At-Home Back Exercises To Strengthen Your Lower and Upper Back

Sadly, the back muscles are often forgotten about in workouts. This is probably because they are the least pronounced of all the muscle groups and infrequently on public display.

However, these muscles are some of the most important in the entire body. Not only do they support, strengthen and protect the spine, there are few actions that do not include the back. Walking, sitting and lifting objects all involve this essential muscle group.

You may be reading this article while leaning over your laptop. If that’s the case, that position is being held up by the back muscles. In today’s increasingly computerized environment, more people are developing spine issues due to hours slumped over a keyboard or desk.

This article will provide you with an excellent home back workout to keep your muscles in prime condition. Furthermore, it includes a little information on the back muscles themselves and how to make your workouts effective.

The Back Muscles

The back contains five important muscles that will all be exercised in our workout:

Latissimus Dorsi

Sometimes called ‘lats’ or ‘wings’, these muscles extend from the ribs to the armpit and are responsible for pulling, reaching upwards and supporting posture.

Spinal Erectors

These long muscles start at your head and extend down the length of your spine to the pelvis. They enable you to twist, turn, bend and protect the spine from damage.

Trapezius

The largest of the back muscles, shaped like a fan. The narrowest point is in the middle of your back and then it spreads outwards to the shoulders.

Rhomboid

A smaller muscle underneath the trapezius which can pull the shoulders backwards.

Teres Major

Connects the arm to the shoulder, enabling a rotational movement.

How to Complete Back Exercises?

I don’t want to put a downer on things before we get started, but just a gentle word of caution. The back muscles can easily be damaged, usually because they have been neglected and do not have sufficient strength or flexibility.

Naturally, it is the point of this workout article to improve that situation. However, if you are currently suffering from any back issues, always check with your health practitioner first that it is acceptable for you to start exercising. This will prevent further problems.

Now that is out of the way, the good news. You can complete this back workout without using any weights at all. In some exercises, they can be included if desired (I have indicated where), but they are not essential. You will still improve flexibility and strength without them.

As they do not require any heavy iron, these exercises are much gentler than an intense session at the gym. If you follow the instructions, they will improve your condition.

This back workout is designed to be completed in one full session. However, if you are looking for a complete body workout, and not just the back, why not select one back exercise and combine with others from this site. Personally, I would choose the Flying Dog as a great all-round back exercise.

At-Home Back Workout

Before starting, ensure you have not eaten in the last hour. Do some simple stretches to warm up, although the first exercise is designed to loosen up the back muscles too.

This workout should take between 60-75 minutes, as long as all the rest periods are followed. If you are doing it in full, do not exercise the back again until you have rested for at least two days. You can, however, target other muscle groups in this time.

The Flying Dog

A somewhat dramatic posture that stretches and works every single one of the back muscles. You will really feel the back muscles working during this exercise. As you progress, try to increase the hold position by one or two more seconds.

  1. Get into an all-fours posture—knees and toes on the floor with locked arms below the shoulders.
  2. Keep your hands flat, palms downwards.
  3. Your knees and thighs should be beneath the hips.
  4. Look down toward the floor.
  5. Ensure the back is kept straight during this entire exercise.
  6. This is the starting position.
  7. Breathing out, lift up your left arm. Keep it perfectly straight, palm down in front of your head pointing forwards. It should form a straight line with your back.
  8. Simultaneously, pick up your right leg and fully lock and extend. Your leg, back and arm should remain horizontal and level with each other.
  9. Hold this position for five seconds.
  10. Return back to the starting position.
  11. Now do the same with your right arm and left leg.
  12. Return to starting position again.
  13. That completes one full repetition.
  14. Continue until twelve repetitions have been completed. That is one set. Rest for three minutes then complete two further sets with a break in between.

The Superman Stretch

A great exercise to improve back strength, posture and reduce the likelihood of strains. It gives a good workout to the important spinal erectors. Take this exercise steady at first while your back becomes used to this position. If you feel too much of a ‘pull’, it’s time to stop.

  1. Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat or towel.
  2. Your legs should be fully extended at shoulder width, with pointed toes.
  3. Lay your arms straight along the floor above your head. They should be locked with palms down.
  4. Lift up both arms, upper torso and legs from the ground to around twelve inches in height, creating a ‘Superman’ flying position as per the image.
  5. Your abdomen should be the only body part touching the floor.
  6. Hold this position for one minute.
  7. Lower arms and legs back to the floor and have a three minute break.
  8. That is one set complete.
  9. Do two more sets with a three minute break after each exercise.

If you have any dumbbells, you can increase difficulty by holding them palms down in each hand.

The Walking Bridge

An exercise that hits the glutes, spinal erectors, trapezius and stabilizer muscles. It improves flexibility, strength and increases support for the spine.

  1. Lay on your back on the floor. As this exercise will put pressure on the shoulders, I would definitely recommend a mat or towel.
  2. Arms should be positioned lengthwise along the sides of your body.
  3. Lift up your knees by bringing the feet closer to the buttocks, nearly level with your hands. The feet should be flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  4. This is your starting position.
  5. Press arms into the floor, push down with your feet and raise your hips off the floor as high as possible. Then, lock your hands together—as seen in the image.
  6. Lift up your left foot about six inches.
  7. Hold this position for two seconds.
  8. Place your left floor back down and lift the right foot.
  9. Hold this position for two seconds.
  10. Lower your right foot back to the ground.
  11. That completes one repetition.
  12. After 12 repetitions, rest for three minutes.
  13. Complete two more sets, always ensuring a three minute rest period.

If at first you find this exercise too taxing, reduce the hold period. As you raise each individual foot, you will feel your back muscles tightening as they fight to hold you in position. This is completely normal.

The Inverted Snow Angel

An exercise that recalls the fun you had in the snow years ago, but done facing downwards instead of up. It provides an intense workout for the large trapezius muscle together with the teres major and rhomboid.

  1. Lay face down on the floor, legs extended and together. Arms by your sides, palms down.
  2. In one movement lift torso, arms and legs from the floor, as illustrated in the image.
  3. This is your starting position.
  4. Keeping your arms straight and locked, sweep them forwards above your head, as if you’re trying to make face-down ‘snow-angel’ wings. When your fingertips touch, sweep them back to the starting position again.
  5. Legs remain together, straight and off the floor at all times.
  6. This is one repetition complete.
  7. After 12 repetitions have been achieved, rest.
  8. Follow up with two more sets always including a three minute break period.

This can prove a tough exercise. Do not worry if you can only do seven or eight repetitions. Whatever number you achieve, always try to raise by one more each session.

The Dolphin Kick

A useful exercise to work the spinal erectors. It also pushes the glutes as an added bonus. This exercise can prove quite tough for beginners. I recall struggling the first time I tried it. Hence, I have recommended that the ‘hold’ is only for 30 seconds to begin with.

If you find it too easy, then by all means increase this duration.

  1. Lay on the floor face down, legs together.
  2. Fold your arms underneath your head to provide a makeshift ‘cushion’.
  3. Your head should remain looking at the floor throughout, and not lose contact with your arms.
  4. This is your starting position.
  5. Breathing out, pull back with your glutes and lower back muscles and raise your legs upwards. Lift them as high as you can as illustrated, with toes pointed.
  6. Hold for 30 seconds maintaining a steady breathing pattern.
  7. Inhale and lower legs back to the floor.
  8. This is one repetition complete.
  9. Rest for three minutes.
  10. Complete two further sets with a rest period in between each.

Do not worry if you cannot raise your legs very high if you are new to this exercise. With patience, determination and increasing strength, gradually you will find this exercise much easier. Perseverance is key, as it is a real back booster.

The Shrug

This exercise is how competitive bodybuilders achieve distinctive ‘slopes’ to the neck. In day to day life, they enhance the power of the shoulders and arms, enabling heavier lifting and less chance of strain. It targets the trapezius muscle.

If obtaining large neck muscles is your aim, you will require some heavy dumbbells. However, if you are simply going for tone, this exercise can be completed without weights, or with normal household items. For example, weighted grocery bags, food cans or filled water bottles.

  1. Take a standing position. Your feet should be slightly apart, about as wide as your waist.
  2. If you are using dumbbells or homemade weights, they should be gripped tightly in the hands, palms facing in toward the sides of your body.
  3. Ensure that your arms are straight and hanging by your sides.
  4. This is your starting position.
  5. Breathing out, lift your shoulders upwards as high as they can go.
  6. Hold for two seconds.
  7. Inhale and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position once again.
  8. That completes one repetition.
  9. After 12 repetitions have been completed, rest.
  10. Do two more sets, with a three minute break in between both.

A word of warning with this exercise. It can be tempting to use the biceps and triceps to raise the weights. This will not improve your trapezius muscle. Ensure the arms are always locked, and you ‘feel’ the trapezius doing all the work.

Concluding the Workout

That completes the entire back workout. To cool down, do a couple of stretches:

  • Neck rotations - place the chin as close to your chest as possible and rotate the neck through 360 degrees clockwise. Do the same anti-clockwise. Repeat five times.
  • Side stretches - Standing up straight, place the palm of your right hand on the side of your thigh and slide it down by leaning to the right as far as you can and returning to the upright position. Repeat on alternate sides 10 times.

Final Thoughts

The back muscles should not be underestimated. They are involved in the majority of our day-to-day activities. Forgetting about them can lead to issues later in life and increase the chance of injury or back pain.

Furthermore, exercising the back can:

  • Improve the health of the intervertebral discs.
  • Correct posture.
  • Enhance sporting performance.
  • Boost flexibility.

With any back exercise, take it slowly and steadily at first. Do not worry if you cannot meet the time targets or repetitions mentioned in each exercise. Simply, go to the limit where you cannot do anymore and then aim to beat that in the next session.

Exercising the back is one of the best treats you can give your body, providing both short and long-term benefits.

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