The Best Exercises for Back Workouts at Home
How has your back adapted to working from home?
Those of us now working from our kitchen tables may no longer have access to adjustable or ergonomic office chairs, and we’re paying the price of being slumped over a keyboard for hours. Hello, muscle imbalance and bad posture. Oh hey, potentially declining fitness and muscle tone.
Strengthening your back and improving your posture is important because it helps your body function the way it's meant to function, with minimal injury and with range of motion. Proper function also means you’re more likely to get the maximum benefit from exercises, because you’re doing them properly.
So whether you want to sit up straighter, build bigger traps, tone up, or just want to stay fit and active while you’re at home, we’ve got you covered. Check out the bodyweight exercises in this article (they include a weighted option for you lifters out there). Let’s start by looking at just what you’ll be exercising (ahem) back there.
Muscles of the Back
Your back muscles help you twist, stand up straight, move your head, shoulders, arms and legs, and even breathe. Meet the key players:
Latissimus dorsi Your lats take up real estate in your middle and lower back, and help you extend and rotate your arms and shoulders. You know how competitive swimmers tend to have an impressive V-shaped body? That’s down to their toned lats, which are the workhorses of swimming.
Rhomboids Your rhomboids consist of the rhomboid major and minor in your upper back. They work together to pull your shoulder blades toward your spine. Exercise this duo if you want to achieve a chiseled back.
Trapezius Without this diamond-shaped muscle in your upper back, you’d have a hard time lifting your arms and standing upright. If you want to bulk up your back and shoulders, this is a key muscle to focus on.
Erector spinae This group of muscles runs the length of your back, alongside your spine. They support your spinal column and let you bend your spine backwards. A strong erector spinae strengthens all your movements – you’ll be able to squat or deadlift with heavier weights, and move with more power.
Multifidus These muscle bundles next to your spine also help you bend backwards. It's a critical muscle for maintaining a stable spine, like you’ll need to do in the bird dog exercise.
Quadratus lumborum These muscles, on the sides of your torso, help your spine and pelvis move and remain stable. A strong QL can help prevent back pain, make daily tasks feel easier, and enable you to make the most out of your workouts.
You can work these back muscles with targeted exercises, which we’ll get into further below.
What You Should Know Before Doing Back Workouts at Home
Pain isn’t invited to this party, so stop if you feel it while exercising.
If you opt to work out with weights, use a weight that’s challenging yet manageable for you. Stick with this weight for 4 to 6 weeks, then go up by a pound or two and see how that feels. If your form starts to suffer while doing 10 reps, your weight is too heavy.
“Sometimes less is more,” says Gareth Nock, founder and COO of The Nock Academy. “People sometimes feel like they have to add more weight, or intensity or more repetitions or sets when they don’t have to. They just have to do it well a few times. That’s probably more beneficial.”
And to do it well, technique, or proper form, is key.
Check your own form by exercising in front of a mirror. Or, have a professional spot you, says Nock, who has more than 20 years of training and coaching experience.
Lastly, take your time.
Exercises for Back Workouts at Home
Remember to warm up and cool down before and after your workouts.
If your goal is to tone your muscles, hold the plank exercises outlined below for up to 2 minutes, and do 12-15 reps of the other exercises with a lower weight.
If you don’t have dumbbells, you can use canned food or bottles of water instead. No kettlebell? No problem. Grab a container of cat litter or liquid laundry detergent.
Muscles worked: Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, rhomboids, lats — most of the posterior chain
This is a terrific exercise – just look at all those muscles you’re working. It’s your one-stop shop for toning, or building and maintaining, back muscles.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands touching your shoulders, elbows pointing forward. With knees slightly bent, brace your core.
- Keeping your back straight, lower your torso while pushing your butt back by hinging at the hips. Inhale as you go.
- Return to standing position by squeezing your glutes and raising your torso. Exhale as you go.
Do 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
Challenge yourself: Hold a dumbbell on each shoulder.
Muscles worked: Rhomboids, trapezius
This is an awesome exercise for posture, especially if you’re working seated at a desk all day. Reverse flys are also great for achieving a built upper back – break out the tank tops.
- Standing with feet hip-width apart, bend your knees a little.
- Keeping your back straight, hinge at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, hands in a fist, palms facing each other. Keep a slight bend in the elbows.
- Keeping your back straight, exhale and squeeze your back muscles (as if you're trying to crush a can between your shoulder blades) to lift your arms straight out to the sides. Your upper body should form a “T.”
- Inhale as you lower your arms.
Do 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
Challenge yourself: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other.
Muscles worked: Multifidus, erector spinae
Bird dog is “a little bit more holistic,” says Nock, since it also hits the muscles that stabilize the hips and shoulders.
“We’re working our hips, et cetera, when we walk or when we do tasks on our feet,” says Nock. “So there’s a good crossover there,” as you strengthen and develop good balance and posture with bird dog. Not to mention the workout you’re giving your lower back muscles.
- Get on your hands and knees, with knees and feet hip-width apart and toes pointed. Fingers should face forward.
- Brace your core and keep your spine in a neutral position.
- Exhale, and at the same time, raise your right arm straight out in front of you, while straightening and raising your left leg. Raise your arm and leg until they are, ideally, parallel with the floor. Keep hips parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position and now raise your left arm and right leg.
Do 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps on each side. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
Challenge yourself: Hold a one-pound dumbbell in each hand as you perform the exercise, and/or incorporate ankle weights.
Muscles worked: Quadratus lumborum
“You’ve also got the glutes, which are a big stabilizer for the hips and lower back,” Nock says.
“Also your lats are working pretty hard to set your shoulder. All of this is incorporated in that side plank. It’s building that stability in the side of your body. A lot of people’s back pain is one-sided, so the fact we’re working one side and the other is going to help create balance.” And balance means you’re not walking around slumped over more to one side than the other.
- Lie on your right or left side. Your legs should form a straight line, one foot stacked on top of the other.
- Place your elbow directly under your shoulder, and rest your other arm along the side of your body. Align your head with your spine.
- Brace your core and squeeze your glutes. Exhale, and lift your hips and knees off the mat. Hold for 30-60 seconds and breathe.
- Return to the starting position as you inhale. Repeat on the other side.
Do 3 sets.
Challenge yourself: In the up position, raise the leg on top so it’s parallel with the floor and hold.
Muscles worked: Trapezius, rhomboids
“We’re strengthening the muscles of the back, but we’re also strengthening your deep core muscles and your glutes,” Nock says of the plank. “Glutes are important, abdominals are important. Everything that surrounds that (lower back) area is key, cause it’s one unit, as opposed to a solitary muscle that we have to isolate.”
- Lie on your stomach and prop yourself onto your toes and forearms with your feet about hip-distance apart. Your elbows should form a straight line under your shoulders. Keep legs extended.
- Now lift your body. It should make a straight line from your head to your heels. Keep your core muscles and glutes engaged throughout the exercise.
- Look at the floor while keeping your head relaxed. Hold for 30-60 seconds and breathe. Think happy thoughts.
Do 3 sets.
Challenge yourself: As you lift, extend your arms so you’re on your hands. Once you’re in the up position, lift one leg off the floor and hold. Switch legs halfway through the set.
Work Out Arms During Back Workouts at Home
Training your arms at the same time as your back is a great idea. Arm and back muscles work together to help you pull.
While you can do arm exercises separately, why not incorporate them into a back workout, since you’re already exercising? #bestuseofyourtime
Arm exercises to try after each set of back exercises include rows and bicep curls. You can do these with or without weights to build and maintain muscle and tone in your biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles.
Benefits of Doing Home Back Workouts
Being hunched over a desk or table all day can exacerbate back pain, Nock says.
And we’ve found that the more you’ve been sitting around, the less you feel like exerting yourself. This then affects your motivation to work out, and potentially your overall fitness.
“The reason doing a workout from home is great is that it’s a little desk break," says Nock.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot. You can come down on the floor and do a couple of sets. It takes 2 or 3 minutes. Then you can go back to what you were doing. So it’s easy to fit in.”
And you have privacy at home — workout to your favorite tunes, wearing what you want.
The Ultimate Benefit To Back Workouts at Home
Keeping your back strong with targeted exercises will support muscle balance and good posture, as well as keep you fit and help you look and feel your best. And it'll help maintain your quality of life. Nock mentions parents, as an example.
“You want to be able to play with your kids, pick them up, throw them about, run around in the park — all those things are affected (if your back hurts),” says Nock.
“The minute you’re like, ‘oh my back aches,’ you might not want to do those things. You may not want to enjoy the things that life has to offer when you’re uncomfortable and in pain.”
Once you’ve finished your back workout, it’s time to help your muscles recover with protein. One source you can turn to is Allo protein powder, crafted to easily dissolve in hot coffee. One serving contains 10 grams of whey protein, and it’s sugar-free and gluten-free. Discover tasty flavors such as vanilla, hazelnut and caramel, as well as creamer versions, right here at liveallo.com.