Back it up!

If you’re thinking about exercising your front torso such as your chest and abs, you have to think about the opposite side of your body as well – your back!

The back is usually neglected because attention is usually focused on building the aesthetic muscles such as the chest, shoulders, biceps, and abs.  However, don’t ignore the back as it contains the second biggest muscle (lats) in the body – it’s also one of the strongest muscles in your body.   A strong and healthy back is essential in developing good functional strength and improving your physical capabilities.  The back muscles are key in strengthening your movements in various activities and are important in preventing imbalances which may result in injuries.  Throughout your daily activities, the back performs many complex movements to stabilize your core – it will help to improve your posture and prevent lower back pain as well.

Below are some calisthenic exercises which target the muscles of the back including the mid-back lats (latissimus dorsi), the upper back (rhomboids and trapezius muscles), and the lower back (erector spinae).

Upper Back

The up and down motions of these exercises cause your shoulder blades to squeeze together when you’re performing them thus benefiting the upper shoulders.

  • Pull ups and Chin ups – These are amazing exercises for the second biggest muscle in your body, your lats! (Latissimus Dorsi)
  • Almost all other exercises listed on this page will indirectly benefit the mid-back lats!
Lower Back
  • Sit-ups (indirectly)
  • Lying Leg Raises (mainly works abs, indirectly benefits lower back)
  • Back Hyper extensions –  (can be done on an exercise ball or other equipment supporting your legs but not your torso) Begin by getting on the equipment face down at about approximately a 45 degree angle – legs supporting your body weight.  Cross your arms in front of your chest and slowly lower your upper body down bending forward from the hips.  Once your torso is bent over  (perpendicular to the floor is best), slowly return to original position and repeat.
  • Floor Hyper extensions – also known as “superman.” Similar to exercise ball or bench back hyper extension except you’re on the floor. Lie face down with your hands on the side or behind your head and lift your chest off the ground.  Obviously, you will not be able to bend upwards very far so don’t over-exert yourself. You may lift your legs off the ground simultaneously for added effect.
  • Pilates Bridge – Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Have feet about shoulder-width apart. Feet should not be too far too close from your torso.  Begin by pushing your feet into the ground and lift your hips off the floor.  Stop going upwards with when your chest, stomach, and thighs are in a straight line. Hold the position, and slowly come back down.

Don’t break your back!

Be careful with your back! There are horror stories, although not related to many exercise injuries, of people hurting their backs and must live a with a lifetime of back pain.  They are mostly due to car accidents or work accidents or not lifting big & heavy objects correctly.  Sorry if I scared you, but don’t be deathly afraid to workout your back with calisthenic exercises which are supposed to benefit and help you!

The best way to give those lats a good workout is by getting a home pull up bar such as The Perfect Pullup or the Iron Gym Pullup Bar. They are very simple and inexpensive pieces of equipment which are must have items.  I personally cannot go without one one of these in my home to work out my back muscles.

Remember form and technique! These exercises will really help you perform day-to-day functions with your back and help avoid injuries.

Good luck and stay safe!