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3 Ways to Do Body Weight Back Exercises

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
3 Ways to Do Body Weight Back Exercises
Pull-ups effectively train your back without added resistance. Photo Credit: Satyrenko/iStock/Getty Images

You know how to work your legs and chest with just your body weight — push-ups and squats seem so obvious. But, it just might seem you're out of luck when it comes to training your back without resistance from barbells, dumbbells or machines.

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Don't fret if you're stuck without equipment. If you have access to a pull-up bar, you have at least one way to train your back with just your body weight. If you don't even have a fixed bar, you still have options to train the stabilizing muscles and the superficial mirror muscles — including your rhomboids, traps and lats — in challenging, muscle-building ways.

Fixed Bar

A simple pull-up bar is easy to install in your home. If you're not into DIY projects, use a sturdy tree branch or playground equipment.

Pull-ups offer a self-evident way to train the back on a fixed bar. Have a spotter hold your legs if you can't quite pull yourself up yet.

Vary your grip to change exactly how your back muscles are activated, too. A classic wide-grip pull-up with your hands shoulder-distance apart and placed overhand on the bar puts extra emphasis on the lats, or latissimus dorsi, which cover the backs of the ribs and wrap slightly around your torso.

An underhand, narrow-grip chin-up also engages the lats, but the biceps to assist a bit more than in the overhand variation. Chin-ups may be slightly easier, so they're a good place to start. Work up to three sets of 10 to 12 pull-ups or chin-ups to build your back muscles.

Chin-ups engage your biceps and back.
Chin-ups engage your biceps and back. Photo Credit: yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images

Use a fixed bar to also do inverted rows. Lie underneath the bar set a few feet above the ground. A table with a solid edge you can grab is an alternative if you can't fix yourself under your bar because it's too high. Grab it with your hands about shoulder-distance apart. Straighten your legs and pull your chest up to the bar to mimic a row. Do up to three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Read More: The Best Back Exercises at the Gym

Mat-Based Stabilization and Deep Muscle Activation

A back workout involves more than the big muscles you see when you flex in the mirror; other important stabilizing muscles need to be addressed to keep your spine healthy and functional. Just your body weight and a mat are ideal for these type of moves.

Yoga and Pilates offers a number of exercises to train the erectors, paraspinals and pelvic floor support muscles that lie deep within your back. Use moves such as Cobra, Bow and Pilates swimming, for example.

If you don't want to commit to a full fitness class, moves you can do on your own include supermans. Lie on your belly and extend your legs long and your arms onto the mat past your ears, like the superhero flying through the sky. Inhale and lift up your arms, legs, face and chest; hold for a count and then lower down. Do up to three sets of about 10 to 12 reps.

Bird dogs help stabilize your pelvis.
Bird dogs help stabilize your pelvis. Photo Credit: fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Bird dogs, or spinal balance, also work your supporting back muscles. Get into all fours and raise your right arm toward the front wall and your left leg toward the back wall. Hold for a count and release. Alternate for one to three sets of about 12 reps.

Floor Strength

You've got no bar, no weights, not even a mat — think you can't work your back? Think again. A hardwood, tile or linoleum floor, slippery pants and your body is all you need for some intense back moves.

Try a back widow in which you lie on your back with your feet planted and your elbows bent at your sides. Dig your elbows into the ground to drive your chest up and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Focus on pushing through your back to do the action, rather than your feet. Hold for a count at the top and work up to three sets of 15 to 20 reps to seriously work your rhomboids and traps.

Wear long workout pants for floor pull-ups.
Wear long workout pants for floor pull-ups. Photo Credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images

With a little creativity, you can even do "pull-ups" on the floor. Lay on your belly on the slippery floor surface (a carpet or rug is out for this one.) You'll need to wear slick workout pants, as bare skin will stick.

Plant your hands firmly about shoulder-distance apart above your head — pretend like the floor is your pull-up bar. Lift your forearms and upper arms to hover about an inch above the floor's surface. Bend your elbows and pull to slide your whole body up, as if you were doing a pull-up, and push back to extended arms. To increase the intensity, rise up into the top of a push-up once you've pulled your shoulders up to your hands. Complete a rep by lowering back to the starting position. Completing even one set of three to five of these is a solid back challenge.

Read More: At-Home Back Exercises

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