There are a lot of people saying that you can’t build a respectable back without weights and that you need to go to a gym to have an impressive back. A gym can help, but not everybody has the time, transportation, money or patience for a gym. Some people want to train at home or at a park. Here are 6 exercises that have infinite progressions and can take your back to the next level if you put in the effort and follow all of the progressions.
Pull-ups and Chins are my favorite back exercises. Pull-ups are done with an overhand grip while the Chin-ups are done with an underhand grip. Different grips will target different parts of the back. The Pull-up and Chin-up mostly work the lats which are the biggest muscle group in the upper body and will make a noticeable difference on how you look and how strong you are if you develop them properly.
For safety purposes, I’m not too crazy about ultra-wide grips with the straight bar and I think that you shouldn’t go that much wider than shoulder width for shoulder health in the long term. The photo on the cover of this article is a good grip that will help you reap many benefits with minimal injuries. The neutral grip is very safe and the variation on rings is probably the safest because your hands can move more freely and it feels more natural. If you are able to do 20 picture perfect pull-ups on rings, then your lats will be a lot bigger. Once you are able to do that then you can start adding 1-5 second isometric holds at the top of each repetition to increase the challenge.
2) FRONT LEVERS/BACK LEVERS
Front levers are one of the best lat exercises you can do. They are also one of the best core exercises you can do. The lower back, biceps and forearms also get worked to a certain degree. I am not strong enough to do back levers, but I have talked to some bodyweight trainees who are able to do them and they say it’s one of the best lower back exercises you can do, it is a lot more advanced.
The photo above is a front lever which works the lats a lot, some people even say that it works them more than pull-ups. I dedicated a full article on front lever training that you should check out. The front lever works the lats (maybe even harder than the pull-up), core, the biceps, triceps, forearms and lower back to a certain degree. You need really strong lats and abs to support your bodyweight in that position.
This is an advanced exercise, but you can work up to it with isometric holds with your legs tucked in and as you get stronger, you can straighten your legs out a bit more. If you’re just starting off, then you could try front lever tuck holds where your knees are basically touching your chest and you hold for time.
The photo above is a back lever which is a very advanced, but works your lower back and core to an even greater degree. You need to develop your lower back if you want what the bodybuilders call the “Christmas tree” that ties into your lats and looks amazing.
3) INVERTED ROWS
These are a great exercise for the back and biceps. Depending on how you position your hands and elbows, you can target different muscle groups. For more upper back focus, flare your elbows out and for more focus on your lats, keep your elbows tucked in towards your sides. There are many ways to progress this exercise, you can progress to rings, use one arm variations, elevate your feet or do isometric holds at the top of each rep.
NOTE: Just doing vertical pulling movements like pull-ups while neglecting horizontal rows can get you injured so include just as many horizontal rows as vertical rows in your program to help prevent injuries and imbalances. Overdeveloped lat and underdeveloped upper back muscles will lead to shoulder pain.
4) REVERSE RING FLY
I didn’t mention any direct rear delt exercises which are still part of the back, my favorite is the reverse ring fly. All you need is a pair of rings, TRX or suspension straps. This is a great rear delt exercise. The higher up you are standing, the easier it’ll be. If you can progress to the point where you are doing reverse ring flies with your back parallel to the floor for high reps, you will have some impressive rear delts. These are pretty much the opposite of a ring fly for your chest. I like doing these for high reps and really getting a good squeeze at the top while focusing on the pump. I also like to do these after a back workout if I don’t have the access to weights. These are great for making your shoulders look wider as well.
5) UPSIDE DOWN SHRUGS
I will admit that it is pretty hard to work the traps without external resistance, but this exercise could still work your traps even if you can only use your bodyweight. Simply hang under parallel dip bars (make sure that they are stable) and shrug. Also make sure to hold and squeeze at the top of the movement while letting your traps do the work. If you want to progress to a more advanced variation, then you can try doing this exercise on rings for high reps.
Note: If you don’t have access to any parallel bars then you could get into a handstand with your feet against the wall and do upside down handstand body weight shrugs.
6) BACK EXTENSIONS (45 DEGREE AND HORIZONTAL)
Back extensions are a great way to work the lower back muscles which will give you the Christmas tree look like Franco on the cover photo of the article. If you don’t have a dedicated back extension apparatus, then you could do prone cobras.
Once the prone cobras get too easy, you can lie down on your stomach on a bench and have somebody hold your legs like in the picture below.
Once you are able to do 15-25 picture perfect reps, then you can progress into the single leg variation.
So there you have it, there are no excuses. You can build a very wide and thick back with bodyweight training as long as you keep setting personal records and advancing into harder variations of the exercises. This is good for people with no gym access and minimal equipment. Let me know what you think and keep working hard.