A calisthenics back workout can build lean, strong muscles in your entire core.
Calisthenics back exercises use bodyweight, bars, bands, and rings, among other pieces of equipment allowing for your bodyweight to provide resistance.
There are several exercises that you can do to effectively hit every angle of your back, from the erectors to lats and rear delts, with very limited or no equipment!
Here we will outline some of our favourite calisthenic back exercises for all skill levels. From here, you can pick your favourites to create a calisthenics back workout to meet your goals and requirements.
Calisthenics exercises have been shown to:
- improve posture
- decrease fat mass
- improve strength (as shown by a push up and pull up test)
- increase muscle mass
Table of Contents
Beginner Calisthenics Back Workout Exercises
Targets: lower and upper back, abs, glutes, shoulders
The Superman is a great exercise to build strength and stamina in not just the back but all over the body.
To perform the exercise:
- lay prone (face down) on an exercise mat with the arms outstretched in front of you.
- Lift the arms and legs up off the ground, creating a stretch all down the back (erector spinae) and utilising the strength in the upper back to keep the upper body raised.
- Hold for a few seconds then lower. This is one rep.
Supermans require little skill and can be a great part of a preventative routine to bulletproof the back from injury and increase mobility in the thoracic spine.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be issues with form however! For best practice Justin Fauci NASM CPT at CALIBER says:
- Avoid looking up as this will put excessive strain on the neck and upper part of the spine
- Make sure that you are comfortable as a hard surface could hurt your hips
- Even though your back and abs will be working hard, remember to still breathe deeply while keeping the stomach tight.
2) Prone Pull
Targets: upper and lower back, shoulders
If you’ve ever done a lat pulldown at the gym, you might be able to guess the exercise that we are about to explain.
- Start like you were in the superman. On your front with the arms extended out in front.
- Raise your arms and the top of your chest off the floor and bring both arms in so the elbows end at either side of your body in a ‘W’ shape. Extend the arms back out.
- Complete a set of at least 10 reps before lowering the body down to the floor and resting. Aim for 3 sets.
Pro tip from Pete Gaffney Certified personal trainer and founder of PGPT Personal Training:
-keep the body stable by squeezing the glutes throughout the set
-lead the movement with the elbows, not arms or hands
3) Jumping chin up
Targets: biceps, back
This handy little exercise is great preparation for eventually progressing into a full, unassisted chin up.
- Stand in front of something you can use as a pull up bar and jump up with a supinated (underhand) grip so that you are at the top position of a chin up.
- From here, lower your weight back down as slowly and controlled as you can.
- Aim to complete 3 sets of at least 8 reps.
-if your grip is a limiting factor, try to find a thinner bar or use some liquid chalk
-a training partner can give you a ‘boost’ on the way up if needed
4) Glute bridge
Targets: glutes, hamstrings, lower back
Commonly seen as an exercise to help ladies build their bottom, this is actually an excellent all-round posterior chain exercise to hit all of the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body.
To perform, start lying supine on the floor and arms slightly outstretched for balance. Push the feet into the floor and the glutes up off the floor to create a ‘bridge’. Squeeze the glutes throughout and lower slowly back down to the floor. Complete a set of 10-12 reps for 3 sets.
-drive through the glutes to prevent overextending the back
-keep the head looking up towards the ceiling or ever so slightly down towards the legs, but not behind you
-you can progress this by performing a single legged variation
5) Cobra pose
The cobra pose, popular in yoga, works well to strengthen the back (including the spine) and legs, while also opening the chest and shoulders.
- To begin, lie prone on your front. Spread hands on the floor under your shoulders with elbows tucked tightly into the body.
- Press hips and legs firmly into the floor and push on hands to lift the torso up. You should feel a stretch through the abs and the back engage.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds.
-reduce strain on elbows by facing them back, not out
-don’t overdo the backbend to the point that it is painful
See also: Shoulder and Legs Pyramid Workout
Intermediate Calisthenics Back Workout Exercises
1) Inverted row/TRX row (feet on floor)
Targets: back, biceps
For these, you can either use a bar set at a height to suit you (closer to the floor will make them harder) or TRX cables which will allow for more movement at the wrists and is therefore more comfortable for many, although be aware the free moving handles will make those tougher!
- Grab the handles or bar with weight resting on the heels of your feet.
- Hang from the bar or handles then use strength in the back and arms to row yourself back up.
- Complete a set of at least 8 reps for 3 sets.
-if you are struggling to complete reps, move feet closer so that the angle is less extreme
-don’t thrust yourself up or allow the hips to sag, the core should be tight throughout
2) Plank Row
Targets: abs, back
You are probably familiar with the plank as a core exercise. You can manipulate this with a fun little twist to create a great back exercise that is simultaneously toning the midsection and teaching co-ordination.
- Start in a plank position with weight on hands and feet, the back straight and head neutral.
- Lift one arm up, leading with the elbow, in a rowing motion, then control the hand back down to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side and alternate arms for 30 seconds to a minute. Ideally, you will progress these to be able to use dumbbells or any weight you can find around the house!
-don’t allow the buttocks to sag down
-stay strong and stable while weight is on one hand, do not swing from side to side
3) Chin up
Targets: biceps, back
The chin up is a slightly easier variation of pull up which places more emphasis on the biceps than a wide grip would.
- Begin gripping the bar with hands facing towards the body and shoulder width apart.
- Raise your body until your chin is above the bar then lower back down slowly.
- Complete as many reps as you can!
-rather than hunching forwards, lean back slightly to really recruit the lats
-You can add a band around the bar and under your knees to support some weight and get more reps
4) Band row
Targets: biceps, back
For this one, you’ll require a resistance band or tube.
- Secure around and immovable surface in front of you and sit straight while you pull the band/tube back, controlling the motion all the way through.
- Aim for 12-15 reps to really get a pump in the lats.
-make these more difficult by slowing the tempo and adding pauses in the contracted position
5) Band pulldown
Targets: biceps, back
Again, for this exercise you will require only a band or tube.
- Secure to a surface above you, such as a door frame, and pull down with the elbows until hands are at about shoulder height.
- Return to start position. Like the banded rows, these generally work best in a higher rep range.
-hold the band higher/with less slack to make more difficult
See also: Shoulder Supersets Workout For Round, Strong Delts
Advanced Calisthenic Back Exercises
1) Inverted row (feet elevated, weighted)
Targets: biceps, back, core
This is a more advanced variation of the inverted row above, which will require more strength from the back and core.
- Grip the bar with an underhand hold and elevate both feet on a bench, chair or step.
- Grab the bar with arms fully extended and lift the chest up to the bar.
- Once you can perform a comfortable set of 12-15, you can even add weight on your lap to make these harder!
-don’t let the back round
-squeeze the glutes for better posture
-these can also be done with an overhand grip
2) Weighted wide grip pull up
Targets: biceps, back
The pull up with a wide grip is one of the ultimate back width builders. These are performed like a chin up, but using a double overhand grip and hands wider than shoulder width.
- Begin hanging from the bar and pull up so the chest is almost touching the bar and eyes are above it.
- Lower back down. Aim for sets of at least 8 reps. If these get too easy, add resistance with a weight belt or even a backpack full of heavy objects!
-lead with your chest
-maintain a natural arch in the back
-straighten the arms all the way at the bottom or this will be a ‘cheat rep’!
3) Muscle up
Targets: traps, lower back, shoulders, chest, biceps, triceps, core
These are pretty much as advanced as it gets for a calisthenic exercise so don’t be deterred if you have to break it down and work up to a full rep.
The muscle up requires you to begin with a pull up, however some hip swing is needed to get enough momentum to get into the second part. Swing the legs and drive the head all the way over the bar which will allow you to push yourself up from the start of a dip position.
-practice pull ups, dips and swinging the knees while hanging from the bar
4) Gymnastic Rings Pullups
Works: Middle Back / Lats, Upper Back & Lower Traps
- Stand directly beneath the gymnastic rings that are high enough for you to lower your body without touching the ground.
- Grip the rings with your palms are facing inward.
- Bending at the elbows, pull your chest upwards and towards the rings. Avoid jerky movements that cause the rings to swing.
- Once your chest is at the top of your range of motion, hold this position for one count before slowly lowering your body back down with control to the starting position.
5) Rope Climb
Works: Middle Back / Lats, Abs, Upper Back & Lower Traps
- Hold the rope with your stronger hand about a foot above your weaker hand.
- Pull your body upward so that your feet are off the ground and use your dominant foot to push the rope above your lower foot creating a fold in the rope.
- Place your weaker hand a foot above your dominant hand on the rope and grip firmly.
- Using explosive force pull your entire body up the rope, allowing the fold to slide between your feet, and take a new position (similar to the starting position) on the rope.
- When lowering, do not allow the rope to slide through your hands! Trust us, this will hurt!
Calisthenics Back Workout PDF Downloads
You can download the PDF documents for the workouts with pictures and instructions on how to perform them in the Free Resource Library.
We also create 12 week personalized fitness programs for any fitness level or goal.
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