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Back Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Pain at Home

In the modern era, many of our everyday activities such as spending long hours hunched over our smartphones or computers, sitting lazily on the couch, and slouching while driving can have a detrimental effect on our back muscles. Since it’s difficult to perceive the muscles that are not visible, we often lack awareness of how our back muscles move in space. This lack of awareness can lead to imbalances in our bodies and training, which can have adverse effects. Kristina Centenari, a Tonal coach and certified personal trainer, warns that failure to activate the back muscles correctly can result in compensatory movements using other areas of our body, muscle atrophy, and eventually lead to pain.

Back pain is a prevalent issue affecting up to 80% of adults at some point in their lives. While injuries, limited mobility, and weak core or glute muscles can cause back pain, strengthening the back muscles can help increase the body’s durability and resilience against injuries during daily activities or workouts. According to Josh Clay, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and Fitness Programming Specialist at Tonal, exercising the back muscles is crucial to building connective tissue that can withstand the demands of everyday life and personal fitness goals. To keep your back strong and stable, it’s essential to understand the different muscles in your back and the most effective exercises to target them.

What Are the Back Muscles?

The back is a complex system of muscles that allows for a wide range of movements, including bending, twisting, and rotating. With its role in moving the arms, the back consists of multiple muscle groups, each with its own unique function. The largest of these muscle groups is the latissimus dorsi, commonly known as the lats.

These triangle-shaped muscles power back and shoulder movements such as raising, lowering, and rotating the upper arm. The rhomboids and rear deltoids control movements that involve pulling the shoulder blades together.

The trapezius muscles are responsible for lifting the arms, raising and lowering the shoulders, and turning the head and neck. Additionally, the erector spine, located along the length of the spine and not pictured below, flex and extend the back and enable bending from side to side.

Since the back muscles are involved with so many movement patterns, training them will likely improve your performance in many of your workouts.

“These muscles are all stabilizing muscles for other regions of our body which is why it is so important to keep them strong,” says Centenari. “If we can activate these muscles properly, they aid in creating proper tension with our heavier lifts, like squats and deadlifts. This type of training, in which we create tension to control external load, carries over into life outside the gym.”

A well-rounded at-home back workout gives equal attention to all these muscle groups for a strong and functional posterior chain.

At-Home Bodyweight Back Exercises 

You don’t need resistance to start training your back. The exercises below can be done at home and are smart, effective options if you’re just getting started or recovering from an injury. For these moves, go for the duration instead of reps so you can focus on your form and how your muscles feel during the exercises.

1. Superhero Iso Hold

Why it Works: Tonal coach and certified personal trainer Tanysha Renee call this isometric hold “phenomenal” for strengthening the thoracic or middle section of your spine. Since we often focus on the muscles in the front side of the body—and engage these more than the back muscles as we sit during the day—it’s an opportunity to activate the back.

How to Do it: Lie face down on your mat. Extend your arms upward and out about 45 degrees from your head. Extend your legs about hip distance apart. Imagine strings from the ceiling lifting all 4 limbs off the floor while you balance on your pelvis and low belly. With your back and glutes engaged, hold here.

2. Pillar Bridge

Why it Works: The back muscles often work overtime when your core is weak in comparison, so Renee recommends this move for firing up the midsection. The pillar bridge also recruits your glutes and hamstrings, two other muscle groups that need to be strong to support your back.

How to Do it: Get onto your mat facing the floor with both elbows under your shoulders and feet hip distance apart, toes tucked. Lift the knees to extend the legs and push the floor away from you through your elbows.

3. Elevated Glute Bridge

Why it Works: Although we primarily think of this exercise as a glute and hamstring move, Renee says it’s also effective at relieving pain in the lower back. “When the glutes are strong, it releases pressure from the back,” she says. Compared to doing this move on the floor, Renee says that performing it elevated allows for a wider range of motion and deeper engagement of the muscles.

How to Do it: Place your shoulders and upper back on the bench with arms extended to the side. Bring your knees over your ankles hip-width apart with hips just above the floor. Push the floor away from you, squeezing your glutes to lift your hips toward the ceiling while keeping your ribcage drawn in. Lower your hips back down toward the floor, bringing your torso with you, and repeat.

4. Bird Dog

Why it Works: Along with strengthening the core, this move also trains the lower back to resist rotation. Both Centenari and Renee recommend it as a low-impact exercise to help stabilize the spine.

How to Do it: Get onto your hands and knees on the mat, wrists under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and toes tucked. Lift one arm about 45 degrees from your head with your thumb toward the ceiling like you’re throwing something behind you. Lift the opposite leg simultaneously and balance on the other limbs. Lower your arm and leg and alternate sides.

5. Dead Bug

Why it Works: Centenari says this move “works core stability and control while maintaining breathing patterns that all assist in supporting your low back muscles.” By strengthening the core, this move may help relieve lower back pain.

How to Do it: Lie face up on your mat and bring your arms extended over your chest, with knees bent over your hips in a tabletop position. Pretend there is a gummy bear under your low back that you want to touch but not smash as you extend one arm and the opposite leg toward the floor. Once your limbs are just above the floor, return to start without letting your back

Back Exercises on Tonal 

Once you’ve built a foundation of strength, it’s important to train your back with a variety of movement patterns to ensure you’re hitting all the major muscles, says Clay. On Tonal, you can do a balanced, at-home back workout with resistance to gain strength. He recommends staying within the 3- to 10-rep range for the exercises below (lifting heavier at the lower end of that range and lighter at the top end) to build muscle while still managing fatigue and allowing for recovery.

1. Neutral Lat Pulldown

Neutral lat pull down; at-home back workout

Why it Works: For building the back and shoulders, it’s hard to beat the lat pulldown. Because you’re working with the full range of motion in your shoulders, Clay explains you’ll be able to pull with heavy resistance to develop strong lats.

How to Do it: Start with arms extended overhead, palms facing Tonal. Drive the elbows down toward the floor and pull the handles to the outside of your shoulders, rotating your hands to face your body. Control the weight back up to starting position, straightening at the elbows.

2. Seated Row

Seated row; at-home back workout

Why it Works: This move strengthens the lats, traps, and rhomboids all in one motion as you work to pull the shoulder blades together. If you spend most of your day seated and slouched forward, the row will strengthen the postural muscles that keep you upright. “The horizontal pull is going to be great for that retraction of the back,” says Renee.

How to Do it: Using your back, drive your elbows like you’re trying to touch the wall behind you and pull the handles to your torso, palms facing your ribcage. Release the weight forward again with control, rotating the palms to face the floor, and repeat.

3. Single-Arm Bent Over Row

Single-Arm Bent Over Row; at-home back workout

Why it Works: Centenari says this unilateral variation of the row is ideal for “targeting those stabilizing muscles around your shoulders as well as recruiting core stabilizers. It helps you address asymmetries on both sides of your body.”

How to Do it: Grab the handle with one hand. On the same side, plant your leg firmly on the floor with a soft knee. Place your opposite limbs on the bench, hand under your shoulder, and knee under your hip. Using your back, imagine your shoulder blades sliding down to your hips, and pull the handle toward your torso with your palm facing your body. Release the weight forward again with control, and repeat on the same side.

4. Face Pull

Face Pull; at-home back workout

Why it Works: Clay especially likes this move for beginners looking to strengthen the upper back and rear delts. “It’s a super streamlined learning curve,” he says. “It’s not a very difficult move to learn.”

How to Do it: Using the shoulders and back, pull the rope toward your ears by aiming your elbows wide toward the wall behind you. Slowly move your hands forward to return to the starting position, and repeat.

5. Reverse Fly

Reverse fly; at-home back workout

Why it Works: This move is one of Clay’s top picks for training the rhomboids and rear deltoids. Paired with exercises that target the lats, it helps to work the shoulders from another angle.

How to Do it: Stand facing Tonal. Take the left handle in the right hand and the right handle in the left hand. Bring your hands in front of your chest with your arms slightly bent. Using your back and keeping distance between your shoulders and ears, open your arms back to the wall behind you until the elbows are in line with the shoulders. Bring your arms back to the center like you’re hugging a beach ball in front of your chest and repeat.

Tonal’s At-Home Back Workouts

With the Custom Workout feature on Tonal, it’s easy to design your own at-home back workout with the moves above. Tonal will offer personalized weight recommendations for each exercise and track your progress. You can also try a coach-led workout focused on the back muscles to get expert guidance with every rep.

This fast at-home back workout activates the muscles of the upper, middle, and lower back, and includes unilateral (one-sided) moves to address any weaknesses while improving your balance and stability.

As you strengthen your back muscles in this workout, you’ll also work on your posture. If you spend most of the day sitting, you’ll appreciate giving your entire posterior chain some much-needed attention.

For a quick upper body workout, this session targets both the chest and back with big lifts that develop both pushing and pulling muscles.

If you’re currently experiencing back pain, try this gentle mobility session that focuses on loosening up tight hip flexors and correcting anterior pelvic tilt—two common culprits behind an achy lower back.

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