In the series of calisthenics workouts for different body parts, we have reached the last one. If you have missed the other articles please have a look here.
In this final article, we will look at a calisthenics back workout and identify which exercises we should select to get the most focus on the back.
As always, we will also talk about progression, and finally I will give you a beginner, intermediate, and advanced calisthenics shoulder workout.
Together with the shoulders, our back is probably one of the areas where most people are weak and stiff. The massive time most people spend on a chair or a couch has resulted in a widespread disease, which goes by the name, back pain — ever heard of it or even had it? For my part, I can tell you that I haven’t had a back pain for several years, and I’m +40 🙂
When we talk about bodyweight exercises for the back, it’s easier if we part it in upper and lower back.
The upper back has a lot of muscle groups that work together with the shoulders and the arms. Therefore, most pulling exercises are targeting the upper back.
When we move down, it is more in the combination with the legs that the lower back is targeted. Actually, most people have lower back pain do to stiff and weak hip flexors. The lower back is also a part of what we call the core, which it’s major function is to keep the body upright in a good posture. Therefore, most core exercises will also hit the lower back – I have an article about calisthenics core workouts right here.
Ok, we’ve all ready talked about it but just shortly. This is what we are going to cover:
Best bodyweight exercises for a calisthenics back workout
Calisthenics back workout — beginner, intermediate & advanced.
Most calisthenics, or bodyweight exercises as we also call them, are compound movements. This means that they will use several muscle groups and not just one, like in a bicep curl. The advantage of this, is that we get the most bang for the buck when we workout, and additionally, we use a natural movement pattern — we often call this functional movements.
For the exercises that we are going to look at now it’s the same. They will involve several muscle groups. However, we will split them up in lower and upper back exercises, as the movements that activate the different muscles are not the same.
Finally, I will add one exercise that will work both upper and lower back to some extension.
Upper back is all about pulling. The difference in the angel that we are pulling from will decide where the focus is in the upper back.
Even though we are trying to focus on the upper back, the pulling movements will also activate the arms and shoulders, but again, we just take this as an advantage.
Horizontal pull-ups is a good place to start when focusing on the upper back. Find a version that you can handle with good form and progress from there until you can do them with elevated feet.
Pull-ups are harder and will give a different focus. Even if you can’t do a single pull-up yet, then do them negative or with support from a rubber band. Scapular pulls are also a good way to jumpstart your pull ups.
For the pulls, a pronated grip (Palms facing away from you) is slightly better than a supinated. However, from time it’s a good idea to change the grip to get some variation.
There are a couple of pushes that will work the upper back. These are the pushes where we push above the head. Lets have a look at them.
Pike push-ups will, as any other push give, a lot of focus on the arms and shoulders, but as we push above the head, the upper back will have to work as well.
Elbows should be closer to the side than pointing out. The core should be held tight and the push, as vertical as possible. The legs can be elevated for more activation.
Handstand push-ups requires a good amount of strength. They will work the upper back in the same way as the pike-push-ups. They will just be harder to do.
Actually, that is it when we talk about focus on the upper back. But as already mentioned, a lot of the other bodyweight exercises will also activate the upper back.
Now lets move down to the lower back.
Most of these exercises can be classified as core exercises as well. Besides the lower back, they will work the glutes and abs.
One legged bridge hold is the only bridge I will consider. Unless you are really really weak, you should do one legged instead of two legged bridge.
Simply squeeze your glutes and bridge up. Now hold the position for as long as possible.
Superman holds are a good way to work your lower back without weights. Lay on your stomach with arms overhead. Now arch up and point your fingers and toes.
Superman rocks can be aded when you can hold the normal superman hold for more than 30sec.
I promised you one exercise which will work both upper and lower back. It is:
Wall climbers are going from a horizontal position to a vertical position and will therefore hit several muscle groups. Of course, the front of the upper body will have to do a lot of the work as well, but the back will for sure have to do its part.
That’s it for the exercises. If I wanted to, I could have added a ton of others exercises, because when it comes to calisthenics exercises, it’s close to impossible to take the back and core out of the game. However, we wanted to really focus on the back, and thats why we stop here 🙂
For some of the exercises we all ready touched upon this. Some of them will have a natural beginner exercise which eventually will end up in a more advanced exercise.
Beside this way of progressing, lets have a look on some more general ways.
Slow down or holds will apply more time under tension for the muscles that we workout. This again will require more from the muscles, and that’s how we provoke them to become stronger.
For the pulls, we simply perform them slower and maybe even pause for some seconds at the top of the pull-up position.
Plyometrics or explosive training is where we apply a lot of force in the muscles for a very short time. To take the example with the pull-ups again, we would then explode towards the bar and even pull all the way to the chest. Then, we could hold the position for a while and lower ourselves slowly. This way we will combine it with the other methods.
Rubber-bands are especially good for pulls, as we can do the exercise as it’s supposed to be done but with support. We want to apply full range of motion as much as possible, and this is possible with a rubber-band, even if we are not strong enough to do the exercise correctly.
Mobility & Stretching
Often, it’s beneficial to add some mobility and stretching exercises to your calisthenics back workout. When it comes to stretches, it is recommended to hold the different positions for 2-5min for full effect. Hip stretching is also important for the back, as the hip flexor is attached to your lower back.
Here, you can find some good stretching exercises. Also, I would like to recommend MobilityWOD where you also have some self-massage techniques.
Ok, now it’s time for what you probably came for — the calisthenics back workout. As promised there will be three of them. A beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Make sure to select the one that fits your current level and not the one that you would like to fit you 🙂
Also it’s highly recommended that you combine it with a more complete workout routine. If you don’t have one, you can try one for free here.
Repeat the workout 2-3 times a week for focus and once a week for supplementary.
All basic exercises that can be adjusted to fit your level.
6 rounds — rest 60sec between exercises and 90sec between rounds.
8 Horizontal Pull-ups (Select a version you can handle)
8 Pike Push-ups
8 Scapular pull-ups
15sec One legged bridge on each leg
15sec Superman hold
When you can do all exercises with no problems and all horizontal pull ups with body below 25 degrees, it’s time to move on. If some exercises become too easy before others, then do more reps or slow them down as described above.
All basic exercises, but adjusted to fit a stronger person.
7 rounds — rest 60sec between exercises and 90sec between rounds.
10 Horizontal Pull-ups (Body below 25 degree to the ground)
10 Pike Push-ups with lower body elevated.
5 Pull-ups (Do them negative if needed)
30sec One legged bridge on each leg
30sec Superman hold
Max Wall Climbers
If you can’t do all the repetitions and seconds unbroken in the beginning then take smaller breaks.
7 rounds — rest 60sec between exercises and 90sec between rounds.
10 Horizontal Pull-ups with feet elevated.
5-8 Handstand push-ups
45sec One legged bridge on each leg
30sec Superman rocks
Max Wall Climbers