We sit hunched over a computer for 9 hours a day. We slouch as we commute home in our car. Or maybe we go to cycling or spin class and hunch over a bike. Then we hunch over our phones as we text and talk.
Basically, we are spending way too much time in forward flexion, aka hunched over. This is how many of us end up with neck, shoulder and upper back pain. This forward, rounded posture, and the risk for pain and injury it causes, makes it even more important for us to work our backs.
But what if you don’t have any equipment? What moves can you do to work your back with just your own bodyweight? What can you do, besides the pull up and inverted row, which still requires some equipment?
Here are 5 Bodyweight Back Exercises you can do to improve your posture and help prevent injuries.
Scapular Wall Reps
The Scapular Wall Reps is a great move to open up your chest and work on engaging your back as if you were doing a row with weights. And you can even secretly do it against a wall in your office to get up and reverse all of the sitting you’re doing at your desk!
To do the Scapular Wall Reps, stand with your back against the wall and your feet about six inches away. Bend your arms and drive your elbows back into the wall. With your body in a nice straight line, drive off the wall with your elbows, pressing your chest out and pinching your shoulder blades down and back.
Brace your core and squeeze your glutes so your body moves as one unit. Do not arch your hips away as you press out.
Relax back against the wall, keeping your body in a nice straight line from your head to your heels. Do not let your hips drop. Then repeat the press out, driving off your elbows. The further from the wall that you walk your feet out, the harder the move will be.
You want to picture yourself rowing a weight back toward your chest as you drive your elbows back into a wall. Make sure not to shrug and feel your shoulders extend and shoulder blades move closer together. Focus on feeling your back power the move.
Prone Snow Angels
Rotator cuff injuries are all too common. This is a great move to help prevent yourself from suffering from one. This move will work on your shoulder mobility while building stability around the joint.
To do Prone Snow Angels, lie face down on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your chest up slightly off the ground, as with the cobra. Then straighten your arms out to the side as if creating a snow angel. As you bring your hands back and down toward your butt, flip your hands over, rotating your shoulders and bending your elbows to bring the backs of your hands to your low back.
Then reverse the motion, bringing your hands back out to the sides then back behind your head. Make sure to keep your chest slightly up, but do not let your lower back take over.
Scapular Push Ups
This is a move I could include daily. It works to mobilize your shoulder blades and improve scapular retraction. It will build mobility and stability in the muscles that help prevent shoulder and even neck pain.
To do the Scapular Push Up, set up in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your feet together. Your body should be in a nice straight line from head to your heels. Without bending your elbows or dropping your hips, pinch your shoulder blades together. Do not tuck your chin or jut your head forward.
This is a very small range of motion where you are simply focused on pinching your shoulder blades together.
Just pinch your shoulder blades together and then relax back up. Keep your core tight as you pinch your shoulder blades together and don’t let your hips drop or elbows bend to try to get a bigger range of motion.
If you struggle to pinch your shoulder blades together without wiggling your core or bending your elbows, go down to your knees as if doing a push up from your knees. If you still struggle, bring your knees under your hips so you’re in the quadruped position. Do not get caught up on doing this from your toes. Just focus on pinching the shoulder blades together.
The Cobra is a great way to work your entire backside and even get your glutes firing to reverse the hip flexion we sit in for way too much of our day. It is an extension exercise so it will help reverse the flexion. And the more we can do the opposite the better our posture will be!
To do the Cobra, lie face down on the ground with your legs out straight and your arms straight down by your sides. Then squeeze your glutes and pinch your shoulder blades back to lift your chest as high up off the ground as you can. Keep your head in line with your spine as you raise.
You can either perform an isometric hold and hold at the top of the Cobra, or you can lift and lower for reps. Even if you perform reps, hold for a second or two at the top. And as you hold, reach your hands back toward your feet to really engage everything as much as possible. Also, make sure to engage your glutes so your low back doesn’t become overworked.
Alternating Arm Plank Row
When you can work more muscles at once, you’ll get better results in less time. Which is why I love this Alternating Arm Plank Row. It builds core stability and strength while also working your shoulders and back. And if you do have weights, you can even add those for an extra challenge!
To do the Alternating Arm Plank Row, set up in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and feet about shoulder-width apart. Squeezing your glutes and bracing your core, row one hand up to your chest, driving your elbow back toward the ceiling. Do not rotate or shrug as you row.
Feel your back pulling your hand up.Then slowly lower down and repeat the row on the other side, You want to make sure you really drive the elbow back and don’t turn it into a bicep curl instead. Feel your core also working to keep your body stable.
For even more bodyweight back moves, check out these 17 Bodyweight Back Variations that don’t require a pull up bar below.
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.