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7 min read

The Best At-Home Back Exercises With And Without Weights

Unless you have a full gym at home, full-body workouts require some creativity. Some muscles are harder to work than others, and training your back at home can be the most complicated, thanks to how many muscles are in your back and how each one does something different.

The best back exercises you can do at home are pull-ups and rows. Between the two exercises, nearly every muscle in your back will be engaged. There are many variations for each, you can do them with just your body weight, or add variety by using resistance bands and dumbbells. 

With a little creativity, you can replace many of the machines you see in a gym. If you’re unsure what to do for your back workouts when you’re at home, keep reading. This article will cover exercises you can do with or without equipment. Let's start by looking at pull-ups more closely.

How Can I Train My Back Without Weights?

This is a common question for anyone working out from home without fancy equipment or weights. If you don’t have any weights or don’t want to purchase any, that’s perfectly fine; bodyweight exercises can be just as effective as weighted ones.

Just like push-ups work your chest, squats work your legs, and sit-ups work your abs, the pull-up is one of the best back exercises you can do without weights. While having a pull-up bar is optimal, you can still effectively do pull-ups with any sort of sound and structured overhang.

Bar or no bar, a pull-up is pound-for-pound one of the most grueling exercises out there.

That's why it's important to know pull-up variations; alternatives that build the same muscles but allow you to actually complete reps and maximize your back workout. Let's explore these alternatives, whether you own a pull-up bar or not.

2 Pull-Up Alternatives Using A Pull-Up Bar

Remember, just because you own a pull-up bar, there's no expectation for you to walk up to the bar and smoothly complete 10 reps. They’re perhaps the hardest bodyweight exercise to do, and you shouldn't feel bad if you can't complete a single one. Most people can't.

If you own a pull-up bar, give these two pull-up alternatives a try, you'll build the same back muscles and get far more of a workout as you churn out reps.

1. Dead Hang

  • Step 1: Stand under your pull-up bar. Reach up and grab it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Step 2: Hang with your feet off the ground and arms straight for as long as you can.
  • Step 3: When you feel like you can’t hang any longer, let go of the bar and drop to the ground.

2. Dead Hang With Scapular Pull-Ups

  • Step 1: Start in the same hanging position as you did in the dead hang, holding the bar with your feet off the ground.
  • Step 2: Keeping your arms straight, lean back and pull your shoulders down towards the middle of your back. Your body should rise a few inches.
  • Step 3: Relax your back muscles and return to the dead hang position. Repeat for 10 reps total.

3 Pull-Up Alternatives Using Only Your Bodyweight

With little to no equipment, but creativity in good measure, you can use your body weight for a fantastic back workout at home. It starts with remembering that your back has many muscles.

And while pull-ups are amazing at working many of your back muscles, they don't target all of them. So that's where these threebodyweight back exercises come in.

1. Superman

  • Step 1: Lie on your stomach. Reach your arms forwards and legs back.
  • Step 2: Lift your arms and legs off the ground at the same time. Only your stomach and hips should be on the ground.
  • Step 3: Pause at the top of the movement, then lower your limbs to the ground.
  • Step 4:Do 10 repetitions in total.

2. Bodyweight Row

  • Step 1: Find a chair that you can slide under or use a TRX that’s dangling from the ceiling or door. 
  • Step 2: Lie on the ground under the chair or TRX. Grab the seat of the chair or the handles of the TRX.
  • Step 3: Keeping your knees straight, pull your body up so that only your heels are on the ground. Pull your hands towards the side of your rib cage.
  • Step 4: Pause briefly at the top, then lower yourself to the ground.
  • Step 5: Do 10 repetitions in total.

3. L-Sit

  • Step 1: Sit down in a chair, preferably something wooden with a hard surface.
  • Step 2: Grip the sides of the chair next to your butt. 
  • Step 3: Press into the chair hard enough that your butt lifts out of the chair and hovers in the air.
  • Step 4: Remain there as long as you can, then gently lower yourself back to the chair.
  • Step 5: Repeat 5 times total, holding as long as you can each time.

Using Weights, What Are 3 Exercises That Strength Your Back?

Adding a pair of dumbbells to your home gym dramatically increases the number of back exercises you can do. Unlike bodyweight exercises, dumbbells allow you to gradually improve. You can increase your resistance slowly, taking incremental steps to get stronger over time.

3 Weighted Back Exercises With Dumbbells

A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise set out to find the best back exercises. It compared numerous movements, some using machines, while others used free weights (barbells, dumbbells, etc), but all were measured by how hard the back muscles worked during each movement.

They found that the bent-over row was one of the best exercises for back muscle development That's great news for anyone working out from home because you can do this exercise with dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells. 

1. Bent-Over Rows

Among fitness trainers, like certified personal trainer Stephanie Thomas, the bent-over row is widely considered one of the best exercises for developing your back.

This is how she teaches it:

  • Step 1: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand. Push your hips back and lean forwards.
  • Step 2: Turn your palms so that they face each other.
  • Step 3: Pull the weights towards your waist. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.
  • Step 4: Lower the weights back down.

2. Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is another great back exercise you can do with just a pair of dumbbells. Weight loss coach Matt Claes recommends this move to develop your lats, which are the muscles that run down the sides of your back. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step 1: Lie on the ground with a pair of dumbbells. Reach them towards the ceiling with your elbows straight.
  • Step 2: Turn your palms so that they face your feet.
  • Step 3: Keep your elbows straight and reach back towards the ground behind your head.
  • Step 4: Go as far as you comfortably can, then lift the dumbbells towards the ceiling.

Exercise #3: Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is a back exercise you can do with a resistance band or light dumbbells. It's a challenging one, so make sure you don’t overdo it with heavy weights. This move targets the muscles in your upper back. Here's howpersonal trainer and nutritionist, Emily Higgins, advises doing a reverse fly:

  • Step 1: Grab your dumbbells or the handles of your resistance band.
  • Step 2: Lean forwards but keep your back flat.
  • Step 3: Turn your palms so that they face each other. Lift the weights out to the sides, pulling your shoulder blades together.
  • Step 4: Lower the weights back down slowly and with control.

How Can I Shape My Back At Home?

To shape your back muscles at home, pick a variety of exercises that work the different muscles in your back. The back muscles pull and twist your torso, and move your shoulder blades. The exercises you pick should use some combination of all three movements.

Back Anatomy 101

To shape your back effectively, you'll need a clear understanding of how the muscles work. Once that's understood, you'll be able to navigate exercises to incorporate into your back workouts.

Let's shorten the timeline and quickly look at what you need to know about your back muscles.

Latissimus Dorsi - Largest Muscle

The biggest muscles in your back are the latissimus dorsi, these large muscles run down either side of your back, extending from your shoulders to your lower back. from your shoulders to your lower back. They rotate and extend your arm. Both rows and pull-ups work this large muscle.

Rhomboids - Muscles Between Shoulder Blades

Your rhomboids are in the middle of your back, between the shoulder blades. When they contract, they pull the shoulder blades together. Rows and reverse fly work this muscle the most.When you pull your shoulder blades together during a row or fly, you’re maximizing the amount of work the rhomboids are doing.

Trapezius - Muscle Extending From Head to Middle of Spine

The trapezius is a diamond-shaped muscle that can be split into three parts: upper, middle, and lower. All segments are important for maintaining an upright posture.

  • The upper part of the trapezius shrugs your shoulders. You can do upright rows or shoulder shrugs to target them. 
  • The middle portion pulls your shoulder blades together, similar to the rhomboids. Fly and rows target the middle section.
  • The lower trapezius pulls your shoulder blades down and back. They can be targeted by the superman exercise.

Erector Spinae and Multifidus - Important Muscles for Posture

There are several lower back muscles, such as the erector spinae and multifidus. When you do a bent-over row, these lower back musclesprotect your spine and prevent it from rounding. They’re important for your posture because they keep you upright.

One of the best at-home exercises to strengthen them is the superman, which doesn’t require any equipment.

Training Your Back At Home Doesn't Require Fancy Equipment

Even though it can be hard to think of at-home back exercises off the top of your head, there are plenty to choose from. You can work the various muscles of your back without any equipment using the weight of your body.

If you have weights or resistance bands you can do even more.

You have numerous back muscles and each one does something slightly different. Include a variety of exercises in your at-home back workouts to strengthen all of the various muscles. Working your back makes you stronger, less vulnerable to injury, and can improve posture. With that in mind, you can see why it's so important to exercise your back muscles regularly. And now you know how to do it when you can't make it to the gym!