Best Back Exercises & Workouts at Home for a Healthy Shape
By Sandra Lee, Coffee in the Middle
Backaches and injuries are detrimental to everyday movements. The back muscles connect the hips, buttocks, chest, shoulders and neck and also help balance out the muscles in the front of the body. Strong back muscles are necessary to overall health.
A sedentary lifestyle can really hurt the body in the long-run. Our bodies were meant to move and too much of our daily activities are done sitting – working at desks, riding the train/bus to work, sitting in front of the TV after a long day, not to mention what 2020 has done to our ability to meet up with people in person and engage in healthy activities. An inactive lifestyle can lead to poor blood circulation, a weakened immune system and hormonal imbalances.
Back muscles give power to the body and play a major role in preventing injury, which is why back exercises are key. According to researchers, back exercises increase blood flow to the lower back area, which reduces stiffness (something we’ve all felt getting up in the morning at one time or another) and speeds up the healing process after injury.
Bottom line, a strong back improves a person’s quality of life. Since we don’t always have the time or resources to go to a gym, why not try some back exercises at home? We’ve got some simple workout suggestions, with or without weights, that are super effective and can jumpstart your journey to a stronger back.
Parts of the Back
When assessing the back, there are several specific muscles that should be targeted. It’s important to try to target most or all of them in workouts to build a strong back. These muscles include:
- Latissimus Dorsi: large wing-shaped muscles that basically cover the entire lower back
- Rhomboids: responsible for squeezing the shoulder blades together and then down
- Trapezius: diamond-shaped muscles that move the shoulder bones
- Erector Spinae: a group of muscles that run along the spine
Here are some good back exercises to do at home that are effective and easy to set up. Some require a pair of weights or bands, while others use your own bodyweight.
- Resistance Band Pull-Apart
A good exercise to start off with, all you need are some resistance bands and some space. This one targets the mid-back and shoulder blades.
Stand with your arms and legs extended. Hold the resistance band in front of you with both hands, so the band is aligned with the floor. Pull the band to your chest by moving your arms out to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades while keeping your spine straight. Complete two sets of 15-20 reps.
- Wide Dumbbell Row (T-raises)
Using light to moderate weights (5-10 pounds), you can mimic what a barbell row exercise would feel like at a gym. It’s a good exercise to do to help you address any muscular imbalances on either side and adjust accordingly. It’s also an effective exercise to increase range of motion.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend at the waist, with your palms facing your thighs, keeping your neck neutral. The dumbbells should be hanging down in front of you. Row with the elbows at a 90-degree angle, pulling them up while squeezing your shoulder blades. Complete three sets of 12 reps.
- Single–Arm Dumbbell Rows
This is a good exercise for becoming more familiar with your back muscles, to figure out if one side is stronger, and for noticing if there are any imbalances between either side. This is a great exercise to tone the sides of the back, as well.
The aim is to keep your shoulder blades together and your core engaged. Holding medium weights, and using one hand at a time, stand hip-width apart, you’re your knees and lower your torso until you’re almost parallel to the floor. Draw the weight up toward your chest by bending your left elbow straight up. Then switch to the other side.
- Plank with Lateral Arm Raise
If you’re wanting more of a full body workout, this plank with lateral arm raises works both your back muscles as well as your abs, with no equipment required. It’s also a good balance challenge, because you’ll be moving from side to side, holding your body one arm at a time.
Start in a plank position with hands below your shoulders and your feet set slightly wider than hip-width. Holding the form, lift one arm up to shoulder height. Return to center and then lift the other arm to shoulder height, drawing your belly button up and tight to engage those core muscles. Repeat for 3 more reps on each side.
- Chair Twist
Yoga poses are great for building a stronger, more flexible back that’s less prone to injuries. This chair pose stretches and strengthens your back, while also working out your obliques. The best part is that no weights or bands are required, since your body is doing all of the work.
Squat into a chair position with hands (either in prayer formation or fists together) in front of your chest. Twist your torso to the right and place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, keeping that chair position steady. Hold for three breaths, then return to center. Repeat on the other side.
This exercise mimics swimming, and is great for the lower back, engaging the legs, arms and upper back muscles, as well.
Start by lying on your stomach, arms extended forward and legs straight behind you, feet pointed. Lift your head, chest, thighs and pelvis to “hover” over the floor. Circle arms out wide and back by sides, squeezing the shoulder blades together. For another variation, flutter the feet and arms at the same time. Do 10-12 reps, resting as needed.
- Dolphin Kick
This one might take a little maneuvering, but your lower back will thank you. No equipment is needed, though you will need to find a bench in order to get into position.
Lie face-down on a bench so that the crease of your hip is at the end of the bench (you’ll be moving your legs up and will need mobility and space to do that). Straighten your legs while raising them up, to engage the abs, glutes, hips and spinal erectors in the lower back, like a dolphin kicking. Hold for five seconds, engaging every muscle you can. Repeat three sets of five reps, with rest as needed.
Channel your inner flying superhero and try this static pose that engages the back, abs, arms and legs. No equipment is needed for this one, just some space to lie on the floor… and a “super” mindset.
Lie on the floor with your chin to the ground and relax your eyes to a neutral gaze. Reach your arms straight above your shoulders, so your palms are resting flat on the floor. Take a deep breath, and while engaging back, glutes, and shoulders, lift yourself up and hold to “fly”. Repeat for three reps with a 15-second hold.
For a beginner’s modification, try the “Aquaman” by raising and lowering your opposite arm and leg simultaneously in the same form as above. Hold for five seconds and then complete the three sets as above.
- Hip Hinge
Also known as “Good Morning”, this hinge-focused exercise really works on strengthening the lower back. It’s a great one to do if you’re concerned about avoiding injury and pain that can be caused by picking up heavy items, since it engages your glutes and hamstrings.
Stand up straight with your hands on your hips and your feet planted firmly, set a little wider than the hips. Engage your core and pull your shoulders back slightly, keeping a neutral spine. Bend forward at the waist in a slow and controlled manner, being careful not to round your back until you’re parallel to the floor. Then come up slowly. Repeat three sets of 10-15 reps.
A good warm-up and cool-down is essential to any exercise routine. A warm-up gradually raises your heart rate and body temperature and increases blood flow to your muscles. It also lessens the risk of injury from a workout and helps reduce muscle soreness afterward.
Cat-Cow is another popular warm up for the back and for prepping your core muscles. Start in a “tabletop” position, keeping a neutral spine and spreading your fingers wide. Take a deep breath on the inhale, drop your belly toward the floor, arch your spine and lift your tailbone, chest and chin (like a cat). As you exhale, round your spine, draw your navel in and tuck your tailbone and chin in (like a cow). Try this six times.
A cool-down gradually slows your breathing and heart rate back down. It stretches, relaxes and lengthens your muscles, to reduce any cramping or soreness after a workout.
A supine twist stretches and relieves tension in your lower back and hips. Lie on your back on the floor or on a yoga mat. Pull your right knee up toward your chest, and then guide it across your body with your left hand. Your right hip then comes up off the floor and “stacks” vertically over your left hip. Just one twist on each side while holding steady and breathing will do the trick.
All of these back exercises can be done at home with little or no equipment. Building a strong back takes time, but doing so is absolutely essential to preventing injury and increasing mobility. A strong back allows you to accomplish everyday tasks with ease. Best of all, your body will thank you.
Sandra Lee is a blogger, amateur photographer and freelance writer for parenting publications such as Red Tricycle and Mommy Nearest. Hailing from Texas and living in the Bay Area, she writes about life with two kids, beauty finds, food and all things motherhood on her blog, Coffee in the Middle. As a bilingual Mexican and Italian woman, she’s committed to teaching her kids about diversity, the Spanish language and the love of different cultures. When she’s not chasing the little ones around, she’s either baking up something delicious, taking a yoga class or writing.