hang from the pull-up bar. To achieve this, we pull up to a pike position. As you can imagine, this engages the core to an extreme amount, a very impressive feat.

Here’s how we execute the perfect lever raise:

  • Hang from the bar.
  • Pull with straight arms, and engage into a front lever position until you reach a full pike position.
  • Without swinging, begin the descent. Repeat.

To make this exercise even more difficult than it already is, you can also incorporate movements like the single leg front lever, the lever tuck, and the front lever negatives.

Muscle Up

Everyone’s favorite calisthenics/gymnastics movement; the infamous gym party trick; the muscle up.

While this is usually categorized as a back exercise, it engages the entire musculature of the upper body, from the hips and core, to the triceps, chest, and biceps.

In short, a muscle up is a movement that begins in a pull-up and finishes with the performer resting over and above the bar from the hips, up. In other words, it incorporates a pull-up, a partial front lever with a kip, and a dip, all-in-one. I know, it’s quite the movement…

Here’s how we execute the perfect muscle up:

  • Begin in an active hang position on the bar
  • Engage the core by kipping through a “hollow body” position
  • Pull up to a “chest-to-bar” position
  • With an aggressive hip thrust, pull your chest OVER the bar
  • Pressing your hands down on top of the bar, press/dip the body upwards

This is such a complex movement that it’s much more efficient to explain in a real-world situation than it is to explain step-by-step on paper. Application is where you’ll get the most learning out of it. Nonetheless, an extremely impressive and effective calisthenics movement.

The Pull-Up

As you can probably already tell, every variation that has been described above thus far has been a spin-off of sorts from the pull-up. The pull-up is, indeed, the holy grail of back exercises, and for good reason.

In addition, there are so many variations of the pull-up. Ways to improve on a standard pull-up, tricks to make it more complicated, and applications to make it more accessible.

However, in this section, we’ll simply be focusing on the standard.

Here’s how we execute the perfect pull-up:

  • Grab the bar and begin in a dead hang, palms facing away from you.
  • Shoulder width apart is the preference.
  • Engaging the core, and retracting the shoulders back, engage by pulling your body/chest to the bar.
  • The movement is complete once your chin is above the bar.
  • Controlled, lower your body back down to starting position.
  • Repeat.

Again, if you can’t yet reach a perfect pull-up, begin with resistance band assistance, inverted rows, and general back-strengthening exercises to prepare you for your first official pull-up!

On the other hand, if you can already bang out pull-ups in your sleep, it’s encouraged to take it to the next level with muscle ups and lever raises, among other calisthenic exercises.

Superman Pose

Superman’s and Cobra’s are often overlooked exercises because of their simplicity and relation to yoga. In short, those that don’t truly appreciate these movements simply don’t have their facts straight.

The Superman Pose is an extremely effective, whole-body movement that benefits the entire musculature of the body, stabilizes posture, strengthens your core and overall posterior chain, and requires no equipment.

Here’s how we execute the perfect Superman:

  • Lay on the floor in a pronated position, face down, and legs/arms fully extended.
  • Engaging your back, glutes, and core, begin to lift your arms and legs up off of the floor. All else kept neutral (easier said than done).
  • And hold. After a prescribed amount of time, slowly release and repeat.

In addition to the standard superman, there are variations of this pose that can doubly benefit your calisthenics skills. Consider looking into “the W,” Alternating Superman, and a Medicine Ball Superman if you’re looking for that extra difficulty.

Cobra Pose

Calisthenics requires extreme flexibility and, moreover, mobility. With that said, not all movements that you include in your calisthenics regimen need to be, or should be, for that matter, a strengthening/muscle-building movement.

That’s where poses like Superman and Cobra come into play.

Here’s how to execute the perfect Cobra:
Lay on the floor, face down.

  • According to your mobility, walk your hands up onto your forearms.
  • Stretch your legs all the way back, pressing the tops of your feet onto the floor/mat.
  • While pressing your tailbone down to lengthen the lower back, press down and lift your chest up.

This is another movement that’s better explained in practice; however, the end result should be an arch of sorts to strengthen you’re entire back musculature and lengthen the muscle fibers of the body.

Chin Up

If pull-ups are on this list, you know that chin-ups need to be, as well!


While they’re similar to one another, they do differ in a few ways, primarily in the setup and target areas of the back.

In short, Chin-ups use an underhand grip, while pull-ups do the opposite; a pronated grip. This, for obvious reasons, targets different areas of the back and improves different skills and aspects of calisthenics movements.

Here’s how to execute the perfect Chin Up:

Grab the bar and begin in a dead hang, palms facing inward towards you.

  • Shoulder width apart or a little closer is the preference.
  • Engaging the core, and retracting the shoulders back, engage by pulling your body/chest to the bar.
  • The movement is complete once your chin is above the bar.
  • Controlled, lower your body back down to starting position.
  • Repeat.

If you can’t perform any variation of pull-up just yet, begin with inverted rows, or use a heavy resistance band for assistance.

Wide Grip Push-Ups with Lift Off

I bet you’re wondering why a push-up is included in the calisthenics back workout article.

Well, like most of these movements, the pushup hits a number of muscles; however, depending on the stance of your hands, you can actually primarily target the back!

Here’s how to execute the perfect wide-grip push-up:

  • Begin in a high plank position with arms straight, and set your hands wide.
  • Bending the elbows, lower you’re body in a controlled manner, elbows tucked.
  • Pause as your chest touches, or nearly touches, the floor.
  • Pause, and explode up, engaging the core.
  • Repeat.

Push-ups should be a staple in anyone's regimen, whether you do calisthenics or not. Nonetheless, if you want to target the back, just put your hand grip wide!

Summary

Calisthenics is largely a full-body workout; however, there are exercises that can be targeted to hit certain primary muscle groups.

While knowing these exercises are helpful, be sure to broaden your program, incorporate as many movements as you can, and develop your skill in a wide range of calisthenic areas. You’ll be thankful that you did.

And lastly, remember to always scale a movement to your ability and skill level. Being a beginner in calisthenics does not mean you can’t get an effective workout!

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