If you have the space and resources to build out a well-equipped garage gym, training from home can feel like a luxury. Setting yourself up with some barbells, dumbbells, a squat rack, and maybe even a cable machine can generate some sweet secluded gains.
But what if you have to work out at home without all the equipment and amenities? Training with minimal equipment from home can be the stuff of nightmares, particularly for a muscle group like the back. To build a strong, muscular back, you need to be pulling. To do that without a barbell and weight plates, you need to get creative.
Fortunately, there are a few high-ticket back exercises at your disposal. With a handful of low-cost equipment, a little know-how, and a ton of effort, you too can roast your back from the comfort of your own home. Here are the best back exercises at home (and how to program them).
Best Back Exercises at Home
- Towel Pull-Up
- Table Inverted Row
- TRX Row
- TRX Straight-Arm Pulldown
- TRX Reverse Flye
- Single-Arm Row
- Resistance Band Pull-Apart
The chin-up is a major player when it comes to back development. It’s going to draw upon a ton of muscle and also requires you to brace and control your positioning the whole time. The better you get at the chin-up, the larger carryover you’ll find in your ability to train other exercises.
This move is an asset for your at-home back training because of how accessible it is. As long as you can get your hands on a simple over-the-door pull-up bar, you’re good to go.
How to Do the Chin-Up
- Select a comfortable underhand grip with your hands framing your face. You can use a step-up platform to help reach the height required.
- Lower yourself into the bottom position by extending your elbows.
- Perform a full-body hollow style of brace and eliminate any body sway.
- Contract your lats and biceps to draw yourself up and keep pulling until you’re at eye level or above the bar. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: If the door frame height doesn’t allow a fully extended hollow-body position, experiment with bending your knees or assuming more of an L-shape with your legs. The latter will make the exercise a lot harder.
Sets and Reps: Perform two to four sets, with each set approaching failure. Use a resistance band for assistance if needed.
Benefits of the Chin-Up
- This exercise allows for low-cost (or free) back training at home.
- You’ll improve full body strength and coordination.
- The chin-up provides effective training for your back and also your biceps.
The pull-up is a close neighbor of the chin-up, with a slight but significant modification to your hand positioning. Instead of having your palms face you, the pull-up offers a more shoulder-width position with an overhand grip. These changes will alter the challenge you experience during the workout.
With an overhand grip, your upper back and lats will take on more load compared to your biceps in the chin-up. The overhand grip will also force you to set your shoulder blades securely to perform each repetition, making the pull-up a great tool for overall shoulder stability.
How to Do the Pull-Up
- Select a comfortable overhand grip about shoulder-width apart. Use a platform or a step stool to help you reach the position if necessary.
- Lower yourself into the bottom position, letting your shoulder blades shrug down and away from your ears.
- Perform a full-body hollow style of a brace by keeping your feet slightly forward and tightening your core. Work to ensure your body isn’t swaying.
- Contract your lats, upper back, and biceps to draw yourself up. Keep pulling until your chin clears the bar. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: For even more upper back and shoulder training, perform a dead hang between each repetition. Drive your elbows down into your back pockets.
Sets and Reps: Do two to four sets, approaching failure each time. Use a resistance band to perform banded pull-ups if you can’t do unassisted reps.
Benefits of the Pull-Up
- This move is a natural progression of the chin-up.
- The pull-up trains both back strength and shoulder stability.
- This is one of the best bodyweight exercises for building long-term strength and muscle growth.
The towel pull-up is a clever modification to the standard pull-up that dramatically increases the challenge to your grip. Using a towel allows you to take a more neutral grip orientation, which makes the lift itself easier under most circumstances. But because it’s so incredibly difficult to hold onto a towel, this move is also incredibly challenging. You’ll be hanging on for dear life.
With the towel pull-up, improvements to grip strength will have a nice carryover to more traditional back exercises while also improving your ability to hold onto less conventional training tools.
How to Do the Towel Pull-Up
- Loop a towel securely around a stable pull-up bar. Adapt a neutral grip around the ends of the towel.
- Extend your arms above your head until you reach a dead hang position. Keep your knees bent if you have to, since the towel will have you hanging lower than you would from the bar itself.
- Initiate the pull from your back and shoulder blades, driving your elbows back and down. Focus on maintaining control throughout your range of motion.
Coach’s Tip: Choose a towel large enough to wrap around an anchor point and provide enough length to safely fatigue without immediately sliding out of your hand.
Sets and Reps: Perform two or three sets of three reps shy of failure.
Benefits of the Towel Pull-Up
- This move offers a huge boost to grip strength, potentially stimulating a lot of forearm growth.
- You’ll tremendously increase the challenge without increasing load.
- The towel pull-up offers big carryover benefits (such as increased grip and coordination) to other back exercises.
Another handy tool you can use at home is a big sturdy table. The only caution is to make sure the table is heavy and stable enough to use as an anchor point, and then you’ll be off to the races. An inverted row will help train your lats, core, and scapular stability, with scaling options.
Inverted rows are extremely useful for building bigger, stronger lats. And if chin-ups or pull-ups aren’t on the table for you right now, inverted rows can help you build the strength you need to get there.
How to Do the Table Inverted Row
- Line yourself up on the side of a table. Lie face-up underneath it with the edge aligned approximately at chest level.
- Take an overhand grip on the top side of the table. Alternatively, grip the sides of the table (depending on your limb length and the table’s width).
- With your legs locked out, brace your core and lock your legs to stabilize your body.
- Draw yourself toward the underside of the table by contracting your lats and upper back. Squeeze your back at the top, then slowly lower. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: Bend your legs and plant your feet if you need to make the movement more accessible. With bent knees, you’ll be lifting less of your body weight with your upper body.
Sets and Reps: Perform two to three sets of eight to 15 reps.
Benefits of the Table Inverted Row
- This move is scalable for multiple experience levels.
- Without any gym equipment, you can effectively target your lats, traps, and rhomboids.
- You’ll build hand and grip strength, especially if you have a thicker table.
The TRX row adds an extra element of customization and range of motion than a table-based inverted row. This relatively inexpensive piece of equipment can be used in almost every training environment. It can dramatically increase your overall exercise options. And — unlike with a table — you can customize your exercise angles with a TRX suspension strap.
Like with the table inverted row, you’ll be able to use your foot position to scale the difficulty level of the movement. But since you can just attach them over a doorway, TRX rows might be more accessible than table rows.
How to Do the TRX Row
- Secure a TRX suspension cable over a doorframe and make sure the connection is steady.
- Establish a neutral grip on the handles and lean back until you an approximate 45-degree body angle.
- Fully extend your arms and protract your shoulder blades to enter the true starting position. Lock your glutes, quads, and brace your core to stabilize your full body.
- Contract your lats, upper back, and biceps to draw toward the top of the exercise. Hold each repetition at a peak contraction for one second for the best results.
Coach’s Tip: Change the angle of your body by becoming more or less inclined in order to change the challenge of the exercise. The more horizontal you are, the more challenging the exercise will be.
Sets and Reps: Perform three to four sets of eight to 15 reps.
Benefits of the TRX Row
- This move can target different areas based on your specific exercise angle, which you can modify with these bands.
- TRX straps offer an inexpensive boost to your training options.
- The TRX row is scalable to different difficulties based on your body angle.
Keeping your arms relatively straight can make using just your body weight extremely challenging. And there’s nothing quite like doing a bodyweight version of the cable machine straight-arm pulldown.
This move will force you to train your back with a lot of precision, including your rotator cuffs and serratus anterior. By using your bodyweight, you’ll also recruit your core even more than you might while doing this exercise with a cable machine. Extra core engagement is always a nice added benefit, especially when you’re aiming to maximize back strength.
How to Do the TRX Straight-Arm Pulldown
- Grab the TRX handles and move step or two away from the anchor point so that the straps are able to support your body through the descent of the exercise.
- Brace your legs, core, and shoulders before slowly leaning into the TRX straps. Control your descent only as far as you are comfortable, performing a similar motion as an ab rollout.
- Drive your arms down towards the floor, contracting your lats as hard as you can and maintaining full body stability until you are back to the starting position.
Coach’s Tip: Be cautious with depth on the TRX straight-arm pulldown. Only descend as far as you feel stable enough to support. Adjust your body angle (more or less parallel to the floor) to adjust the difficulty.
Sets and Reps: Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions for muscle gain.
Benefits of the TRX Straight-Arm Pulldown
- This move provides a scalable challenge for all strength levels since you can stand up straighter or lean back farther for more or less challenge.
- The TRX straight-arm pulldown integrates your shoulders, core, and back strength.
- This exercise is extremely effective for bracing and stability development.
Whether you’re at home or in the gym, you might be neglected your rear delts in your training program. Especially if you’re relying on larger compound exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, or row variations, your rear delts may be overshadowed by the bigger muscles of your back.
You can perform this exercise at various angles, meaning that you can alter the level of difficulty as needed. But whichever degree of difficulty you’re choosing, you’ll primarily be targeting the backs of your shoulders here. Once some of your bigger exercises have been knocked out, paint in some of the details with your TRX reverse flye.
How to Do the TRX Reverse Flye
- Take a neutral grip on the TRX handles. Step and lean back until your torso reaches a roughly 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Straighten your arms and brace your full body. This is the starting position.
- With softly bent elbows, extend your arms backward to create a “T” body shape, raising yourself with your traps, rhomboids, and rear delts all at once.
- Hold this fully contracted position for a brief moment before lowering yourself under control back to the starting position. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: Be diligent will the use of eccentric tempo. Control your descent to best maintain position and increase your time under tension.
Sets and Reps: Perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Benefits of the TRX Reverse Flye
- You can scale this TRX exercise by bringing your feet closer or farther away from the anchor point.
- Because the movement is more subtle, you’ll be challenging many of your smaller back muscles that you may otherwise neglect.
- The TRX reverse flye encourages full body tension and bracing.
The single-arm row is a quintessential back exercise. You know if from the gym, but — fortunately for you — it can also be performed at home. If you have access to anything even remotely loadable, like heavy water jugs or a backpack, you should be all set.
A single-arm row helps develop unilateral muscle and strength, keeping your strength and hypertrophy even from side to side. All you’ll need is the most accessible weight that you have kicking around and a chair to serve as support.
How to Do the Single-Arm Row
- Grab a dumbbell-like tool (water jug, a loaded backpack, etc.) to use as a weight. Set up next to a chair or table to serve as a stability point.
- Hinge over while holding the weight in one hand. With the opposite hand, support your posture by locking out the free arm on the table. This is your starting position.
- Draw your arm back towards your body making an approximate 90-degree bend at your elbow. Once your arm is flush with the side of your body, the repetition is complete.
- Slowly lower the weight under control until your arm is fully extended again. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: Adjust the position of the leg on your working side to clear space for the weight to move unimpeded.
Sets and Reps: Perform two to three sets of eight to 15 repetitions for muscle gain.
Benefits of the Single-Arm Row
- This classic in-gym exercise can be used out of the gym to improve upper back strength.
- You can combat side-to-side imbalances because of the unilateral training nature of this exercise.
- The single-arm row challenges your core to resist rotation, which forges a much stronger midsection.
The resistance band may be an unassuming tool — but don’t underestimate the punch that it packs. Not just for assisting your pull-ups, you can use resistance bands regardless of your fitness level to amp up your back workout. The resistance band pull-apart is a powerful way to target both the large and small muscles of your upper and mid-back.
You can use the resistance band pull-apart during warm-ups, main workouts, or as part of a finisher complex. When you’re short on time, equipment, or space, you’ll activate and strengthen your rhomboids, rear delts, and traps while priming your lats for major action.
How to Do the Resistance Band Pull-Apart
- Grab the resistance band with a shoulder-width grip and your palms face up.
- Straighten your arms so that they extend straight ahead of you. Keep a very small bend at the elbow. This is the starting position.
- Pull your arms apart, from straight ahead of your body to flush with your body creating a “T” with your arms and torso. Hold this contraction for one to three seconds.
- Return the resistance band to the starting position by slowly releasing your shoulder blades. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: Throughout your set, keep your shoulders back and down away from your ears.
Sets and Reps: Perform one to two sets of 15 to 25 repetitions as part of a warm-up. Alternatively, do sets of eight 15 repetitions as part of supersets between bigger strength lifts (like pull-ups).
Benefits of the Resistance Band Pull-Apart
- This move is cheap and accessible since all you need is a resistance band.
- The pull-apart targets smaller, hard-to-train muscles.
- You’ll train yourself to keep your shoulders back and down, which is essential for both posture and proper workout form.
At-Home Back Warm-Up
A good warm-up sets the tone for any workout. The best upper body warm-up will involve both mobilizing and stabilizing your thoracic spine and shoulders. Setting up a quick circuit can be highly effective here.
- Cat Cow: 1 x 20 seconds
- Thoracic Rotation: 1 x 20 per side
- Foam Roller T-Spine Flexion and Extension: 1 x 10
- Band Pull-Apart: 1 x 15
- Band Shoulder Pass-Through: 1 x 10
Move through this series of exercises two or three times and you should be good to go.
How to Train Your Back at Home
Training your back will bring a ton of exercise options along for the ride. That’s because your back is made up of numerous muscle groups that can all be hit by subtly different grip positions, widths, or movement patterns. Here’s how to maximize your at-home back workout.
At-Home Back Exercise Selection
Avoid overlapping exercises to provide a huge boost to your program. Mix and match exercises that are performed with your arms held tight to your body with some where your elbows are more flared out. This way, you’ll be giving all of your major (and overlooked) back muscles significant stimulus.
Performing the bigger movements first, like pull-ups, chin-ups, and rows can be especially helpful if these compound exercises are new and challenging to you. But if you’re an advanced athlete, you might want to perform smaller exercises first to pre-exhaust your muscles. This can help you compensate for a lack of equipment and external load.
At-Home Back Sets and Reps
Especially when you’re training at home, getting close to temporary muscular failure will help promote gains. Aim to perform between two and four sets per exercise, opting to bring the exercise as close to failure as you can when you’re looking to promote increased strength and even muscle growth.
- For Strength: Do two to four sets to near failure, especially with compound movements.
- For Muscle Growth: Perform two to four sets to failure.
- For Muscle Maintenance: On compound movements, stop only a rep or two shy of failure. With smaller, less intense movements, opt for two to four sets in the eight to 20 rep range.
Use strategies like tempo and other intensifiers to help you approach failure within a reasonable amount of reps.
At-Home Back Training Tips
At-home back training can get a little tricky since you can’t load up with external weights like you can in the gym. But performing unilateral exercises, adding intensifiers, and spicing things up with tempo training can really help.
Tempo training requires you to pay attention to the cadence of each rep: how fast are you raising and lowering the weight? With tempo training, you go into each set knowing that you will perform the concentric (lifting portion) and eccentric (lowering portion) at a particular speed.
Adding in tempo creates a more challenging exercise when absolute load or equipment is scarce. You’ll boost the intensity by increasing the amount of time under tension, which can lead to more muscle-building potential. Try slowing your eccentric tempo to two to three seconds or more, adding a pause mid-rep, and even a longer concentric tempo if you’re feeling frisky.
There are more ways to implement progressive overload — that is, making your workout more intense — than just slapping on more weight. Intensifiers like drop sets and rest-pause training strategies are reliable ways to create a more challenging exercise experience when you’re training from home.
For example, you can perform as many reps as possible to failure of inverted TRX rows with your torso completely parallel to the floor. Once you approach failure, assume a more upright body position by creeping your feet back and leaning into the TRX. Repeat to failure again. Stand taller again and repeat. This is a super effective “drop set” to add intensity without weight.
Going unilateral (performing the exercise with one side at a time) is a super effective way to add quick intensity. Not every exercise will work, but those that can be performed unilaterally will immediately double the challenge, add increased stability demands, or challenge your full-body endurance.
Consider doing your TRX rows with only one arm at a time instead of two, or take on a one-handed TRX row. You’ll increase your challenge in no time.
Benefits of Training Your Back at Home
There are some pretty big perks to training your back at home, even if it seems unappealing at first. In addition to forcing you to get creative with your workouts, you stand to gain a lot of functional strength and aesthetics, too.
It can be easy to get carried away with the more showy side of the body. The front side of your torso is full of mirror muscles: chest, arms, shoulders, and abs. With that in mind, a solid balanced physique is what really makes your whole body pop.
Being diligent about training your back — especially at home, where you’ll need to be focused on technique and intensity — will bring the much-needed balance many seek. Don’t skip your back day at home.
Many of the best back exercises that can be performed from the comfort of your own home will involve some degree of stability and strength. Pull-ups, chin-ups, TRX, or bodyweight rows — these exercises are very demanding of your ability to brace.
Without proper full body tension, stability, and control, much of your exercise quality and thus return on investment will drop. To that end, making a point to perform these exercises to perfection will similarly boost your full body strength and carry over to numerous other parts of your training.
There’s nothing more convenient in training than not having to leave your own home to do it. The scheduling flexibility that training at home can provide is a hidden perk that many don’t account for. No waiting on equipment, fighting for a parking spot, or transit time to add to your day. Simply roll out of bed and hit your home gym to get it done.
Without the bells and whistles that a commercial gym may afford you, getting a good workout in with improvised equipment found around the house will challenge your creativity. Looking at each exercise you might normally perform in the gym and breaking them down into an at-home version is a great way to test your mettle.
Take a look around and you might see more options available to you than you previously thought. A clever eye can repurpose many everyday items and furniture to construct a potent at-home version of your favorite gym workout.
Anatomy of the Back
Your back isn’t just one big muscle that can be targeted with the same exercise. It’s going to be a combination of your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and spinal erectors.
Your latissimus dorsi (or “lats”) are the huge swaths of muscle on either side of your back. They extend generally from around your armpit to various points including your ribcage, hip, and many smaller parts in between.
Given their enormous real estate, the lats help you draw your arm from in front of the body back to the middle. Think pull-downs from almost every angle and a good row exercise with your arm tight to your body.
Your trapezius (or “traps”) are another huge muscle that comprises more of the middle back. It is a big diamond-shaped area that extends from the base of the skull all the way to the mid-to-low back with a huge section right in the middle as well.
Because of its placement, exercises that require you to pull your arms back towards your body with a wide elbow angle will target your traps. Retraction of your shoulder blades will also heavily rely on your traps, so it’s a good idea to incorporate that during most trap exercises.
Your rhomboids are a close neighbor of your traps, sitting in a very similar position as the middle traps but buried underneath. They are technically attached to the shoulder blades and help with retraction, so many of your trap-dominant movements will also help build up your rhomboids.
Your posterior deltoid can also be bundled into your back muscle groups. Aesthetically speaking it sits on the posterior side of your body right at the top of your upper arm. Performance-wise, it will help pull your arm from in front of your body back towards neutral (think a “T” position at the end of each repetition).
To help distinguish between your traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoid stimulation, try to keep your shoulder blades while performing flye-type exercises for your posterior deltoids.
Your spinal erectors are a group of muscles that run alongside the spine, from the base of your back all the way up. While the lower part of your erector spinae tends to get the most attention, there are actually several spinal erector sections.
Generally, they get stimulated when you are forced to maintain your posture. This means that exercises that you perform in a bent-over position such as rows or hinge-type exercises really help develop your spinal erectors.
No Barbell Required
Training from home can be a fun but tricky experience. When there’s not a barbell or bumper plate in sight, a little creativity and determination can go a long way. The best back exercises at home can help you maintain that strength and even help you expand your training repertoire beyond the moves you might normally expect in your program.
With minimal to no equipment, your ingenuity might be tested — but the convenience of doing these moves in your own home is hard to beat.
Featured Image: Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock