The 8 Best Bodyweight Exercises for the Back

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The 8 Best Bodyweight Exercises for the Back

There’s a tendency to assume that back pain is a result of back problems. That’s sometimes the case as anyone with herniated discs in the lumbar spine can attest.

More often, however, the modern epidemic of back problems comes from our sedentary culture where spend too much time sitting. This shortens our hamstrings, locks up our hips, and creates muscle dysfunction throughout the body that translates into back pain.

That’s why to address back problems, we must attack the entire core region, turning to moves that open the hips and lengthen and strengthen our bodies, putting them back in proper alignment.

A back workout not only should produce that coveted V-shaped back but also create the core strength that will prevent long-term back ailments (to say nothing of back injury in the gym). Bodyweight back moves are especially effective as studies suggest they improve movement quality.

Here are eight bodyweight exercises that not only will strengthen the back but also keep us from developing back problems down the road.

Rib Opener

What it does: This move lengthens and strengthens the muscles of the chest and back, creating mobility in the thoracic spine.

How to do it: Lay on your left side with the left (bottom) leg straight and your right (top) leg at a 90-degree angle atop a foam roller. Your left hand is on your right knee. Reach your right arm across your chest as if pinning a newspaper to the chest. Pull your chest to the right, getting a good stretch. Hold for two seconds.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Bow and Arrow

What it does: A variation on the rib opener that also strengthens the muscles of the chest and back, creating mobility in the thoracic spine.

How to do it: Kneel on your right knee and place a short foam roller between the side of your left knee and a wall. Bring your hands together in front of you and then extend your right arm fully back, similar to a yoga Warrior 2 pose but with palms facing out. Hold for two seconds.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Pull Ups

What it does: No other move makes you feel like you’re building that V-shape back. You’re hitting the muscles of your upper back, along with the shoulders, biceps, forearms, and chest.

How to do it:  Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Hanging from the bar, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body, and build momentum. Finish by pulling up with your arms.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps (or as many as possible) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Backward Lunge with Twist

What it does: This move provides all of the benefits of a lunge while also giving you a great stretch of the back.

How to do it: With feet together, step back with your right leg into a lunge. Arch your back and twist your torso over your left (front) leg while reaching your right hand to the sky. Push out of that position into the next lunge.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Sliding Leg Curls

What it does: This move challenges your hamstrings as well as your glutes and lower back.

How to do it: Lie faceup on the floor with your arms at your sides, legs straight, and heels on a towel on a slippery surface (or while in socks on a smooth surface). Lift your hips off the ground, keeping a straight line from ankle to shoulders, sliding your heels to your body. Return to the starting position.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

One-Arm, One-Leg Plank

What it does: This move challenges you to keep your back flat and stabilized.

How to do it: From a pushup position with forearms on the ground, push up off your elbows supporting your weight on your elbows. Tuck your chin so that your head is in line with your body. Lift one arm and opposite leg, hold for two seconds. Switch limbs.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps (per side) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Floor Ys

What it does: This move not only strengthens the back and shoulders, it counteracts the effects of sitting by pulling your shoulders back and down where they belong.

How to do it: Lie face down on the floor so that your back is flat. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down and lift your arms above your head to form a Y, rising off the floor. Keep your thumbs up.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Half Locust

What it does: This yoga move strengthens the erector spinae muscles, which run on both sides of the spine from the pelvis to the upper back.

How to do it: Lie face down on the ground with arms by your sides. Inhale and lift your head and upper chest off the ground. Only lift a few inches, which should be enough to have everything above your breastbone in the air. Hold for two seconds and return to starting position.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

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