No one will deny that the lat pulldown machine is a great way to strengthen your back muscles. But when the gym is closed or this coveted machine is occupied, you may find yourself at a loss for back-building exercises.
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Training the back muscles without equipment requires some creativity and research, but instead of watching endless YouTube tutorials, Lee Hanses, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in Seattle, recommends you give these six body-weight back exercises a try.
- Lie on your stomach, all four limbs extended — arms reaching overhead and legs out straight.
- Keeping your hip bones and stomach glued to the ground, lift all four limbs into the air. As you lift, avoid shrugging your shoulders.
- Hold here for a moment, then lower back to the ground with control.
"When done properly, this move will strengthen your spinal erectors, traps and glutes," Hanses says. To make this move more difficult, you can hold light weights in your hands or even light household items, like bottles of water or canned foods, she says.
2. Back Widows
- Lie on your back with your arms at about a 60-degree angle from your core.
- Drive your elbows into the ground to lift your head and upper back off the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage rhomboids and traps.
- Pause here for a moment, then slowly relax and lower back to the ground.
To make this exercise more challenging, perform the move for time like a plank, Hanses says. Hold the contraction at the top for a specific amount of time (like 30 seconds), gradually increasing your time as you grow stronger.
3. Extension Plank Pull Over
- Start in a high plank on your knees, hands beneath the shoulders.
- With a towel under your knees, keep your palms rooted as you slide your knees back.
- Slide backward until your arms are extended out in front of you, kind of like Child's pose.
- Using your lats, pull yourself back up to the kneeling plank, shoulders stacked over wrists.
"This exercise targets the lats but will also inevitably strengthen your core," Hanses says. To make the move even more challenging, perform it from a full high plank, gliding back and forth on your toes.
4. Bent-Over T/W/Y
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Keeping your back flat, hinge at your hips until your upper body is almost parallel to the ground.
- Without moving the rest of your body, extend your arms to your sides, forming a T.
- Then, bend your elbows and bring them closer to the ribs, squeezing the lats and shifting the shoulder blades down — this should form a W.
- Finally, extend your arms straight overhead into a Y.
If this feels too challenging, you can also do this exercise lying face down on a soft surface like a bed, couch or yoga mat.
5. Hip Hikes
- Begin by holding a stable surface, like a table or couch, for balance.
- Root your left leg into the ground and raise your right leg off the floor.
- Keeping the rest of your body stable, raise the right side of your pelvis up toward your lowest ribs.
- Pause here for a moment, then lower the pelvis back down.
This exercise targets the deep lower back muscles as well as your glutes. To make this move more challenging, don't hold any surfaces for balance.
6. Reverse Tabletop Pull Through
- Sit on the ground with your legs in front of you, feet flat on the ground and knees raised. Plant your palms in the ground at the sides of your hips.
- Press your hands and heels into the ground and lift your hips up into a reverse tabletop position, squeezing your glutes. Keep the spine in a neutral position.
- Then, keeping your feet and palms planted, drop your hips toward the ground and pull them through between your hands, as if you're returning to the seated position but don't touch the floor.