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Performing back workouts for calisthenics can build muscle strength in your back, core, and arms, and improve shoulder mobility.
This article includes three workouts that can be done at home using nothing but your own body weight, on the floor and wall.
And two that will require a pull-up bar or sturdy door frame, along with a resistance band.
I’ll also include a demonstration for each of the calisthenics exercises so you know how to do them with proper form.
Table of Contents
5 Best Calisthenics Workouts for the Back Muscles
Before getting into any of the workouts it’s important to properly warm up.
Here’s a quick little overview of how that might look.
Adjust the length as you see fit, just to get the blood flowing.
Warm-up Option 1:
- Standard Upper Back Foam Roll: 3 sets x 20 seconds
- Side Lat Foam Roll: 3 x 20
- Trunk Twists: 2 x 20
If you don’t have access to a foam roller, no worries.
I got you covered with option two:
- Arm Circles (forward/backward): 3 x 10 reps in each direction
- Side-to-Side Leg Swings: 2 x 10
- Neck Turns: 2 x 10
Remember to cool down after the workout for 10-20 minutes using static and dynamic stretches to promote recovery.
3 Without Equipment
1. Beginner Calisthenics Back Workout
|Prone Scapular Holds||3||10||60|
|Wall Pulls||3-4||12||60||Keep your head neutral.|
2. Intermediate Calisthenics Back Workout
|Bodyweight Pullover||4||8-10||45||Do these on the carpet!|
|Scapular Wall Slides||3||6-10||45||Press your lower back against the wall.|
|Elbow Raises||2||12-15||45||3-second holds at the top.|
|Prone Back Extension||3||8-10||45||5-second holds.|
|2-Arm 2-Leg Dead Bug||3||10-12||45|
3. Advanced Calisthenics Back Workout
|Plank Row||4||10-15||30||Use dumbbells for extra resistance (optional).|
|A1. Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly||3||15-20||None||Superset with A2.|
|A2. Bird Dog||3||10-12||30||Superset with A1.. Squeeze each rep for a 3 count.|
|Reverse Snow Angel||3||8-10||30|
2 With Equipment
4. Back Workout Using a Pull-Up Bar
|Wide Grip Pull-ups||5||6-8||60||Place hands 2x wider than shoulder width.|
|Face Pull||3||10-15||45||Aim toward your forehead.|
|Inverted Row||3||8-12||45||Aim toward your chest.|
|Chin-ups||4||4-10||60||Hands shoulder width apart.|
|Superman||3||5||30||Hold each rep for a 10 count.|
5. Back Workout Using a Resistance Band
If you don’t have the proper setup for the front lever, for safety reasons DO NOT attempt it.
Instead, use the alternative bodyweight exercise in the notes section.
|Assisted Pull-ups||5||10-15||60||Hands 1.5x wider than shoulder width.|
|Banded Front Lever||3||5-second holds||60||Can be swapped for Hollow Rocks.|
|Banded Scapular Push-ups||3||8-12||30||Loop the band over your back, handles anchored under your palms.|
|A1. Face Pull||2||12-15||None||Superset with A2.|
|A2. Band Lat Pulldown||2||12-15||30||Superset with A1.|
|Reverse Snow Angel||3||8-10||30|
Demonstrations of the Calisthenic Back Exercises
1. Prone Pulls
This is an inexpensive version of a lat pulldown that doesn’t require a machine.
I programmed it at the beginning of workout number one since it’s a great exercise for getting the lats and upper back primed.
- Lay flat on the ground facing downward, with your legs extended.
- Start with your arms straight and palms flat.
- From here, lift them off the floor and pull your elbows toward your hips.
- Making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades as you go.
- Then, push your arms forward until they’re fully extended.
2. Prone Scapular Holds
Prone scapular holds help to strengthen the teres major and upper back muscles.
They can also be helpful in improving the biomechanics for movements like pull-ups, by allowing you to get into a better body position with more mobility.
- Lie prone on a yoga mat with your forehead resting on a pillow or towel.
- Ensure your arms are straight by your sides (hands resting on the floor).
- Begin squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- This will cause your arms to elevate off the floor during the top position.
- Lower to the starting position and repeat.
3. Wall Pulls
Wall pulls are a fairly basic calisthenic exercise that works extremely well for beginners.
The motion replicates that of a dumbbell row.
But instead of rowing the weight toward you, you’ll be rowing your body weight to the wall.
- Stand upright, facing an edge wall or secure post with about 6-12 inches of space.
- Grab the wall using a neutral grip, with your arms bent at 90 degrees.
- Retract your shoulder blades.
- Push yourself backward in a slow and controlled manner.
- Stop once your arms are straight.
- Pull until you return to the upright stance.
4. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is effective for targeting the glutes, lower back, and core muscles.
All of which are important for spinal stability and alleviating tightness or back pain.
The movement pattern is similar to that of a hip thrust machine, except you can do this one anywhere.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the floor at about shoulder width.
- Cross your arms over your chest.
- Press your lower back against the floor.
- Raise your hips and lower back off the floor until there’s a straight line between your upper and lower body.
- Squeeze your glutes and core at the top.
5. Bodyweight Pullover
This is an unorthodox version of the dumbbell pullover, and oftentimes when you search the bodyweight pullover, this is not the exercise that pops up.
However, this is more beginner friendly than the other one.
It targets the lat muscles and a little bit of the chest and triceps.
- Begin with your palms against the floor, wider than shoulder width, and slightly in front of your head.
- Dig your knees into the carpet.
- Retract your scapula and slide yourself backward.
- From here, pull yourself forward, so that your shoulders are aligned above your hands.
- Continue this motion for reps while maintaining a neutral upper torso.
6. Scapular Wall Slides
Scapular wall slides are a slightly more advanced progression of the prone holds.
- Stand with your feet 1 foot in front of the wall.
- Slightly bend your knees and press your back against the wall with your pelvis posteriorly tilted.
- Raise your arms overhead with your thumbs touching the wall.
- Bend your elbows straight down as far as they’ll go.
- Re-extend to the top position and repeat.
7. Elbow Lifts
Elbow lifts are meant to isolate the traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids, and engage the abdominals.
Although they aren’t the most effective exercise for the job, they can still provide enough stimulation if you’re just starting out with calisthenics.
It might feel a bit awkward at first, but don’t let that shy you away… practice makes improvement!
- Lay with your back flat on the floor.
- Form fists with your hands and keep your elbows tucked close to your body.
- Dig your body weight into your elbows to raise your upper body.
- Reverse to the starting position and repeat.
You can take the move a step further by elevating your elbows onto two chairs.
This will allow you to achieve a deeper eccentric phase to recruit more muscle fibers.
8. Prone Back Extension
The prone back extension is tougher than it looks.
It is considered an isometric exercise that primarily works the large muscle known as the erector spinae, which protects your lower spine.
- Lay flat on your stomach with your glutes tight and forehead pressed into the floor.
- Move your arms straight back so they’re even with your hips.
- Rotate your shoulders outward so that your thumbs are pointing upwards.
- Now, raise your entire upper body and arms away from the floor, while directing your gaze forward.
- Hold this spot for as long as you feel comfortable.
9. 2-Arm 2-Leg Dead Bug
2-arm 2-leg dead bugs are an awesome abdominal exercise that I recently incorporated into my training routine.
It can be a difficult variation at first since you have to press your lower back into the floor while simultaneously raising your arms and legs.
The challenge is worth the reward.
- Lay with your back flat on the ground.
- Elevate your arms and legs off the ground while keeping them fully extended.
- With your palms facing the ceiling, begin raising them above your chest.
- At the same time, raise your legs over your waist.
- Stop once your hands are a few inches away from your knees.
- Slowly lower to the start.
10. Plank Row
The plank row is a great exercise for practicing abdominal bracing.
What’s more, the rowing motion adds an extra oomph to stimulate your lats and mid-back.
- From a push-up position, extend your legs behind you at shoulder width apart.
- Drive your left elbow toward the ceiling as high as you can.
- Return it to the starting position and repeat with your right arm.
- Continue alternating sides.
11. Scapular Push-Up
Here is the final iteration of the scapular slides, and holds.
This is definitely the most challenging of the three.
What’s nice about this one is that you can add constant tension by using a resistance band.
- Assume a push-up position with your elbows locked.
- Brace your entire body to maintain a straight line from head to toe.
- Retract your shoulder blades by pulling them back toward the ceiling.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Then push your shoulder blades down toward the floor into protraction.
12. Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly
The bodyweight rear delt fly is fairly similar to elbow lifts.
However, instead of the elbows being tucked close, they’ll be flared out to the sides, forming a cross shape.
- Lay on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Move your arms into abduction until they form between a 70 to 90-degree angle in relation to your torso.
- Your palms should be pronated into the ground.
- From here, press your hands into the floor to lift the upper back as high as you can.
- Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat.
13. Bird Dog
The bird dog is a straightforward movement that targets a large portion of the posterior chain musculature.
It’s also great for developing rotator cuff and hip mobility.
- Begin in a tabletop position (facing the floor) with your hands aligned under your wrists, and knees under your hips.
- Brace your core.
- Extend your right leg straight back while simultaneously extending your left arm forward.
- Squeeze here for a count of 1-3.
- Return those limbs to the start before alternating to the other arm and leg.
14. Reverse Snow Angel
Reverse snow angels are basically Superman (see 18), but instead of dynamically moving your legs, they’ll be statically raised.
Also, the arms will be working through abduction and adduction to further stimulate the upper back.
- Lay on your stomach.
- Raise your ankles and knees a few inches off the ground.
- Lift your arms straight out in front of you, at about the height of your ears.
- Lower your hands down, toward your hips in an arc motion.
- Raise them back overhead.
15. Pull-Up Variations
Whether you use the reverse or wide grip pull-up the basic form cues will remain the same.
The biggest differences will be the deviations in the hand position and range of motion, with slightly different levels of muscle fiber recruitment.
The video below covers two of the three variations that are included in the workouts outlined above.
For the assisted pull-up see the demonstration I have linked.
To perform pull-ups:
- Assume an overhand grip on the pull-up bar (reverse grip for chin-ups).
- Begin in a dead hang position.
- Stick your chest slightly upwards and begin pulling yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
- Slowly lower yourself to the starting position.
- Ensure your glutes and upper body remain tight throughout the entire movement.
16. Face Pull
If you’re really looking to fire up your rear delts, then give this bodyweight iteration of the face pull a try.
It can be modified for any strength level by standing more upright or more horizontally.
- Adjust a barbell or pull-up bar to shoulder height.
- Assume a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
- Keep your upper and lower body in a straight line.
- Start with your arms straight.
- Pull your forehead toward the bar, flaring your elbows out and up during the flexion phase.
- Re-extend to the starting position.
17. Inverted Row
The inverted row is like the bodyweight face pull.
One key difference is that you’ll be pulling toward your chest.
This shifts some of the focus onto your mid back.
- Set your bar at about chest height.
- Grab it using an overhand grip.
- Pull your chest toward the bar by driving through your elbows.
- Stop once the chest makes contact with the bar.
- Slowly reverse until your arms are straight again.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Oh nope, it’s just the Superman exercise.
Before you get too excited, let me explain what it is exactly.
Remember the prone extension from number 8?
This is basically that, except a bit more dynamic, and you’ll have your arms extended forward.
Additionally, the hamstrings are activated, since they’ll be used to raise the legs off the floor.
- Lie face down with your arms straight.
- Start the exercise by raising your arms and legs off the ground.
- Hold for 1-10 seconds.
- Relax on the floor and repeat.
19. Band Front Lever
The band front lever is a tough exercise that requires some finagling to set up.
That being said, an alternative option is called hollow rocks.
- Anchor a band around the pull-up bar.
- Loop the other end around your glutes.
- Grab the bar with a narrow overhand grip (arms extended).
- Rotate your body parallel to the floor, with your head facing upward.
20. Band Lat Pulldown
Band pulldowns keep constant tension on the lats along with small muscles that are often overlooked.
- Attach a band to the top of a door frame.
- Close the door.
- Grasp the handles and kneel down.
- Lift your chest up and retract your scapula.
- Use your elbows to drive the resistance toward your chest.
Benefits of Calisthenics Back Exercises
The benefits of calisthenics back exercises include:
- Minimal equipment requirements
- Better posture
- Reduced back pain
- Build muscle and strength
The Back Muscles You’ll Be Working
The back muscles you’ll be working with these calisthenic exercises are the following:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Rear Delts
- Spinal Erectors
The latissimus dorsi is crucial for breathing and upper limb movement.
Without strong rhomboids, a scapular retraction would be pretty difficult.
Traps are used for all sorts of things, from neck protection to arm and shoulder movement.
Although the rear delts are small, they play a major role in maintaining proper shoulder position.
Weak spinal erectors are a common cause of lower back pain.
Mostly because of the massive role they play in stabilization during spinal rotation and extension.
FAQ About Calisthenic Exercises
Can You Build Back Muscles With Calisthenics?
Yes, you can build back muscles with calisthenics.
Three of the most effective exercises for this are pull-ups, chin-ups, and inverted rows.
How Do I Train My Back for Calisthenics?
To train your back for calisthenics you’ll want to start with progression exercises before attempting the more advanced versions.
For example, you would do assisted pull-ups as a way to get your back muscles strong enough to perform regular pull-ups.
How Do I Get a Bigger Back With Calisthenics?
You can get a bigger back with calisthenics by doing different variations of pull-ups to target all of its major muscles.
This includes using, wide, narrow, neutral, and reverse grips.
How Do You Work Your Lower Back With Calisthenics?
To work your lower back with calisthenics you can do the Superman exercise.
– Lie prone with your arms fully extended and legs straight.
– Elevate your legs and arms off the ground, while simultaneously extending your upper back towards the sky (this engages the lower back).
– Hold for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
– Repeat for 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
Add These to Your Workout Routine!
These back workouts for calisthenics consist of bodyweight exercises to strengthen the major muscle groups surrounding your spine.
Not only does this improve your physique, but also prevents poor posture.
If you do decide to use one in your routine, be sure to use progressive overload.
Your goal should be to increase the number of reps or sets you perform for every exercise, each week.
Moreover, remember to have fun while getting that strong upper body!