A home pull up bar is arguably one of the most useful tools for building a strong back, but getting hold of one right now isn’t easy. The good news? There are plenty of at home back exercises you can do with little to no equipment.
In this article and video, we’re looking at 26 of them that you can incorporate into your home workouts. I’ve listed:
Give them a go, be safe, and let the gains continue.
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Although I’ve listed 26 back exercises below, I’m not suggesting you should incorporate all of them, all of the time.
Exercise 1: Lower body hinge/squat movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps
Exercise 2: Upper body push movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps
Exercise 3: Upper body pull (back) movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps
I perform two different session with the same basic format as above.
In session 1, I perform a squat variation, a vertical push, and then a horizontal pull (typically a bodyweight row). For session 2, I use a hinge progression, a horizontal push, and for now the same horizontal pull as session 1.
From my experience, most people can benefit from doing more horizontal pulling work anyway to combat the rounded over posture encourage by modern day living. So more volume gives you a chance to address any potential imblances there.
If you have any questions at all, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
No pull up bar? No problem. As I touched on above, my preference is to use the row progressions as my primary back exercise. You’ll just need a sturdy table, two chairs, or railings for the intermediate progressions (beyond the towel row). Aim for 3 comfortable sets of 8 before moving up to the next exercise. Front lever rows would be the next progression after number 5-7, but the potential for momentum in this exercise can make it unsafe if you’re using a home setup, hence why I left them out.
If you have a sturdy door or an upright, the towel row is a great option for working the mid back.
To progress the towel row, simply decrease the angle between your back and the floor.
Again, maintain tension throughout the midsection, keep those elbows in close and pinch your shoulder blades together.
When you’ve mastered the incline towel row (you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions), experiment with the one-arm version.
The cues are the same, but it becomes more important to stabilise through the core to resist rotation.
The horizontal row is typically performed using gymnastic rings attached to a pull up bar, or on a barbell in a rack.
If those aren’t available when training your back at home, you can still perform the movement if you have access to two sturdy chairs, a table or some railings.
To progress the horizontal row further, you can straighten and elevate the legs onto another chair/bench. I’ve not included it in this guide as I personally don’t have access to a sturdy enough setup right now.
If you have a backpack and some weights (or a load of tinned food) you can progress the horizontal row by adding weight.
This wouldn’t be my go to, but if you’re without weights and want to add some anti-rotation into your rows, you can play with lifting one leg off the floor.
If weights aren’t available, you can progress your rows by pulling more towards one arm at a time with archer rows.
Not pictured below due to equipment limitations, but if you have a super sturdy setup you can really shift the weight towards one side at a time, straightening the opposite arm completely.
This is a great way to highlight and address any imbalances.
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These isometric and lower back exercises can be useful if you don’t have access to a sturdy place to row and/or weights. As I touched on earlier, I would perform them for higher reps (~12), or at a slower tempo for more time under tension. You won’t develop crazy feats of strength with them, but they can be useful for supporting joint health, improving posture, mitigating back pain and even building muscle.
A hip hinge (a la Foundation Training) can be an effective way to strengthen both the lower and mid back to support posture. I like spending a few breaths in three different positions:
The wall slide is a great home back exercise for correcting forward head posture and rounded shoulders.
This wouldn’t necessarily be one of my go-to home back exercises, but it can be useful for a complete beginner, or someone who wants to feel what it means to activate their mid back.
With the elbows against the wall and close to the body, you’re going to drive them into the wall, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Your chest will come off the wall, and you can hold this end range position for 5-10 seconds at a time for sets of 10-12 reps.
This is the same as the above, except using the floor as the platform to push off. Gravity makes it a little harder than using the wall.
A highly regarded exercise for strengthening the lower back and glutes.
Find a sturdy stool or a big pile of cushions. With your core braced and your pelvis in a posterior pelvic tilt, lift the legs up off the floor, extending at the knees and hips.
You can hold at the top position for a set amount of time, opt for repetitions, or a combination of both.
This is perhaps the most ‘out there’ exercise on the list, and not one I would typically go to.
But if you don’t have a home pull up bar or, anywhere to row, or access to something heavy, but you do have a nice shiny floor, the floor pull up can be a decent way to activate the lats, and to some extent the mid back.
Starting prone with the arms overhead, keep your forearms planted and squeeze your shoulder blades back and down to pull your torso towards your hands. Squeeze at the top position for a few seconds, before pushing back to the start.
The superman can be a useful drill for activating the back body – handy if you’re working towards any backbends like the bridge or wheel.
A few important cues:
Try to keep the tailbone tucked under (activating the glutes) to take strain off the lower back. Also avoid craning the neck up when you rise – look down at the ground or ever so slightly ahead of you.
The bird-dog is a great core exercise for working on the oblique slings (something I’m looking to cover in more detail soon).
From all fours, stay stable through the midline and lift the opposite arm and leg. You’re looking to minimise any rotation through the shoulders and pelvis, as well as any arching through the low back.
🔗 Related: 5 of The Best Exercises to Improve Posture
Although we’d ideally perform the following back exercises with dumbbells or kettlebells, with some creativity you can come up with a decent temporary alternative. Suitcases, heavy backpacks, water bottles, bulk bags of rice, sandbags, and rocks can all work fairly well (just be safe). Like the row progressions, I’d work with with 3 sets of 5-8 (potentially 8-12 if a higher load isn’t available).
The lat pullover is one of my favourite back exercises for improving overhead mobility. It’s also a decent way to strengthen the lats and serratus anterior, making it a decent pullup alternative with dumbbells.
Find yourself a sturdy surface, press a weight out in front of you, and then maintaining straight arms, slowly lower overhead. You’ll feel a nice stretch on the lats, before bringing it back to centre.
The bent over row is an excellent way to build a strong, muscular mid back.
Hinge from the hips, stay stable through the core, and keep the elbows in close as you squeeze the shoulder blades together, guiding the weight to just below your sternum.
Not pictured: if you have access to 2 weights of the same size, I’d opt for a double bent over row for increased range of motion.
The single arm version allows you to load up the weight, increase range of motion and also get a little rotation through the thoracic spine.
Just be sure to keep the core braced and avoid rounding (hunching) through the mid back.
If I had to pick one exercise for building a combination of strength, power, endurance, and all round athleticism, it may well be the kettlebell swing. I like using sets of 10 for swings, and unlike most of the other back exercises listed, I do them on a separate day to my normal strength workout, incorporating them into more of a conditioning-foccussed routine.
A few important points to keep in mind:
Although you may not be able to generate quite as much power with the single arm kettlebell swing, it does add another dynamic in the form of anti-rotation through the core. You’ll have to work hard to stop your upper body rotating as you swing, and to keep the shoulder loaded into the socket.
Although it’s not easy to get a complete pull up alternative with resistance bands, they do open up a range of options. Resistance bands seem to be some of the few home fitness items that hasn’t sold out at the time of writing. They’re inexpensive and useful for building power, shoulder prehab and more. Click here to get some.
A great prehab / warmup drill for activating the rear delts, lower traps and rhomboids.
Start by holding the band out in front of you horizontally. Allow the shoulders to protract in the first position, then keeping the arms straight, pull them back and down (retract and depress) to finish the movement. Think about squeezing a penny between your shoulder blades.
The face pull is one of my favourites for all round shoulder health. I usually do them with cables or gymnastic rings, but a band can work well too.
Setup the anchor point at head height or just above (you may need to kneel on the floor for this). Start by pulling the band towards your face, and when your hands are an inch or two from hitting you, externally rotate through the shoulders, keeping the elbows high.
In the finish position, you should feel like the shoulder blades are scooping back and under. I like to hold for a few seconds in this position before continuing.
The banded row is a great drill for activating the posterior oblique sling – the connection between the glute and lat on the opposite sides.
This connection is crucial for all kinds of athletic movement patterns, including running, swimming, throwing, and many more.
Here we add some explosive movement to the above banded twist row, which I feel has more transfer over to athletic movement patterns.
If you have a strong upright and some heavy resistance bands, the seated row is a great option. Just like the bodyweight rows, stay stable through the midsection, pull the elbows past the body and squeeze those shoulders back and down.
As above, but you’re forced to be more mindful of your core as you resist rotation. Not a bad option if you start to run out of band resistance for the two arm version.
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