The 4 Best Back Home Workouts (Plus the Exercises You Need To Master)

Daniel Davies
·13-min read
Photo credit: PixelCatchers - Getty Images
Photo credit: PixelCatchers - Getty Images

From Men's Health

While working some muscles can be a pure vanity project – we’re looking at you, abs – back workouts, even at home, are an investment in your future.

According to Arthritis Research UK, around 10 million people in England and Scotland have persistent back pain, while multiple sources estimate that 60 to 80 per cent of adults living in Western countries will at some point experience low-back pain. And if you're one of those people what's the best thing you can do? Well, according to research published in journal The Physician and Sports Medicine, "If you suffer from low-back pain the most important part of your treatment is something only you can give yourself – exercise."

Given how important the back is then, both for aesthetics and fending off pain, we can’t accept any excuses for not exercising it. No, the gyms being closed and a lack of equipment aren't a reason to give up on your back workouts, especially when there are so many good home back workouts for you to do.

Below are just two examples of simple home back workouts. For the first, you'll need a pair dumbbells, but for the second all that's required is your bodyweight. Time to build yourself a bigger back.

Why You Need to Train Your Back

Before we get onto the workouts, lets first look at why you need to work out your back. A strong, well-developed back will improve your workouts in the gym and help develop full-body muscle. A strong back, for example, will provide the foundations for your deadlifts and squat, as your body is able to call upon more stabilising muscles, enabling you to lift more.

Training your back is also the most effective way to prevent back injuries. As specialist sports physiotherapist, Adam Meakins, says: “A stronger more robust back can resist stresses and strains when bending, lifting, twisting, turning throughout the day, but also with just postural positioning, so for people who have to sit at desks and stay still for long periods of time, a stronger more robust back will allow you to tolerate that better.”

Struggling to maintain balance with your overhead press? A strong back will put an end to your wobbles.

Which Muscles Make up 'the Back'?

When we discuss working out ‘the back’ we often talk about it like it’s one complete muscle. In reality, the back is made up of a number of muscles and areas that can be divided up in a few different ways.

Erector spinae: “The main back muscles that run the entire length of your spine are called the erector spinae,” says Meakins. “Made up of various different muscles, they form large, powerful columns, either side of your spine, that are responsible for helping to move your spine from a flex position to upright. They're also there to hold you up against gravity throughout the day as well – they're the main muscles that run up the whole of the spine.”

Local and stabilising muscles, including the multifidus: “We have these smaller muscles that sit closer to the spine, which are sometimes called the local or stabilising muscles,” says Meakins. The most commonly talked about of these muscles is the multifidus, and, as Meakins explains, “their role is predominantly to help stabilise one vertebrae on another, along with all the ligaments and the tendons that also wrap around the spine.”

Obliques: “You have the obliques, which make up the back muscle,” says Meakins. “These oblique muscles are commonly thought to be abdominal muscles, but they wrap around and attach onto the thoracolumbar fascia around the back. You have internal and external obliques, and they're predominantly responsible for the rotation and the side bending of the trunk, and they also help provide stability as well.”

Latissimus dorsi and trapezius muscles: “Their role is more associated with head, neck and shoulder functions rather than back functions,” says Meakins.

Teres major: Teres major is a small muscle that's located on the underside of the upper arm. It's sometimes called "lat's little helper" because of its partnership action with the latissimus dorsi.

Rhomboid major and minor: These two muscles lie underneath the trapezius. The rhomboids provide stability for the shoulder complex and are responsible for the retraction of the shoulder blades.

The Best Way to Train Your Back

With so many muscles to take care of, you may think you have to work out morning, noon and night to exercise them all. Luckily, or unluckily depending on how you look at it, the body doesn’t really work like that, so it’s hard to isolate and work out the back’s muscles separately.

Instead, PT and musculoskeletal osteopath at Third Space, Henry Howe recommends splitting your workouts into vertical and horizontal pulling movements. By vertical, Howe is referring to things like lat pulldowns, and for horizontal pulling movements think rowing.

“In every pulling movement, you're going to have a bit more bias to different areas of the back, but it's pretty hard to work them independently,” says Howe. “I prefer to go down the route of looking at vertical pulling and horizontal pulling, and then you're going to have different parts of the back that are looked at.”

The 6 Best at-home Exercises for Your Back

Some exercises sit head, shoulders and back above the rest when it comes to back exercises. Make sure these make it into your home routines.

The Deadlift

Generally speaking, when you deadlift you're utilising most of the muscles that make up your core or trunk, as well as your legs. "Your lower back, glutes and hamstrings, so that classic posterior chain, is going to be the main working area," says Howe. "Also, anytime we're lifting we're seeing increases in activity through the core as well,”

If we're specifically looking at the back muscles deadlifting works it all begins with your obliques, which will contract to maintain spinal stability. Meanwhile, the erector spine deep spinal extensors undergo concentric contraction to bring the spine into an upright position, and finally, the latissimus dorsi come into action and help you stabilise whatever weight you're using.

Bent-over Row

If you're going to be working your back from home then you're going to need to get used to rows. Our favourite: the bent-over row, which works your middle and lower traps, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles.

Kettlebell Swings

If you want to work your back's posterior chain there're few better moves than kettlebell swings. But beyond that, kettlebell swings will also challenge your core too. In fact, the only bad thing about kettlebell swings is getting hold of a kettlebell at the minute, but we can also help with that.

Inverted Row

While at first glance it may seem that this upper-back killer is impossible to do at home, we have a workaround for you. Simply grab a couple of chair and pull yourself up between them, and bear in mind, this exercise can be made more difficult or simpler depending on the placement of your feet.

Renegade Row

The effectiveness of The renegade row combines two of our favourite movements, the plank and the press-up, but then it makes them even more effective by adding more elements to work different muscle groups. All too often though, this exercises is ruined by people rushing through it. Remember, the goal here is not to row as heavy a weight as possible as quickly as possible; the goal is maintaining proper spinal position.

Wide-grip Pull-ups

There aren't too many bodyweight exercises that are really effective back builders, but wide-grip pull-ups are definitely worthy of inclusion on this list. They build width by targeting your lats and give the torso a wider, flared shape, which can give you that coveted V-shape torso.

The Best Home Back Workouts (with Dumbbells, Kettlebells or Bodyweight)

Ready to take all you've learned and put it into practice? These are the best home back workouts, whether you're training with dumbbells, a kettlebell or you only equipped with your own bodyweight.

Home Back Workout: Dumbbells

Howe has put together the ultimate dumbbell back workout, so whether you're at home or back at the gym, you can give your back the workout it deserves.

Dumbbell Stiff-leg deadlift

How many: 4 sets and 8 to 12 reps

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes before the next set

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip, and hold them at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your legs straight. Hinge at your hips, and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Pause, then raise your torso back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.

Seated Rear-delt Fly

How many: 4 sets and 8 to 12 reps

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes before the next set

How to do it: Sit down, lean forward and hold a dumbbell in either hand so that they're resting above your feet. Stay bent forward as you raise your arms to the side, lining the dumbbells with your shoulders. Bring the weights back down and repeat.

Bent-over Row

How many: 4 sets and 8 to 12 reps

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes before the next set

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells, bend at your hips and knees, and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your lower back should be naturally arched. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, your palms facing each other. Without moving your torso, lift one dumbbell to your side and slowly lower it. Then repeat with your other arm.

Dumbbell Pullover

How many: 4 sets and 8 to 12 reps

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes before the next set

How to do it: Holding a dumbbell, lay with your back flat on a bench. With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbell above your chest. Keeping your low back pressed into the bench or stability ball, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears. Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.

Dumbbell Upright Row

How many: 4 sets and 8 to 12 reps

Rest: 1 to 2 minutes before the next set

How to do it: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting in front of your thigh. Lift the dumbbells vertically until they're in line with your collar bone, with your elbow pointing towards the ceiling. Lower the dumbbell back down and repeat.

Home Back Workout: Bodyweight

For this workout, take a 15 second break between each exercise to help focus on technique during your next move. After completing the circuit once, rest for 2 minutes. Repeat three times in total.

Wide-grip Pull up

8 reps

How to do it: Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your arms fully extended. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, exhale and drive your elbows towards your hips to bring your chin above the bar. Lower under control back to the start position. Eke out this eccentric phase of the rep to three seconds for maximum muscle growth.

#Hack

If you don't have a pull-up bar at home, use our fitness editor's no-kit workaround.

Horizontal Row

8 reps

How to do it: Set the bar at just under chest height and hang underneath it with your feet raised on a bench. Set your core and keep your body straight from head to toe. Bring your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows towards the floor. Once your chest reaches the bar lower back to the start position over three seconds.

#Hack

If you don't have a bar to pull yourself up to, use two chairs instead.

Superman Back Extension

Hold for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds. 12 rounds

How to do it: Lie with your chest down on the floor, reaching your arms straight out in front of you (as if you were Superman mid-flight). Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your arms, legs, and the top of your chest off the floor. Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position. Don't drop your arms or legs.

Wide-grip Press-up

8 reps

How to do it: Get down into a press-up position with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground then explosively drive up by fully extending your arms.

Home Back Workout: Bodyweight #2

Only have 15-minutes to spare? Need some TLC after a tough back workout? Give this simple back session a go.

Cat Cow

5 to 8 reps

Get down on your hands and knees and slowly lower your head between your arms as you raise your upper back, rounding your spine. Now return slowly, extending your neck and arching your lower back.

Leg Raises

8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Lie on a mat with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands either under your glutes with your palms down or by your sides. Keeping your legs straight as possible, exhale and raise them until they make a 90-degree angle with the floor or as far as you can get them while keeping them straight. Slowly lower to the starting position.

Side Plank

30 seconds each side

How to do it: Lie on your left side with your legs either straight or bent at the knee. Resting on your elbow, tense your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line. Hold still for 7-8 seconds, breathing deeply. Do the same on your right side.

Bird Dog

8 to 10 reps in total

How to do it: On your hands and knees, slowly raise and straighten your right leg and left arm. Hold for 7-8 seconds, then lower to the starting position. Repeat with your right arm and left leg.

Home Back Workout: Kettlebell

  • Squat lift to goblet squat

  • Squat return

  • Squat lift to bottoms up hold

  • Overhead tricep extension to squat return

Complete five total reps of the flow for one set, and 10 sets for the workout. Take 30 seconds to rest between sets.

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