The 4 Best Back Exercises for Beginners in Calisthenics

the 4 best back exercises

If you are new to calisthenics you may wonder how you can build a strong V-shaped back without any weights. You will be surprised to find out how many back exercises you can do with calisthenics! As always, we keep things realistic and simple for beginners. In a future article, we will provide you with intermediate and advanced exercises for your back. But in this article, we explain the 4 best back exercises for beginners in calisthenics. 

About Your Back

First let us tell you something about your back. There are a lot of muscles in you back. They have superficial, intermediate and deep layers. The intermediate and deep layers are muscles that focus on vital functions like breathing and stabilizing your spine. These are not muscles that you can train much. It are the superficial layer muscles that you see when you are muscular. And these are what we talk about in this artciel. Our main focus is on the latissimus dorsi, the trapezius and erector trunci. There are more muscles in your back, especially around your shoulder blade. And they help during these back exercises. We discuss those in this article about shoulder exercises in calisthenics. Let’s get to what you want to know!

Assisted Pull-Up 

How to Use the Resistance Band 

Put the resistance on a low bar by putting it around the bar and run it back through the band. Now pull it tight and together. Turn your palms to the side, grab the band at the lower quarter of its length. Then do a simple triceps extension and put your knees/feet inside the band.  

Starting Position 

As you have your knees/feet inside the resistance band grab the bar with a pronated grip. This means thumbs facing each other and palms facing forward. You can put your thumbs on the lower or higher end of the bar. The difference is that it trains your forearms slightly differently. You choose what is most comfortable for you. You should grab the bar at the height at which your elbows are slightly bend and your feet do not touch the ground. Make sure to retract your shoulders and contract your abs. 

How to Perform the Exercise 

Start by pulling yourself up with your chest towards the bar. To have a full range of motion (ROM) try pulling your ahead entirely over the bar. In the pull movement your shoulders stay retracted, as you bend your elbows inwards against your body. Next, slowly extend your arms again and lower yourself. But make sure your elbows stay slightly bended to keep tension on your latissimus dorsi.

How to Progress

Start with 3 sets of your maximum number of reps. First build up your reps to 3 sets of 15 repetitions. Click here to read how to progress your reps fast. Once you get better, start doing regular pull-ups and build up to 3 times 15 repetitions. 

Australian Pull-Up Wide Grip 

The Australian Pull-up is like a pull-up but from down under. Because of the way the exericse is performed, your trapezius has a more dominant role than your latissimus. 

Starting Position 

Start on a lower bar (around belly height) and grab it with a pronated grip. Stretch your arms entirely and make sure your shoulders and head are behind the bar. Put your feet forward with tucked knees to make it easier. Now, slightly bend your elbows and contract your abs. Shoulders are also retracted. 

How to Perform the Exercise 

Pull your chest towards the bar and touch it for maximum ROM. As you pull yourself up your elbows should be aligned with your shoulders (90 degrees abducted) forming the letter T with your body and arms. During the exercise, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were holding a pencil between them and make sure your shoulders stay retracted. As you return to the starting position, keep your arms slightly bended.  

How to Progress

If the exercise is easy, try to extend your legs and put your heels on the ground. The movement will become more difficult because now you to carry more bodyweight. Try to go to 3 sets of 20 repetitions. When possible, put your feet on an elevated platform to increase difficulty. Alternatively, you can start using weighted vests.  

(Assisted) Small Grip Chin Ups 

Starting Position  

Grab a pull-up bar with a supinated grip. The palms of your hands are facing towards you and at 5 cm of each other.  A supinated grip engages your biceps more. But this does not mean you are not using your back. Your arms should be slighlty bended and retract your shoulders with a scapular pull-up. That way, you engage your back more. Make sure your core is contracted.

How to Use the Resistance Band 

See above in the paragraph about the assisted pull-up. 

How to Perform the Exercise  

Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Make sure your chest touches the bar and you squeeze your shoulder blades together. This engages your back more. Then lower yourself back down as slowly as possible. 

How to Progress  

If you need a resistance band, try to do 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions before you get a lighter band or do regular small grip chin-ups. As you notice your progress, start shifting your weight more to left or right during the exercise. For example, perform 3 reps shifting towards your left side and then 3 reps to the right side. This increases maximum strength and your back needs to work harder.

Back Extension 

Starting Position 

Lay on the ground facing downwards. Put your arms in a 90 degrees elbow flexion and have your arms abducted at 90 degrees. Your arms form the ltter U that way. Retract your shoulders a little bit and tuck your toes if you prefer that. Make sure your hips stay on the ground. During the exercise, contract your core the whole time to prevent a hollow back. Remember to breathe during the exercise and keep tension on your core. 

How to Perform the Exercise  

Lift up your chest from the ground as far as you can by extending your spine. Your hips should stay on the ground the entire time. You may notice your back getting hollow so contract your core. Keeping a perfect form is very difficult so decrease your ROM if you notice back pain. As you lift up your chest you can retract the shoulders more to work on your traps as well. Now, slowly go back towards the ground, but make sure your shoulders don’t touch it.

How to Progress 

Build up to 3 sets of 20 reps. When this becomes easy for you, stretch your arms forward during the exercise making your body as long as possible. This way you will carry more weight during the exercise. You could also grab a resistance band between your hands and make a latt pull down movement behind your head as you come up. Build this up with light resistance bands and make it more difficult over time. 

More Than Back Exercises in Calisthenics

These exercises are the 4 best back exercises for beginners in calisthenics. You can really start building your back with these. Once these back exercises become easier for you, you can start with intermediate and advanced back exericses. We will post an article about these for you soon.

Back exercises go well together with biceps exercises since you often use both at the same time. If you want bigger biceps, click here to check out our guide for the best biceps exercises for beginners in calisthenics. If you need any of the equipment we mentioned above, like resistance bands or pull-up bars, check out the recommended equipment that we use ourselves.

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