When you want to strengthen your back but there’s no equipment in sight, all can feel lost. Without the weight of barbells, kettlebells, or dumbbells in your hands — let alone a pull-up bar — it may seem pointless to train your back without pulling something heavy.
But you can still make decent back gains with no equipment at home. Think of it as an opportunity to train your weak spots (everybody’s got them) and really focus on honing in on your form and cues. For example: do you have trouble cueing yourself to engage your lats during your big three lifts? Some literal homework may help you with that.
Below are five of the best exercises for your back with no equipment, as well as additional back-training tips for when you don’t have a barbell.
No-Equipment Back Exercises
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
No-Equipment Exercises Video
For more information on the five moves listed below and a few other no-equipment exercise ideas, check out the video below featuring BarBend‘s CEO and Co-Founder David Thomas Tao.
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This move may not look hard but remember that you don’t necessarily look like you’re working hard at the bottom of a pause squat. Don’t confuse subtlety for lack of impact. Supermans will have you training yourself not to hyperextend your low back while strengthening your upper back muscles through a range of motion you might be unfamiliar with.
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Benefits of the Superman
- They engage your thoracic spine to build strength and enhance overhead mobility, especially when you focus on extending your range of motion.
- Train your body to intentionally activate your lats, which is a necessary skill for solid deadlifts, pull-ups, and even bench presses.
- Develop a stronger mind-muscle connection while moving in a potentially unfamiliar pattern.
How to Do the Superman
Lie on your stomach with enough room to fully extend your arms in front of you and your legs behind you. Squeeze your glutes and use lift your arms and legs toward the ceiling simultaneously. Shoot for four to five sets of eight to 12 reps, with arms and legs raising in unison.
Reverse Snow Angel
As a kid, you didn’t really think of plopping down backward in the snow and waving your arms up and down as work — it definitely fell into the “play” category. With reverse snow angels, you’ll definitely be working (though it might look and feel like play, which isn’t a bad thing). As with many exercises, the slower and more deliberately you move through these, the bigger the results.
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Benefits of the Reverse Snow Angel
- These specifically engage your rhomboids, which are often overlooked — especially when moving heavy weight.
- Strengthen your lats and upper back while training your body to maintain core stability — a skill that helps you stay upright and tight during all heavy lifts.
- Reverse snow angels extend your range of motion while building strength at those end ranges, making for stronger and more stable overhead presses and snatches.
How to Do the Reverse Snow Angel
Lay belly-down on the ground with your arms extended overhead with your palms down. Keep your toes flexed into the floor as your raise your arms off of the ground. Then, slowly bring your arms out and down, rotating your hands so that your thumbs turn outward. You can also keep your palms facing down the entire time — dealer’s choice. Bring your arms down until they touch your body, then pause and reverse the movement. Do four to five sets of eight to 10 reps.
Many people do the cat-cow to warm up their spine, but they are also excellent for training your back. Want to be more likely to keep your back strong and in a neutral position through heavy squats and deadlifts? Want to avoid the dreaded “good morning” squat? Cat-cows are your new best friend.
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Benefits of the Cat-Cow
- They teach your low, mid, and upper back to all move and work together as a single unit, which will improve your ability to brace your core for your heavy lifts.
- Cat-cows allow you to protract and retract your shoulder blades, ensuring a healthier relationship between weighted pushing and pulling movements.
- Engage the front and back of your core at the same time.
How to Do the Cat-Cow
Get on your hands and knees, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Inhale into your stomach, and arch your back, so your stomach extends toward the floor. Pause for a beat. Then, exhale and slowly round your spine until your back is completely arched and your shoulder blades are protracted apart. One arch and round counts as a single rep. Do two sets of 10 reps.
They might have a silly name, but the benefits are hardcore. The inch worm is a common dynamic warm-up exercise as it has you hinge your hips, get into a plank, and reverse the movement. It is essentially a moving plank. That said, inch worms can also be used as a strength and stability-building move all on their own.
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Benefits of the Inch Worm
- Develop upper back strength and stability through various ranges of motion by moving from a pike push-up to a regular push-up position.
- Engage your glutes and hamstrings while focusing on your upper back.
- Improve your core strength and stability by maintaining a rigid torso throughout a perpetually moving plank.
How to Do the Inch Worm
Start in a standing position. Slowly hinge at the hips until your fingertips touch the ground (you can bend your knees if need be) — you’ll be in a position similar to a pike pushup. Once your palms have made contact with the ground, walk yourself out, hand by hand, into a plank position. When you’ve achieved plank position, well… walk it back with your hands. Your feet should stay stationary the whole time, and of course — breathe. Keep your core tight and your back neutral, and have fun being an inch worm. Perform three sets of five to 10 reps.
If you’re got a clear wall and clean feet, you can give yourself a challenging back workout that will enhance your pulling and pushing strength when you reunite with barbells. Build yourself up to having handstand-pushup strength by using your upper back and shoulders to manipulate your bodyweight above you.
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Benefits of the Wall Walk
- Build full-body strength and coordination with an emphasis on seriously strengthening your upper back, shoulders, and core.
- Enhance upper body strength and mobility, especially in the top portion of the move.
- Train yourself toward developing the strength you need to perform a wall-assisted handstand.
How to Do the Wall Walk
Start with your palms planted a few feet in front of the wall. Slowly and carefully, start inch worming your way up the wall with your feet. As your feet get higher, you can inch worm your hands closer to the wall to try and get as upright as possible. To get down, you can either reverse the inch worm or hop on down. Stop at least two reps short of failure and rest generously between sets.
The Benefits of No-Equipment Back Training
One of the major benefits of training your back without equipment is the low-no-impact nature of these movements. You’ll be strengthening your muscles and improving your range of motion without adding mechanical stress. Integrating equipment-free back training into your program — whether you’re devoting an entire microcycle to it, peppering it into your program weekly, or using these moves as part of your warmup or active recovery — will help target muscles you tend to overlook and under-activate during your big lifts (think: your rhomboids).
You’ll train yourself to activate and engage your lats on command without the stress of figuring out how to do so while lifting a loaded barbell properly. In other words, you’ll get all the benefits with none of the strain.
How to Train Your Back Without Equipment
You can use these five back exercises back-to-back (sorry, not sorry) to strengthen your lats and traps and stabilize your lower back without equipment. Start gradually, with lower-impact moves like supermans, reverse snow angels, cat-cows, and only transition into inch worms and wall walks when you’re nice and warm.
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Perform the prescribed number of sets and reps above for each move, adding more sets and reps if needed and desired. Pushing yourself to approach failure is important and often a great bodyweight-only strategy, but remember that form is the most important thing. Even if you want to push your lats farther, if your low back is starting to lose integrity and hyperextend itself, you’ll do more harm than good by tacking on extra reps.
Rest generously between your wall walks, but try to keep your rest periods to a minimum with your other equipment-free back moves. Since you’re not moving heavy weights like you might be used to, take advantage of the low-impact nature of these moves to minimize your rest periods — think between 15-20 seconds if possible — to increase the impact of the exercises.
If you’re integrating these moves into a more consistent program, it will also benefit you to perform these moves in circuits — instead of doing all your superman sets, then all your reverse snow angels set, etc. Try doing one set of supermans, then one set of reverse snow angels, and on and on. Then repeat the circuit three or four times. You’ll increase your stamina, mental agility, and target different areas within the same circuit. Feel free to use these circuits as a warmup to your heavier, weighted back workouts, too.
More Back Training Tips
It might not feel the same as pulling heavy barbells, but working out your back without equipment can still solidify your strength. The stabilizers you need for all your big lifts will thank you, and it’ll translate into some super solid gains. If you want to further enhance your back strength and hypertrophy, check out these back training articles from BarBend.