Bodyweight Training for Back Strength, Size, and Stability

Building a broader back with calisthenics

Let’s start by taking it as a given that calisthenics workouts targeting any specific area of the body are also likely to bring many other groups of muscles into play.

So if we are talking about calisthenics training for a broader, stronger back, it’s worth considering the many ways that work the whole back with bodyweight training rather than just the upper and lower regions.

Of course, area-specific exercises can be utilized on top of that if necessary, but it is possible to build a broader and stronger, not to mention more naturally-streamlined back with calisthenics training. It may be a bit more difficult with calisthenics to train the back to the degree where certain body parts start to look out of proportion, a la bodybuilding.

But the good thing is—as always—there’s much less chance of back or any other injuries with bodyweight training, and everything gets worked in tandem, including secondary and supporting muscles.

This leads to a leaner but nevertheless impressively streamlined shape, with strength gains coming in tandem with increased mobility.

The Primary Muscles of the Back and Their Functions

The back muscle anatomy can be complex, which is one of the reasons so many people frequently injure this majorly important area.

Several layers of muscles in your back are utilized for pulling in different directions, and the muscles of the back are generally categorized into groups, with the main muscles being the trapezius, the deltoid, the rhomboid, and of course, the ‘lats’.

The first group, the trapezius or "traps," are the deep ridge of muscles that fuse with the vertebral column.

The second group, the deltoids or "delts," are the superficial muscles that aid shoulder and neck movements.

The final group, the "lats" or latissimus dorsi, are the intermediate muscles, responsible for the movement of the thoracic cage. These muscles support the spine and attach the pelvis and shoulders to the trunk and also allow mobility and stability to the trunk and spine.

So with that complex image in mind, it’s easier to see the benefits of the holistic style of back training possible with calisthenics.

Is There Any Necessary or Useful Equipment for Back-Focused Calisthenics Training?

As most major back exercises focus on pulling, a set of bars will come in handy. Call them what you will—they go by many different names—but a set of at least one type of bar that will allow you to do some pulling will be useful.

It could be the trusty pull-up bar and/or a set of bars that allow adjustable heights or angles are useful as they allow you to target those back muscles in different ways, like in a reverse push-up pulling position. These muscles are often neglected in favor of pressing movements to build the front region when both need attention.

A Sample Series of Calisthenics Back Exercises

The Pull-up

Pull-ups are essential if you want to work that middle back and the latissimus dorsi (lats), as well as the upper back muscles, the traps, and the scapular muscles. The pull-up is a major bodyweight exercise that involves the whole body, working the biceps and core muscles.

The lats are the large and powerful muscles located on the sides and across your upper back, which, when developed properly, help give the torso more of a V-shape. The muscle is the prime mover muscle in the pull-up exercise, so if you want to build a broad V-shaped back, you need to do pull-ups!

The Superman

The Superman is an effective workout for anyone worried about lower back pain, as it strengthens your lower and upper back, glutes, and hamstrings and increases your core strength. With the Superman, it's important to feel stable through your core as you lift your legs and torso to form a bowl position and that you hold this position firmly for a few seconds once you're in place. Remember: it's the Superman, not the Fish-man, so go into it controlled and smooth rather than flopping and rushed. 

The Reverse Horizontal Pull-Up

This is basically the opposite of a push-up in that you are pulling instead of pushing while the body is as horizontal as possible. A good strong table will suffice if you don’t have a set of bars yet.

The Back Bridge

The bridge strengthens the lower back muscles and adds serious flexibility to the spine. Variations on the basic position should be experimented with, like going up on the toes and also doing push-ups while in this position.

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