Of all the main muscle groups to train, your back is the most anatomically complicated. It’s made up of many different muscles with fibers running in every direction, yet it is maybe the easiest to train as far as programming.
While self-proclaimed fitness gurus may tell you that you have to hit your back at just the right spot with just the right grip with just the cable attachment, we can actually separate all essential back training into two groups: vertical and horizontal pulling.
By performing these two types of movements at approximately a 1:1 ratio, you’ll hit every major part of the back and keep it balanced. That said, you don’t technically need a gym to train your back —but if you want to, here are similar exercises to do there.
Vertical pulls include exercises like pull-ups and pull-downs. This variation proportionally trains your lats, which are the biggest muscles of the back. Vertical pulls are also great for developing overall shoulder health.
Doing a vertical pull exercise in your home is not terribly difficult. If you have something to do a pull-up on, you’re in business.
How to Do a Pull-Up
To perform a pull-up, grab the bar a bit wider than shoulder width.
Retract your scapula, bringing your shoulder blades together and raising your chest.
From this position, think about pulling your elbows down to the ground and gripping the bar from the wall.
Keep your elbows pointed forward and your chest up as you pull.
Do not allow your elbows to swing back behind you or your shoulders to shrug.
Pull up to your fullest range of motion without losing position, before coming all the way down.
Remember, Half reps mean half results.
If you don’t have a pull-up bar in your home, you can always do a banded pulldown.
How to do a Banded Pulldown
Attach a resistance band from a high anchor point, or hold a looped band with both hands.
Get on your knees and grab the resistance band with one hand and hold it like a baseball bat. If using a loop, see video above.
Pull your elbow into your hip, keeping your chest raised the entire time.
You may need to add more bands or use a thicker one once you get better at this movement.
Make sure to replace your bands once they start stretching out, as you don’t want them snapping and slapping you in the face.
When you think of horizontal pulls, think rows. This pulling variation will train other parts of your back like your traps and rhomboids. You’ve probably seen people doing horizontal pulling at the gym on something like a seated cable machine. But you don’t need a complicated pulley system to pull something horizontally.
How to do a Single Arm Row
You can perform a single arm row with any weighted object.
Take a staggered stance, and place your hand on your front knee, keeping your chest facing the ground.
With your free hand, grab the weight and pull your elbow to your hip, keeping the rest of your body still and braced.
Pull the weight as far back as you can before returning it to the starting position.
Switch and perform this movement on the opposite side.
You can also use resistance bands to do your horizontal pulling.
To do a resistance band row, anchor, a band so that when you pull it, the band is parallel to the ground.
Rowing from a half-kneeling position is a good way to perform a banded row, as you will be stable and less likely to cheat your rep.
Lower back pain is often a workout deterrent for people. But the worst thing you can do for a weak lower back is to not train it. A little bit of lower back training with exercises like the superman are a good idea to strengthen not only your back, but your entire core.
How to do a Superman
To do a superman, simply lie on the ground face down.
Then, drive your hips into the ground like you are skydiving.
Extend your hands in front of you like you’re the man of steel soaring through the clouds.
Elevate your feet off the ground.
This exercise can be done in reps or for an isolation hold, meaning just staying there for an allotted time, or until you can’t take it anymore.