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8 Back Exercises Without Weights: Effective No-Equipment Moves

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a man is standing with his back to the camera, flexing his arms, back exercises without weights
David J. Sautter post Reviewer David J. Sautter post Reviewer
Verified by David J. Sautter
NASM Personal Trainer, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Sports Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist

Table of Contents

Although gym equipment like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells certainly help sculpt muscle, building your back can be done using your body weight alone. 

Below, we discuss how you can build back muscles without weights. We’ll also cover how to achieve progressive overload (the process of building muscle) without packing on the load. 

Best of all, we’ll provide you with the best back exercises without weights. 

So, if your gym goals include building muscle definition and strengthening the muscles in your back, try these 8 back exercises without weights. 

Can You Build Back Muscles Without Weights?

Bodyweight exercise is also known as calisthenics. Examples include squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and other compound exercises — multi-joint, multi-muscle moves — that rely on you moving with your own body weight.

Calisthenics is also an umbrella term spanning beginners’ bodyweight exercise to advanced gymnastics, found within functional workouts and CrossFit classes. That means advanced moves like handstands and muscle-ups can be calisthenics. 

Although bodyweight training builds functional strength, you could also build back muscle with no equipment, especially as a beginner. And it’s a great way to sculpt a stronger body without heavy weightlifting. [1]

Anyone can do it, and you can make it as low-impact as necessary, but if your goal is to build leaner back muscles, you’ll need to adopt a principle called progressive overload, which we dissect later on. 

8 Back Exercises Without Weights

You can do these 8 back exercises without weights at home. Here’s a step-by-step on how to do them. 

1. Bird-Dog

a woman is working out, doing bird dog exercise_back exercises without weights
  • Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position with your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees.
  • Engage your core and keep a neutral spine.
  • Extend your left arm straight ahead, aligned with your shoulder and your right leg behind you at hip height, while gazing toward the top of your mat.
  • Hold the position briefly, then return to the starting position.
  • Swap sides.

Remember to move slowly and with control. Squeeze your glutes, back, and shoulder muscles at the top of the exercise and avoid turning toward one side. 

2. Superman

a man is working out, doing superman exercise, back exercises without weights
  • Lay on your stomach with arms extended overhead and legs extended behind you.
  • Engage your core muscles and look toward the top of your mat.
  • Lift your arms and legs away from your mat as high as possible, squeezing your back, shoulders, and glutes.
  • Pause at the top of the exercise, then slowly lower your arms and legs back to the mat. 

Supermans use a back extension to hit the back muscles hard, including the shoulders (the posterior deltoids). Draw your shoulder blades together as you lift and move with control. Practice lifting just your arms or legs first until you feel comfortable.

3. Swimming

a woman is working out, doing swimming_back exercises without weights
  • Lay on your stomach and perform a Superman to lift both arms and legs off the mat toward the ceiling.
  • From here, squeeze your back, core, shoulders, and glutes to keep your chest lifted.
  • Gaze toward the top of your mat.
  • Lift your left arm and leg higher, then as you lower them slightly, lift your right arm and leg higher and continue to switch quickly from left to right while keeping your chest up.

Engage your core throughout the movement to protect your lower back and ensure optimal muscle activation.

4. Contralateral Limb Raises

a man is working out, doing Contralateral Limb Raises_back exercises without weights
  • Start on your stomach with arms extended overhead, palms down and legs extended.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your back muscles, then lift your chest away from the mat.
  • Keep your gaze forward.
  • With control, lift your left arm and right leg away from the mat and pause for a moment, squeezing your shoulder blades and glutes.
  • Slowly lower them back down and repeat on the other side. 

Maintain a steady breathing pattern, exhaling as you lift and inhaling as you lower, to enhance stability and muscle engagement.

5. Trunk Half Circles

a woman is working out, doing Trunk Half Circles_back exercises without weights
  • Lay on your stomach with the legs extended behind you.
  • Engage your core, then lift your chest away from the ground and place your hands on either side of your head.
  • Keep your core and glutes engaged and your chest up.
  • Slowly circle your left elbow toward your left hip, pause, then circle your right elbow toward your right hip.
  • Both legs should press down toward the mat throughout. 

Focus on maintaining a smooth, controlled motion to maximize oblique engagement and improve trunk mobility.

6. Good Mornings

a man is working out, doing good mornings exercise, back exercises without weights
  • Start standing with feet hip or shoulder width apart.
  • Place your hands lightly behind your head and draw your shoulder blades together to open your chest.
  • Engage your core, then softly bend the knees and lock them in place.
  • Send your hips backward and begin lowering the chest toward the floor.
  • Once you feel your hamstrings engage and reach a flat back position, pause, then drive back up to standing and squeeze your glutes. 

Avoid overextending or flexing the spine and work to your end range of motion. You can determine this by your hamstring flexibility.

7. Single Leg Deadlift

a woman is working out, doing Single Leg Deadlift_back exercises without weights
  • Start standing with feet hip-width apart.
  • Softly bend your left knee and lock it in place. Engage your core and maintain a flat back.
  • Lift your right leg behind you as you lean your chest forward and touch both hands toward your left foot.
  • Pause, then drive back up to stand. Complete reps on one leg, then swap sides.
  • Keep your hips square throughout, and avoid turning your body toward the side.

Use a slight gaze point a few feet ahead on the floor to aid balance and ensure a steady, controlled movement.

8. Glute Bridge

a man is working out, doing glute bridge_back exercises without weights
  • Lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the mat beneath you.
  • For a deeper hamstring stretch, place your feet further away from your bum or keep your feet close to your body if you prefer.
  • Flatten your lower back to the floor and place your hands next to your sides.
  • Engage your core, then drive your hips toward the ceiling, creating a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  • Pause, then slowly lower your hips to the mat, starting with the top of the spine and finishing with your lower back.

Press firmly through your heels during the lift to maximize glute activation and ensure proper form.

How to Achieve Progressive Overload Without Adding Weights

Progressive overload is an important principle to achieving hypertrophy (muscle-building) and simply means consistently changing variables like load, sets, reps, timing, or frequency to keep muscles suitably challenged. That’s how they adapt and grow. 

During a back workout without weights, you won’t be able to adapt load (weight), so use these four techniques instead. 

Advanced Variations

Find ways to make exercise harder. For example, you could adopt one-legged variations or add pulses to any of the exercises above. 

Add Reps or Sets

Increase the reps or sets of your given exercises. If you perform these back exercises without weights as a circuit, increase the time you work for or reduce rest periods between exercises or sets. 

For example, 3-4 sets could become 4-5 sets, 8-10 reps could increase to 10-12 reps, or working sets could switch from 40 seconds on and 15 seconds off to 45 seconds on and 10 seconds off. [2]

Increase Workout Frequency

If you start with no weight back exercises once or twice a week, consider increasing to three or four workouts per week. This will depend on your fitness level and goals and whether or not you have any current injuries. Always remember to schedule recovery between workouts to avoid overtraining. 

Use Time Under Tension

TUT (Time Under Tension) is a strength training concept that refers to the amount of time in seconds that a muscle is under strain during a set. 

In programming, the tempo is listed as four beats. For example, 3-1-3-1. During a squat, that means the following:

  • Lowering (eccentrically) for three seconds
  • Pausing for one second
  • Lifting (concentrically) for three seconds 
  • Pausing for one second at the top

Consider slowing your exercises down. You could lower and lift for four seconds during your single-leg deadlifts or good mornings to test balance and coordination. 

Slowing back exercises without weights hold muscles under tension for longer, helping increase strength and muscle. [3]

Bottom Line

  • A back workout with no equipment can build strength and muscle in your posterior chain muscles, including the shoulders, back, glutes, and hamstrings.
  • Bodyweight training, called calisthenics, strengthens muscles and builds lean muscle mass, and is accessible for beginners through to advanced athletes.
  • Adopt a technique called progressive overload to help increase muscle mass and strength, adapting reps, sets, timing, frequency, and intensity to progress exercises.
  • The 8 back exercises without the equipment above focus on the upper, mid, and lower back and can be done using just your mat and body weight.
  • No-weight back exercises develop functional strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and could help increase muscle mass, especially in beginners adopting a new routine.
  • These simple back exercises at home should use slow and controlled movements, only progressing when you feel comfortable. If you experience pain, stop immediately and seek medical help.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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