We talk a lot about working out the core, arms, and legs. It’s easy to leave the back behind—but we definitely shouldn’t! A strong back is vital for many of the exercises we do. Plus, it also helps us carry out everyday tasks like lifting groceries and climbing stairs. Without back strength, we’re prone to bad posture, and our workout form can be compromised, which can lead to injuries. Plus, back exercises can help alleviate localized pain.
While lifting weights are great for targeting specific muscles, you can work out your back with little to no equipment. Here, Aaptiv Trainer Ackeem Emmons walks us through five of the best bodyweight exercises for your back.
Supermans are straightforward and can be done anywhere. They’re great for your back because they improve posture and build lower back strength, Emmons says.
In order to do the move, start by laying on the floor, flat on your stomach. Next, extend your arms straight forward and your legs straight back. “Exhale as you lift your chest, arms, and legs off the ground, leaving your lower abs to support you, and strengthen your lower back,” Emmons instructs. “Inhale while coming back down to your original position, lift your legs, arms, and repeat.”
Emmons suggests holding each rep for two to five seconds.
While pull-ups are killer for your arms, they’re also great for your upper back and core—which are key for better workouts. A strong core also helps support your spine, making pull-ups a multifaceted exercise that should be incorporated into your regular routine.
Grip plays a major role in pull-ups, Emmons says, as the wider your grip, the harder the exercise. To begin a pull-up, Emmons says to fully extend your arms shoulder-width apart. Have your body in a hollow position, and place your feet together.
“Primarily using your lats, then your biceps and core, pull your chest up to the bar,” he instructs. “As you get closer to the bar, make sure to pull your elbows down. Return to the original position or dead hang to ensure full range of motion.”
Inverted rows are a great compliment to pull-ups. You’re essentially performing the same motion while suspended under a bar or other apparatus to lift yourself. They work a ton of muscles, including the traps, deltoids, triceps, pectorals, and rhomboids of the back. Inverted rows can be done in different ways, including with no gym equipment. Emmons suggests holding a bar or using straps attached to a higher surface. You can also use your gym’s rowing machine.
To perform, start on your back with your legs extended straight out. If you’re using a bar or straps (attached to a higher structure)9, make sure that your arms are fully extended and that your chest is underneath. “Maintaining an inverted plank, pull your upper body toward the bar, or straps, engaging the lats, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and core,” Emmons says. Hold at the top for a second and release. That’s one rep. This one will burn, we promise.
Reverse Snow Angels
Even if it’s not winter outside—yet—pretending that you’re playing in the snow is a great way to work your back. Reverse snow angels really benefit your posture and help improve your range of motion, Emmons says.
To do the exercise, Emmons says you should lay flat and face down, with your legs extended and feet together. Then, lift your torso and head off the ground.
“Arms are extended in front, [and] with your palms facing down, pull elbows down towards to your obliques, or lower back, and repeat,” he instructs. “With every rep, you should feel retraction and protraction in the scapula.”
Bridges are commonly done in yoga—and for good reason. The move opens up your chest and shoulders and helps work your glutes, lower back, and core. Bridge pose also stretches your spine and improves flexibility.
To get started, Emmons says that you should find a soft surface like a mat and lay flat on your back. Then, extend your legs in front of you. “Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle, drive elbows into the ground, keep arms pinned to your sides, and elevate your body,” Emmons instructs. “Only your elbows and heels make contact to the ground.”
Emmons says that you should try to hold the pose for two to five seconds, then repeat. Aim for three sets of ten reps, with 30-60 seconds rest in between.
Bodyweight exercises are an effective and convenient way to work your entire body. Incorporate these mostly equipment-free back exercises into your weekly routine to improve posture, core strength, and build muscle in your upper and lower back regions.