18 Best Bodyweight Back Exercises to Build Your Back

A lot of people think that the only bodyweight exercise that effectively works the back is the pull-up. While pull-ups are a fantastic back builder, there are other moves that require little to no equipment that will give you total back development.

In this article, we’ll reveal the 18 best bodyweight back exercises to work your upper, mid, and lower back. The first 9 will use absolutely no equipment at all. Number ten is, of course, the pull-up. No self-respecting back workout would be complete without it.

6 Beginner Bodyweight Upper Back Exercises

Exercise #1: Elbow Raise

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Rhomboids
  • Secondary: Trapezius

Execution method:

  • Lie on the floor on your back with elbows bent and arms slightly lower than shoulder width apart.
  • Starting with your shoulders and upper back flat on the ground, bring your head and shoulders up so that you are resting on your elbows. You should accomplish this by driving your elbows into the floor. Keep your feet flat on the floor, but do not push through your feet.
  • Your focus on this move should be to engage the rhomboids and trapezius muscles. Hold the contracted top position for two seconds as you squeeze these muscles together.

Exercise #2: Scapular Push

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Trapezius
  • Secondary: Scapulas

Execution method:

  • Get into a push-up position, with hands slightly outside of shoulder width. Start in the top position of a push-up with your arms straight and your feet together.
  • Without bending your arms, squeeze your scapulas (shoulder blades) together then push them apart. Do this slowly, really feeling for the activation of the muscles of your upper back. Your scapulas should be the only part of your body that is moving, though it will lower your torso by a few inches each rep.
  • This is a very short, precise movement. Perfecting the control of the scapulas in this way will allow you to use a lot more control in other upper body exercises.

Exercise #3: Bodyweight Row

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Rhomboids

Execution method:

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart and back in a neutral spine position. Hold your arms up at shoulder level with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Do not allow your elbows to drop down.
  • Retract your shoulders and contract your scapulas. Now, very slowly straight your arms, making sure that they move in a straight line, rather than dropping down. Concentrate on feeling the extension of your upper back muscles as you straighten your arms. You should take a full four seconds to extend your arms.
  • Hold the extended position for a second. Now slowly draw your arms back to the start position. Feel the back muscles contracting as you inch your way back. It should take another four seconds to return to the start position.

Exercise #4: Body Drag

This exercise very accurately simulates the lat pull-down movement that is performed on a weight machine.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Rhomboids

Execution method:

  • Set yourself up in push-up position on a slick floor surface that will allow you to slide up and down (concrete, hardwood or linoleum will all work). Place your hands in an extended position in front of you with your palms spread out. Your legs should be extended with your feet together.
  • Keeping your entire body taut (tight core and neutral spine), propel your body forward without moving your hand position or bending your elbows. Come as far forward as you can to bring yourself forward beyond where your hands are located.
  • Now, reverse the motion to drag your body back as far as possible, again without moving the position of your arms or feet. To make the exercise more challenging, rise up on your toes to allow for an extra range of motion. Do not allow your knees or shins to touch the ground as you move back and forth.
  • The entire movement should be initiated by the back muscles. You should feel the lats stretching and contracting as you power your body back and forth.

Exercise #5: Downward Dog into Cobra

This is a yoga move that allows you to elevate and retract your scapulas, allowing you to effectively build the lats. It will also give you a very good ab workout.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Erector Spinae

Execution method:

  • Start in a normal push-up position, with feet together and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Now, lift your butt as high as you can in the air. Arch your back so that your body forms an inverted "V" position.
  • Bring your upper body down towards the floor in an arcing motion so that your head comes down to almost touch the ground. Continue through to bring your body up to a fully extended position.
  • Now, reverse the motion to arc back down to the floor and then through to the start position.

Exercise #6: The Stick Up

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Rhomboids

Execution method:

  • Stand with your back against a wall. Raise your hands overhead in the "stick up" position.
  • Now slowly bring your arms back down. As you come down, squeeze your shoulder blades together. It should take you a full four seconds to bring your arms down.
  • Hold the bottom position for a second and then raise your arms back up, again taking four seconds to complete this action.
  • Make sure that your entire back stays in contact with the wall during this movement. Feel for the engagement of your lats as you raise and lower your arms.

3 Beginner Bodyweight Lower Back Exercises

Exercise #7: Superman

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Erector Spinae
  • Secondary: Upper Abdominals

Execution method:

  • Lie on the floor on your stomach with your arms at your sides, with thumbs towards the floor and fingers flexed. Your legs should be straight with your feet together.
  • Simultaneously lift your shoulders and legs from the floor in an arcing movement. Your core and hips remain on the floor. As you come up, rotate your shoulders back so that your hand position rotates. In the top position, your thumbs should be facing in toward your sides.
  • Concentrate on squeezing the lats and rhomboids in the top position. You should also contract your glutes as you bring up your lower body. Hold the top position for two seconds.

Exercise #8: Reverse Snow Angel

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Erector Spinae
  • Secondary: Upper Abdominals

Execution method:

  • Lie on the floor with your feet together and arms out in front of you. Extend your fingers to simulate a superman flying pose. Your arms should be a few inches off the ground.
  • Lift your chest and head up. Your nose should be just off the floor. With legs remaining straight, bring your feet off the ground.
  • Bring your straight arms down to your sides to touch them to your torso. Now, bring them back to the start position. Perform your repetitions slowly as you feel the lower back and glutes engaging.

Exercise #9: Reverse Back Extension

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Erector Spinae
  • Secondary: Hamstrings

Execution method:

  • Lie on a bench so that your hips are positioned at the end of the bench with your legs hanging off it. Grab a hold of the top of the bench for support.
  • With your legs extended out straight and your feet together, pivot your lower body up and down through as full a range of motion as possible. Do not bend your knees.
  • Focus on feeling the engagement in the erector spinae muscles of your lower back.

5 Intermediate Bodyweight Back Exercises

Pull-ups have long been rated as the number one back development exercise. The truth is that they are actually the best overall developer of your upper body in general. Pull-ups directly work all of the muscles of your back, as well as your biceps, deltoids, forearms, and abdominals.

In terms of the back itself, the pull-up will directly stimulate the latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats. This is the muscle group that is largely responsible for the "V" taper that is the trademark of a well developed upper body.

Exercise #10: The Pull-Up

Correct Technique for Pull Up

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Reach, or jump up, to grab a pull-up bar slightly wider than shoulder width with an overhand grip.
  • Pull through the lats to lift your body directly up until your chin reaches the level of the bar. Hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower to the start position. Pause and repeat.

4 Exercises to a Perfect Pull-Up

Pull-ups are an exercise that you are probably going to have to work at before you can do a full rep unassisted. That’s fine. It’s simply the principle of progressive resistance in action.

Working up to a full pull-up doesn’t mean sticking to lat pull-downs in the gym. No, you are going to get up on that bar and practice on the real thing. Not only will doing so program the mechanics of the movement into your brain, it will also help you to conquer the fear of pull-ups which is rarely mentioned but very real.

Exercise #11: Pull-Up Hold

Team CrossFit - Pull up hold

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Position a chair or bench in front of your pull-up bar. Stand on the chair to help you reach the top position of the movement. Now reach up to grab a hold of the bar. Use an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Standing on the chair, your head should be a few inches below the level of the bar. Cross your legs and support yourself from the bar, pulling up the extra inches to get your chin over it.
  • Without swinging, hold this top pull-up position for as long as you can. At the start, you will only be able to maintain the position for a couple of seconds. After a week or two, however, you should be up to between 20-30 seconds.

Exercise #12: Inverted Row

Inverted Row with Two Chairs

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Place a bar or similar item such as a sturdy broomstick between two uprights, about three feet from the ground. Lie underneath the bar and reach up to take hold of it with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Contract your scapulas as you pull your upper body towards the bar. Make sure that you maintain a neutral spine and that your legs are not kipping your body up. The focus of the pull should be through mid back region.
  • Hold the top position for a second and then slowly return to the start position.

Exercise #13: Negative Pull-Up

How To Do a Negative Pull-Up | Exercise Guide

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Position a chair or bench in front of your pull-up bar. Stand on the chair to help you reach the top position of the movement. Now reach up to grab a hold of the bar. Use an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Standing on the chair, your head should be a few inches below the level of the bar. Cross your legs and support yourself from the bar, pulling up the extra inches to get your chin over it.
  • Very slowly, lower your body down to the pull-up start position. You need to fight gravity with the goal of taking a full ten seconds to lower yourself completely.
  • Climb back upon the chair for your next rep.

Exercise #14: Assisted Pull-Up

Building Your Body for Sports : How to Hang Resistance Bands for Assisted Pull-Ups

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Loop a resistance band around the center of the pull-up bar so that it hangs down by your knees or feet. Reach up to grab hold of the bar with a shoulder width overhanded grip. At the same time place one knee or foot in the resistance band loop.
  • Pull through the lats to lift your body directly up until your chin reaches the level of the bar. Hold for a second. Slowly lower to the start position. Pause and repeat.
  • The band will give you the extra push that you need at the start of the movement.

Do the above four movements twice per week, with at least two days rest between them. Do one set of 8 reps for Exercises #12, #13, and #14. Work up to a single 30-second hold on Exercise #11. For the first session of every week, start by attempting a full, unassisted pull-up. By week 6, you will have nailed it.

4 Advanced Bodyweight Back Exercises

Exercise #15: Tuck Front Lever

Tuck Front Lever Tutorial

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Stand under a pull-up bar and take a shoulder width overhand grip on the bar.
  • Hang down from the bar with contracted lats. Keep your arms straight.
  • Contract the abdominal wall to bring your knees up to your chest.
  • As your legs come up, pull from the lats to bring your upper body back to a parallel position to the floor. Keep your knees drawn in as you focus on the ceiling.
  • Work up to holding this position for 30 seconds.

Exercise #16: Muscle Up

Learn How To ►Muscle Up◄ in just 5 MINUTES!

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Stand about a foot back from a pull-up bar so that the arms are at a 45-degree angle to the bar.
  • Jump up to grab the bar with a wide grip. Use momentum to drive yourself up so that your chest is at the level of the bar.
  • Keep driving up so that your arms are locked out above the chin up bar.
  • Lower to the start position and repeat.

Exercise #17: Front Lever

Front Lever Training Tutorial Written (Short)

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Stand under a pull-up bar and take a shoulder width overhand grip on the bar.
  • Hang down from the bar with contracted lats. Keep your arms straight.
  • Start tilting your body with straight arms and feet so that your torso and legs come up to a position horizontal to the floor.
  • With limbs straight (no bend in elbows and knees), maintain this position for as long as possible. Keep tension in your lats and chest throughout the movement.

Exercise #18: One Arm Pull-Up

How to do a One Arm Pull-up Tutorial

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Secondary: Biceps

Execution method:

  • Reach, or jump up to grab a pull-up bar with one arm directly above your head. Allow your other arms to hang at your side.
  • Cross your legs at the ankles and bend your knees. Now pull through the lat to lift your body to the level of the bar.
  • Attempt to touch your chin to the bar and then lower to the start position.

Conclusion

Bodyweight training of the back requires that you pay special attention to protracting, retracting, and isolating the various muscles that make up that part of your body. Some of the movements are subtle, requiring concentration, good form, and focus. But, once you’ve mastered your technique, you’ll soon realize that you don’t have to throw huge weights around in order to build a great back – just stick with these best bodyweight back exercises and you’ll have a rear to remember.

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