10 Best Bodyweight Back Exercises For A Yoked Posterior Chain

Bodyweight Back Exercises

Not everyone has access to a gym or fitness equipment or maybe you just prefer to incorporate bodyweight exercises regardless. Well, you know we always got your back… literally!

Now, the upper posterior chain (backside of the body) is one group of muscles that can be hard to find bodyweight exercises for. Sure, you have pullups and chin-ups but we all know you need more variety to get maximum results.

But don’t fret… there are several phenomenal options that require little to no equipment. 

We’ve got 10 best bodyweight back exercises you should be doing for a yoked posterior. 

1. Inverted row

An extremely underrated back exercise, the inverted row is an amazing posterior chain movement. But research shows that it’s a superior exercise for the middle trapezius muscle especially. Plus, you don’t have to hang your entire body weight from the bar which makes it much easier than a conventional pull-up or chin-up. 

To do it:

  1. Setup the Smith machine bar to a decent height that allows you to get underneath it and hang so your arms are fully extended with your heels on the floor.
  2. Sit under the bar and grip it a little wider than shoulder-width. 
  3. Extend your legs out in front of you and pull yourself up to the bar so that it touches your lower chest.
  4. Reverse the motion and repeat.

Tips:

  • Once you’re a little more advanced, elevate your feet onto a bench to increase the level of difficulty.
  • You can also try doing it using one arm at a time for even more benefit. Plus it’s great for training unilateral (affecting one side) function and identifying strength imbalances. 

2. Bodyweight Straight-Arm Pushdown Using Smith Machine

You might as well jump into the straight-arm pushdown since you’re already under the Smith machine bar. This exercise is phenomenal for working the back, and the lats especially. It’s also similar to the standing straight-arm pushdown using cables. 

To do it:

  1. Get under the bar and grab it using an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  2. Place your feet far but keep your knees bent while still holding onto the bar. 
  3. Now, use your arms in an extended position and pretend you’re pushing the bar down while extending your legs to drive your body back so that your eyes are level with the bar.
  4. Repeat

Tip: Move your feet closer to the bar to make the movement less difficult. 

3. Pull-Up/Chin-Up

You simply cannot have a list of best bodyweight back exercises without the pull-up/chin-up. In fact, most people would probably agree that both variations (pull-up/chin-up) are superior to all other bodyweight back movements. And if you’re not yet convinced, the pull-up and chin-up have shown to elicit better lat activation than other common back exercises (e.g. bent-over row, inverted row, lat pull-down, and seated row). (1

To do it:

Pull-up

  1. Use an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. 
  2. Depress and retract your shoulder blades.
  3. Keep your legs straight and together positioned slightly in front of you.
  4. Pull yourself all the way up to the bar and squeeze your back muscles.
  5. Lower yourself back down but don’t allow your head to sink down into your shoulders. Maintain a retracted scapula.
  6. Repeat
Pull Up Exercise

Chin-up

  1. Use an underhand, shoulder-width or slightly closer grip.
  2. Depress and retract your shoulder blades.
  3. Keep your legs straight and hold them slightly in front of you. 
  4. Pull yourself up to the bar then slowly lower yourself down maintaining proper posture as explained with the pull-up.
  5. Repeat

Check out these top pull-up bars currently on the market!

4. TRX Row

Suspension training is an awesome alternative to other forms of resistance training. Well, the TRX system is very popular because you can do essentially any exercise and all you need is an anchor. It’s a great tool for back training because you can do rows, pull-ups, and anything else you can think of. 

To do it:

  1. Using one or two hands, grip the handle/s and allow yourself to lean back to where you’re holding up your bodyweight. 
  2. Pull yourself toward the straps and squeeze your back muscles at the top.
  3. Reverse the motion then complete desired reps and switch arms if doing one arm at a time. 

Here’s a video example of the TRX row…

5. Reverse Plank (Modified)

The reverse plank is an incredible isometric exercise that is more challenging than the traditional plank. As a result, you’ll benefit much more as the posterior chain is typically a weaker area for many people. 

And with the reverse plank, your back is more involved in maintaining a rigid position especially in how it’s performed. It’s excellent for working the upper back muscles and the rotator cuff, plus, it’ll work the core muscles too. 

So, instead of holding yourself up by your forearms and placing the ball of your feet on the floor, you’d be lying on your back with your arms extended out to form a cross with your body.

To do it:

  1. Lie on your back
  2. Externally rotate your forearm so that your palms are facing up (this activates the back muscles) and place your arms out to your sides to form a cross with your body.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Lift your hips up as high as you can and hold this position for as long as you can. 
  5. The lower back down and repeat. 

Tip: Elevate your upper back onto something to make the movement easier which is ideal for beginners or those without sufficient strength. 

6. Elbow Lifts/Bridge

One of the best and simplest bodyweight exercises available, elbow lifts or elbow bridges work mainly the upper back (rhomboids, traps) but it also activates the lats, traps, and reverse delts. You need no equipment and can do this anywhere. 

You can also use a cushioned surface to prevent discomfort in your elbows.

To do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs either straight out or bent and place your arms by your sides.
  2. Bend your elbows so your fists are pointed toward the ceiling. 
  3. Drive your elbows through the floor and squeeze your shoulder blades together so that your torso lifts off the floor.
  4. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds. 
  5. Repeat

Here’s a video example… 

7. Superman

This is a great lower and upper back/traps exercise that you can do with just your bodyweight. Now, you’ll need to have decent mobility and strength in your entire posterior. But most healthy people should be able to hold in the required position.

There are also so many different useful variations for the Superman that you can do to increase the difficulty level and/or work more muscles of the back overall. 

To do it:

  1. Lie face down and place your arms out in front of you. 
  2. Lift your torso and legs up at the same time so that your position resembles that of Superman. 
  3. Hold for 2-3 seconds.
  4. Lower back down and repeat. 

8. Superman W/ External Rotation

This is a variation of the basic Superman exercise. But it involves external rotation of the arms to activate more of the posterior chain through scapular adduction. You’re working the lats, Erector Spinae, traps, and rhomboids with this movement. 

To do it:

  1. Lie face down as you would the basic Superman exercise but place your arms down at your sides rather than out in front of you so your knuckles are on the floor. 
  2. Lift your legs and torso up as you would the basic Superman but retract your shoulder blades and rotate your arms toward the center of your back so that your palms are facing the floor.
  3. Hold for 2-3 seconds
  4. Lower back down and repeat

9. Reverse Push-Up 

What’s great about the reverse push-up is that you can do it at home using two chairs. Not to mention, it’ll allow you to get a decent range of motion and you’re still using your own bodyweight. Therefore, you can actually build some muscle and strength with this exercise. The reverse push-up is great for working the mid and upper back. 

Now, it’d be ideal to use two benches for this as the padding is more comfortable and it’s more stable but chairs that have cushion can work too. Just find a spot that allows the chair to be secured for your safety (e.g. against a wall, on carpet, etc).

To do it:

  1. Set up two chairs or benches close enough to where you can place the back of your arms (triceps) on them.
  2. Sit on the floor and place your arms on the surface to get into position.
  3. Now, with your knees straight or bent, drive your elbows down and through to lift your body up and squeeze your back muscles. 
  4. Hold for 2 seconds.
  5. Repeat

Tip: Don’t allow your body to sink too far down during the negative portion of the rep. 

Here’s a great video example of how it’s done…

10. Bodyweight bridge

The bodyweight or glute bridge as they call it is a good lower back and erector spinae exercise. It’s typically used to work the butt but the back is very much involved. 

And like a few of the other exercises on our list, all you need for this movement is yourself…

To do it:

  1. Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your arms down by your sides. 
  2. Lift your butt off the ground until your body forms a straight line and hold for 2 seconds. 
  3. Lower your body back down and repeat. 

Tip: You can do this exercise using two or one leg. 

Now let’s briefly go over the back anatomy…

Back Anatomy

The back consists of several muscles that work together so you can stand up straight, bend over and twist, plus elevation, depress, and rotate the shoulders. Let’s go over the anatomy so you can have an idea of what you’re working with.

Franco Columbu Back

Rhomboids

The rhomboids are located below the trapezius on the upper back and are composed of a major and minor. It helps to form the shoulder girdle and plays a large role in upper limb function (e.g. retraction, elevation and rotation of the scapula). 

Erector Spinae

The muscles (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis) which make up the erector spinae run along either side of the spine. They run from the sacral region below the lower back to the base of the skull.

The erector spinae functions to extend, flex, and stabilize the vertebral column.

Levator scapulae

This muscle is found at the side and back of the neck. It functions to lift the scapula or shoulder blade.

Latissimus dorsi

The latissimus dorsi or lats is a very large and thin triangular-shaped muscle of the back that’s located on the majority of the lower posterior thorax. It works with the teres major and pectoralis major (chest muscle) to help extend, adduct, and medially rotate the arm. But it also interestingly functions as a respiratory accessory muscle.

The lats are highly engaged during pull-up movements.

Trapezius

The trapezius or traps for short is a large muscle that resembles a shape of the same name. It extends from the occipital bone on the neck down to the lower thoracic vertebrae and also spans laterally to the spine of the scapula.

This muscle stabilizes and moves the scapula or shoulder blade mainly for postural function. But since the traps have different fibers, each section functions to facilitate a different movement. The upper fibers function to assist in the elevation and upward rotation of the scapula, in addition to the extension of the neck. The middle fibers help retract the scapula. And the lower fibers depress and assist the upper fibers in upward rotation of the scapula.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wrapping Up

If you were looking for the best bodyweight exercises then you’ve come to the right place. The movements on our list are certainly not the only options. But they’re hard to beat when it comes to training with limited or no equipment. 

Especially since the variety of exercises target different areas of the back which is ideal. So with that being said, include them in your back training routine for more growth and development. 

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