A Calisthenics Back Workout? The Best Exercises to add to your Workout Routine

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You want to build strength, flexibility, and muscle tone, but you only want to use your body weight as resistance?

I must say, you drive a hard bargain…

Thankfully, if this actually is the case calisthenics back workouts are just what you’ve been looking for.

By incorporating calisthenics into your fitness routine, you can achieve an impressive and muscular back while also getting to look like those ripped, calisthenics bros who seem to frequent every outdoor playground in Eastern Europe!

These workouts, which can be performed just about anywhere (not only in the oftentimes dilapidated playgrounds just mentioned), consist of a variety of exercises to effectively target different muscles in your back and upper body.

(and who doesn’t want that?)

With a bit of work, you’ll even be ready to conquer even the toughest calisthenics “challenges”, like the Bar-barians workout.

(and who doesn’t really want that?!)

What Are Calisthenics Exercises and Calisthenics Workouts?

You’ve probably heard of calisthenics training before (heck, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve even performed a bunch of calisthenics exercises in your day!)  Do movements like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, dips, planks, and bridges ring a bell?

Yeah…all this time you have been a calisthenics connoisseur!

Now for a trickier question: how do calisthenics compare to “typical“ gym training that includes barbells, dumbbells, plates, and fitness machines? Are you really going to get as strong and ripped from those “easy” movements as you are from the combined poundage of your Rogue Warrior Bar and Bumper set?

Calisthenics training may not get you to a 300-plus pound snatch, but if it was good enough for this guy…

Calisthenics exercises comprise the backbones of many of the top CrossFit bodyweight workouts as well as multiple benchmark WODs. When you consider that “pure” calisthenics workouts like Mary are programmed into the highest levels of fitness competition, it shows that the sky is truly the limit for this style of training.

What Are the Benefits of Adopting a Calisthenics Routine?

Besides the perk of looking cool at playgrounds and being able to tell random strangers on the street “hey, man; I can do, like, 15 unbroken muscle-ups”, there are a multitude of additional benefits that come from calisthenics training:

First, it is an extremely efficient method of training as multiple muscle groups are worked in each exercise. By engaging a variety of muscles, you’ll not only experience full body strength and muscle growth but will do so in short, efficient training sessions.

Calisthenics training is not only easier on your joints than other training methods, but is also excellent at actually strengthening the joints, ligaments, and tendons. 

calisthenics back workout

Core exercises are key to better posture, balance, and mobility. Calisthenics training focuses heavily on core stability and body awareness (in fact, they pretty much require it), ensuring that you carry yourself with confidence and poise.

Now, I know that it can be difficult to convince yourself to…step away from the barbell. However, with all that said above, you might want to give calisthenics back exercises a try…

What Equipment Is Needed for Calisthenics Back Exercises and Calisthenic Back Workouts?

A couple of very important things to consider when contemplating bodyweight training is what equipment you’ll need to train your back and what calisthenics equipment is the most important to pick up.

Great news: calisthenics workouts can be done with little to no equipment, as you mainly use your own body weight as resistance to engage your back muscles. 

That being said, there are a few important pieces of equipment that can make your workouts more bodyweight back exercises much more challenging. Let’s take a look at some of the most important pieces of equipment:


  • Pull-up bar: Simply an essential piece of equipment for any calisthenics enthusiasts. With a pull-up bar, you can perform various exercises, such as pull-ups, chin-ups, muscle-ups, and other variations. Find you a home/doorway pull-up bar or outdoor playground that has some!
  • Gymnastics rings or suspension trainers (like TRX): Adding a suspension trainer to your home gym can up your bodyweight workout routine by providing leverage and instability to otherwise “basic” movements. With these, you can perform exercises like inverted rows, face pulls, and pike push-ups. The same can be said for gymnastics rings…although you’ll look cooler with these!
  • Resistance bands: Don’t sleep on these simple yet effective (and inexpensive!) tools. Resistance bands can be used for exercises like assisted pull-ups, banded rows, banded push-ups, and other exercises that require extra tension and resistance (as well as the aforementioned face pulls). Plus, they’re very portable.
  • Weighted vest: If you’re looking to increase the difficulty of certain exercises, try adding a weighted vest to your armory. By adding extra weight to your body, you immediately up the ante with any bodyweight exercise (like push-ups!)
  • Sturdy objects: Last but not least, consider the multitude of everyday objects in your home that can be used for various exercises. A bench, a couple of chairs or tables can be great for dips, decline push-ups, step-ups, and other exercises that require elevation and support.

Obviously, if you’re familiar with other forms of strength training or strength and conditioning, you probably know of (and maybe even have access to) a lot of this equipment. If not, don’t worry; it is definitely possible to work your back without weights.

What Are the Best Calisthenic Back Exercises?

The muscles of the back are comprised of four main parts: the rhomboids, the latissimus dorsi, the posterior deltoids, and the trapezius. To target these muscles, you need to perform exercises that involve pulling, rowing, and retracting movements. Here are a few of the best:

Pull-ups and chin-ups are the most effective calisthenics exercises for the back, as they work the lats, the traps, the rhomboids, and the posterior delts (i.e all of the major back muscles). They also engage the biceps, the forearms, and the core. 

…and now for the age-old question: what’s the difference between these two exercises? Chin-ups have your palms facing toward you, while pull-ups have your palms facing away (in the classic pronated grip). Both exercises can build your back muscles effectively, but chin-ups work the biceps a bit more. Get close to the bar, pull up until your chin is above the bar, and lower yourself back down with control.

Inverted rows, also known as Australian rows or bodyweight rows, work the same muscles as pull-ups and chin-ups, but with less intensity and more horizontal range of motion (don’t worry; they still can really add strength the back muscles!) They also target the lower back and the rear delts more. 

To perform these bad boys, find a sturdy horizontal bar, set it at waist height, and lie down underneath it. Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width, pronated grip, lean back, and pull your chest up to the bar, keeping your body straight and your back and core engaged.

Hand release push-ups are a variation of the standard push-up (very popular in CrossFit and in the U.S. Army ACFT), where you lift your hands off the ground at the bottom of each rep. This forces you to retract your shoulder blades and activate your rhomboids and traps more. They also work the chest, the triceps, and the core. 

To perform this exercise, start in a push-up position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your body to the ground, lift your hands off the floor, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

Wall angels are a mobility exercise that involves sliding your arms up and down a wall while keeping your back flat against it. These improve shoulder mobility and posture while also strengthening the scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles. 

To perform this exercise, stand with your back against a wall and your feet about six inches from the wall. Place your arms against the wall in a “W” shape, and then slide your arms up into a “Y” shape, keeping your elbows and wrists in contact with the wall.

By performing these exercises, you can effectively target all of the major muscle groups in your back, including your shoulders, biceps, core lower back, and glutes.

What Are the Best Calisthenics Back Workout Routines?

We’re finally getting to it; calisthenics back routines for all skill levels. 

Beginner Calisthenics Back Workout

You don’t need to do much when you’re a beginner! This workout requires only a pull-up bar and a sturdy object. It consists of three exercises, yet it is still a complete back workout:

  1. Assisted pull-ups: Use a resistance band (or chair) to help you pull yourself up to the bar
  2. Inverted rows: Utilize a suspension trainer, low bar, or rings to perform these
  3. Dips: Execute this exercise using a bench, a couple of chairs, or dip station

Perform these exercises for three sets of 10 to 15 reps, with 60 to 90 seconds rest between sets.


Intermediate Calisthenics Back Workout

Graduated to “intermediate” status? Congratulations; you get to do a harder workout now!

This one requires a pull-up bar, suspension trainer, and resistance bands. This effective back workout has the additional benefit of incorporating upper back exercises, as well.

  1. Pull-ups: Use a standard or doorway pull-up bar
  2. Face pulls: Attach a suspension trainer or resistance band to a high anchor point
  3. Hand release push-ups: Perform on the floor or an elevated surface
  4. Banded rows: Attach a resistance band to a low anchor point

For this routine, perform four sets of 8 to 12 reps, with 45 to 60 seconds rest between sets.

Advanced Calisthenics Back Workout

This one is reserved for experts who want to build serious back strength! Ready for…this?

…maybe not!

The advanced calisthenics full back workout requires a pull-up bar, rope, and a sturdy object:

  1. Muscle-ups: Use a pull-up bar (bar or ring muscle-ups) or a set of rings (ring muscle-ups)
  2. Rope climbs: Utilize a rope or a pole for this exercise
  3. Pike push-ups: Execute on the floor or an elevated surface, such as a bench or box
  4. Wall angels: Perform on a wall or floor
  5. One-arm rows: Use a sturdy object, such as a bench, chair, or table

Perform these exercises for five sets of 6 to 10 reps, with 30 to 45 seconds rest between sets.

You got the routines now…no excuses not to work some calisthenics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Truth be told, there are probably, like, a million questions you could ask about calisthenics work.

…today, we’re going to cover exactly three more; it’s much more important that you actually get out and start doing the exercises/workouts.

To effectively develop your back muscles using calisthenics, you really need to perform back workouts at least two or three times per week. If you're a beginner, this should be sufficient time for recovery, but also enough work to promote consistent muscle growth. Remember to listen to your body (especially if you are ever experiencing back pain) and, if it tells you “hey, man; I can take a bit more”, then you can probably up your training to 4-5 days per week!

Absolutely! You can easily create workout routines that target multiple muscle groups. Consider combining your bodyweight workouts with weighted exercises. However, be sure that you’re not overloading any particular muscle/muscle group too much…bodyweight exercises can be just as taxing (if not moreso!) than “equivalent” weighted exercises.

One of the benefits of calisthenics is that you can often perform most exercises without any equipment. However, having access to basic equipment like a pull-up bar or dip bars can help diversify your workout, allowing for a wider range of exercises and progressions.

…and if you don’t have any actual equipment…well…you probably have some chairs, tables, and elevated steps in your home to mess around on!

Find you a Playground and Start Pulling, Dipping, and Muscle-up..ing Away

Today, we’ve not only covered some of the best bodyweight exercises, but, more specifically the best calisthenic exercises.

If you actually incorporate these into your regimen, there really is no way you won’t be strengthening your back and, ultimately, ending up with a much stronger back.

…but, more importantly, you get to look like Zef and crew…

Worst case scenario, you need a bit more intensity in your workouts (than what we’ve covered here) and you end up following Zef’s training program and looking like the guys above.

I promise I won’t take it personally!

And remember, you don’t have to have equipment for these workouts…but a few pieces of equipment can help a lot. Check out our article on the best dip bars for home and expand your calisthenics exercises options exponentially!

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Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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