5 Best Calisthenic Back Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 13, 2022

The back is the region that covers up all the components of the posterior neck down to the posterior pelvic area. A variety of muscles, nerves, bone structures, and many more make up the structural integrity of the back. These components serve a variety of functions including keeping the torso in an upright posture and protecting vital organs of the body.

Calisthenic back exercises were created to develop and strengthen the back muscles in order to support the trunk more efficiently. Muscle weakness in the back area may lead to several problems as the spinal cord, a structure made up of nerve cells that connect to all parts of the body, is housed in this region.

Calisthenic back exercises use the body’s weight and little to no equipment. This allows for body weight to be the main provider of resistance, which places less tension on the joints while still being able to build lean, strong muscles in the back.

What is a Calisthenic Back Exercise?

The calisthenic exercise dropped in popularity when bodybuilding took over the fitness industry but started rising in popularity again during the start of the 20th century. This type of exercise relies on the body’s weight and requires little to no equipment at all. It is a low-resistance exercise that necessitates performing multiple repetitions.

Calisthenics can be done as a warm-up or a cool-down for another exercise or activity, or can even be a workout on its own. As a basic form of movement, calisthenic back exercises enable safer workouts and have proven to deliver good results when aiming for strength training.

Calisthenic Back Exercises

1. Superman 

The Superman exercise is a powerful and fantastic workout for anyone who wants to focus on  strengthening the lower back muscles. There is no equipment required thus, the exercise may be performed at home.

supermans

The back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and abs are all specifically worked. Since the muscles are contracted in an isometric manner during this exercise, muscular lengthening does not take place as a result of stress.

To do this, the body is placed in a prone position with the stomach on the ground or a mat and the arms overhead in a straight line. Both the arms and the legs are lifted off the floor, maintain in that position for a few seconds, and then lower them back down.

2. Prone Cobra

The prone cobra is a calisthenic exercise that is similar to the superman variation.

This exercise works the external rotators of the shoulder and arms and strengthens the latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, trapezius, and core muscles. The prone cobra especially helps support and increase the endurance, strength, and stability of the lumbar spine region.

prone cobra

To perform the prone cobra, lie down on the ground or a mat face down with the legs straight, the arms by the side, and the palms interlocked behind the back, or under the thighs.

Raise the upper torso and the legs into the air by contracting the glutes and the lower back muscles so that the only part of the body touching the ground are the hips, the lower stomach, and the toes.

While raising the legs and the upper torso, rotate the arm outward so that the thumbs are pointing up. Hold this position for the desired amount of time, then lower and relax the muscles and repeat. 

3. Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly

The bodyweight rear delt fly is a variation of the rear delt fly that differs in the type of weight that is used during the exercise. This workout strengthens the rear deltoid, traps, lats, and rhomboid muscles. 

To perform this, lie down with the back on the ground, knees bent, and arms extended to the side so that it forms a straight horizontal line along the shoulders. Lock the shoulders up so that they do not touch the ground. Lift the upper back from the floor by contracting the rear deltoids and pushing down on the ground with fists.

With the upper back suspended in the air, briefly hold the position before lowering it to the ground in a slow and controlled manner. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set. 

4. Inverted Rows

The inverted rows primarily target the muscles of the back and shoulders, specifically, the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rear deltoids. The biceps and core muscles are also activated during the execution of this exercise to help pull the body toward the bar.

This exercise is best done on a smith machine but can also be possibly done under a sturdy table or anything that can hold the individual’s weight against gravity. 

inverted row

To start the inverted rows, set up a barbell on a smith machine or a stable rack with the bar reaching hip height. Lie down underneath the barbell so that the torso is facing the barbell with the heels planted on the ground. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip at a slightly wider than shoulder-width distance. The body, from the head down to the heels, should be maintained straight throughout the exercise. 

Pull the shoulder blades back, contract the back muscles, and engage the core to pull the chest towards the bar. In a controlled manner, slowly lower the body down again until it returns to the starting position. Repeat the steps for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.

5. Pull-ups

Pull-ups are among the most popular calisthenic exercises. It is a great approach to assess a person's body weight-to-strength ratio at rest. The deltoid, rhomboid, trapezius, and core muscles are all activated during this workout, but the lats and biceps development is the main focus.

pull up

To perform pull-ups, begin by standing underneath a pull-up bar. With the palms facing forward and at around shoulder width, grab the bar with a neutral grip. Keep the head up and the shoulders tucked in.

Bending the elbows and pulling on the bar will raise the body. The chin must rise above the pull-up bar to count as one rep. Then, slowly and carefully lower the torso until the elbow joint reaches full extension.

Benefits of Calisthenic Back Exercises

Calisthenic exercises are great for building functional muscle strength and aiding in everyday tasks. This type of exercise is also excellent in reducing stress on the joints while building muscle strength unlike other types of exercises. It is also great for increasing the total daily energy expenditure and enhancing muscular and aerobic endurance.

Gentle on Joints

Calisthenic exercise is done with body weight as its primary resistance with little to no equipment used. Unlike free weights that place higher pressure on the joints, calisthenic exercises will result in a longer lifespan for the joints while improving muscle strength.

Increases Total Daily Energy Expenditure

Since physical activity is a key factor in increasing total daily energy expenditure, calisthenic exercises are an excellent choice to burn more calories. Additionally, this type of exercise is also able to increase muscular and aerobic endurance. This is because calisthenics can be done more frequently and at longer periods of time as compared to other types of workouts. 

No Equipment Needed

Calisthenic exercises are very versatile and widely available as they frequently do not require the use of equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, and other materials to be able to perform the workout. As mentioned before, calisthenic exercises use the body’s weight as its primary resistance and this resistance can be increased by varying the angle of the body while performing a certain exercise. 

Helps Maintain Proper Form

Due to the extra tension that free weights provide, or sometimes even mistakenly choosing to lift heavier weights, the proper form may be disrupted because the weights force other muscles of the body to compensate during the lift. With calisthenic exercises, this phenomenon rarely happens as only body weight is used as the primary provider of resistance and thus will allow the person to focus more on the body’s form.

Back Muscles Worked

Latissimus Dorsi

The lowest two-thirds of the trunk is covered by a flat, wing-like muscle called the latissimus dorsi.

lat muscles

This muscle, along with the pectoralis major and teres major, can adduct, medially rotate, and extend the arm at the glenohumeral joint when it is contracted because of its attachments.

Erector Spinae

Three muscles make up the erector spinae, namely, the longissimus, spinalis, and iliocostalis muscles. The pelvic, vertebral, and rib bones in the lower-to-mid back serve as the origin of the erector spinae.

erector spinae muscles

This group of muscles stretches upward and inserts on the vertebral and rib bones higher up in the back and neck. The primary function of these muscles is to extend the back, laterally flex the back, and maintain the correct posture and curvature of the spine. 

Trapezius

The upper, middle, and lower trapezius are the three sections of a pair of broad, triangular muscles that are situated at the top of the back.

trapezius muscles

Lower fibers depress and medially rotate the scapula, while middle fibers act to retract or adduct (to pull towards the midline) the scapula.

Rear Deltoids

The muscle that is located at the back of the shoulder is the posterior or rear deltoids.

This muscle originates from the lateral third of the spine of the scapula and inserts in the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus. Due to the attachment of the muscle, it is capable of extending, externally rotating, and horizontally abducting the shoulder joint.

Rhomboids

Deep to the trapezius muscle is the rhomboid group of muscles. This muscle group aids in scapular stability and shoulder mobility.

rhomboid muscles

Scapular retraction is its main function, however, it is also capable of rotating and elevating the scapula. This muscle attaches to the spinous processes of the second to the fifth thoracic vertebra and inserts on the medial border of the scapula. 

Final Thoughts

Several individuals are exposed to back problems such as pain, aching, and tightness among others. This alone entails how important performing back exercises are even if the goal is not muscle hypertrophy. This is most vital, especially for people that work long-hour shifts sitting down or carrying heavy objects which causes tension in the back.

Calisthenic back exercises will allow any individual to work on their back without taking too much of their time by going to the gym to use pieces of equipment. This also allows for a safer approach for beginners as it only uses body weight as resistance for the exercise. 

With the right calisthenic exercise strength, fitness, stability, and endurance can be increased to assist in having a stronger back to avoid back problems. However, if the person already suffers from back problems beforehand, it is better to approach a professional before trying any form of exercise.

References

1. Thomas E, Bianco A, Mancuso EP, Patti A, Tabacchi G, Paoli A, Messina G, Palma A. The effects of a calisthenics training intervention on posture, strength and body composition. Isokinetics and exercise science. 2017 Jan 1;25(3):215-22.

2. Modes RJ, Lafci Fahrioglu S. Anatomy, Back. [Updated 2022 Feb 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539746/

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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