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At-Home Back Workout

Getting a wider, thicker back without leaving your house. Here's your workout.

At Home Back Workout

When you’re stuck at home, getting in an effective back workout – which relies on pulling moves like pulldowns, pull-ups and rows – can be a challenge. Not everyone has a pull-up bar in their garage or spare bedroom, let alone a lat pulldown or cable row station.

But as I’ve already proven with my At-Home leg, chest, and shoulder workouts, a little desperation and ingenuity can go a long way toward building muscle and gaining strength in the absence of a gym – even when training the back.

Workout Overview

While most people fret when they’re not able to go to the gym and train, you should actually welcome the change that being confined to your home can provide your fitness plan. With some unique exercises, a few household items, and intensity techniques like pre-exhaust, explosive reps, and Tabatas (courtesy of the below routine), your lats won’t know what hit them!

Warm-Up: Torso Twists + Arm Circles + Arm Swings

As always, consider starting with a general 10-15-minute warm-up such as riding a stationary cycle, walking or running, or calisthenics.

The workout itself starts with a similar dynamic warm-up as for chest and shoulders, since the muscles surround the same joint (shoulder). But here, we’ll start with 20 straight-arm torso twists.

To do this, stand with a shoulder-width stance and extend both arms straight out to your sides so that your body forms a “T.” Keeping your feet stationary and arms in place, twist your torso to the right until you can’t go any further. Hold this position for a second, then twist in the opposite direction as far as you can (you’ll be facing to the left here). Hold this position for a second, and continue the alternating torso twists until you’ve completed 20 reps total (10 per twists per side). 

Next, you’ll do the chest/shoulders dynamic warm-up routine: 10 small forward arm circles (about 1 foot in diameter), followed by another 10 in the opposite (reverse) direction. Then, 10 forward arm swings with bigger circles (about 2 feet in diameter), and 10 big reverse arm circles. You’ll finish off with 10 horizontal arm swings, crossing your arms in front of your body.

Power-Up: Doorway Power Row

Once you’re warmed up, it’s time to get explosive with some fast, powerful reps. Here, we’re going to do three sets of Doorway Power Rows. Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Stand sideways on the left side of a doorway so that your right shoulder is in the doorway and your feet are pushed up against the bottom of it with your right foot closest to the doorway.
  2. Use your right hand to grip the other side of the door frame at just below shoulder height. Play around with the grip height to find what works best for you.
  3. Holding onto the door frame with your right hand and keeping your feet in place against the door frame, straighten your right arm to full extension and allow your body to hang and pull on the lats as much as possible.
  4. Use your lats and biceps to pull your body up toward the door frame as quickly and explosively as possible. Keep your right shoulder turned slightly to the right as you pull your body up; this will prevent your shoulder from hitting the door frame, and instead, gliding right past it.
  5. Once you’ve made the initial pull, release your hand from the door frame so as not to stop restrict power development.
  6. As your body stops ascending into the doorway and starts descending back away from it, use your right arm to catch your body by grabbing the same spot you pulled from. Try to catch the doorframe when your arm is still bent a bit to take advantage of the additional negative force from your falling body.
  7. Use your lats and biceps to resist the weight of your body falling back to the start position. These negative reps will really challenge the muscle fibers and lead to new muscle growth.
  8. Do 5-10 reps in this manner, then switch sides and repeat. Go back and forth without resting between arms until you’ve done three sets per side.

4-Week Progression*: In Week 1, do 3 sets of 5 reps per side. In Week 2, increase reps to 6 per set. In Week 3, move up to 8 reps per set. And in Week 4, do 10 reps per set.

*Refer to my 4-Week At-Home Workout article for the full-body training split and all four weeks of workouts for all muscle groups.

Upper Body Pulling Strength: Door Pull-Up

Now that the upper body pulling muscles are primed from the power rows, you’re going to use the extra strength you have in your back to assist on one of the hardest back exercises there is: the pull-up.

Many people lack strength, or more accurately strength endurance, on pull-ups. Generally, we tend to be stronger pushers than pullers, so any strength boost you can get on pull-ups should be welcome.

You don’t have a pull-up station? Don’t worry. Instead of the doorway, we’re now going to use the actual door to do pull-ups. Here’s how you’ll do it:

  1. To set up the exercise, open the door and jam a doorstop underneath it, right below the handle. If you don’t have a doorstop, jam a towel under the door. This will support the door and hold it in place so that you don’t stress the hinges with your body weight.
  2. Stand facing one side of the door, and grab the top of the door with your hands, spaced shoulder-width apart or wider. Your hands will serve as “hooks,” since you won’t have your thumbs wrapped around anything.
  3. Bend your knees and use your lats to pull your body up the door as high as you can. Hold the top position for a second, focusing on contracting the lats as hard as you can.
  4. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor and repeat for reps until you hit failure. Rest 1-2 minutes, then repeat for two more sets.

Scaling Option: If you can’t perform many (or any) pull-ups, place a chair or stool in front of the door. Stand on it to raise your body to the top position of the pull-up, then perform negatives by holding the top position and resisting the pull of gravity for as long as you can. Do 3-5 reps in this manner.

4-Week Progression*: In Week 1, shoot for 3 reps per set of door pull-ups. In Week 2, shoot for 4 reps per set; in Week 3, 5 reps; and in Week 4, 6 reps. Or, if you're strong at pull-ups, you can increase your bodyweight each week with the help of a loaded backpack. 

Tabatas: Table Inverted Row

Just like in my at-home leg workout, this routine uses Tabatas to make bodyweight exercises all the harder. Here, it’s the inverted row, done on the underside of a table.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating the Table Inverted Row:

With the Tabatas, you’ll count time versus reps, doing 8 intervals of 20 seconds of table inverted rows (using only your body weight), and resting 10 seconds between all intervals – 4 minutes total. Don’t worry if you can’t do continuous reps for 20 seconds for 8 rounds; after all, Tabatas are brutal for challenging bodyweight exercises like table rows. Just do as many reps as you can in each round.

4-Week Progression*: Your progressive overload objective will be to complete more time on more sets of the Tabatas, with the goal of competing all 8 sets of 20 seconds by the end of Week 4. 

Pre-Exhaust Superset: One-Arm Straight-Arm Pullback + Doorway Row

Now that the lats are toast from 4 minutes of bodyweight rows, it’s time to finish them off with a pre-exhaust superset. (Pre-exhaustion involves doing isolation work before compound exercises, and a superset is two exercises performed back-to-back with no rest.)

We’ll start with one-arm straight-arm pullbacks, a single-joint (isolation) move for the lats. For resistance, use a loaded backpack, a shopping bag, a water jug, or other implement around the house (unless, of course, you have a dumbbell).

The multijoint (compound) exercise will be the doorway row. If you remember how easy it was to do the doorway row at the start of the workout, be prepared to be shocked at how hard it will now be at the end when your lats are fatigued and they’ve just been hit with a pre-exhaust set.

Here’s how to do the One-Arm Straight-Arm Pullback:

  1. Stand with a hip- to shoulder-width stance, knees slightly bent. Bend over from the hips so that your torso is close to parallel with the floor and your lower back is arched, chest out.
  2. Extend your right arm straight below you to grab the backpack or other object.
  3. Keeping your shoulder blade pulled back and down, use your lats to pull your right arm back and up above your torso as high as you can.
  4. Hold the top position for a second as you contract the lats, then slowly lower your arm to the start position and repeat for reps (to failure).

When you reach failure on the right arm, immediately go to the doorway and perform as many doorway rows as you can with your right arm. Once you reach failure, repeat in the same manner on the left side. Go back and forth from arm-to-arm until all three pre-exhaust supersets have been completed for both arms.

4-Week Progression*: For progressive overload, you have two options here. Option 1 is to keep the weight the same on pullbacks and the rows (bodyweight), with the goal of completing more reps per set each week. Option 2 is to increase the weight each week. To increase your bodyweight on rows, wear the backpack or hold a heavy object in your non-working hand.

 

At-Home Back Workout

Dynamic Warm-Up: 20 Straight-Arm Torso Twists + 10 Small Arm Circles Forward + 10 Small Arm Circles Backward + 10 Big Arm Circles Forward + 10 Big Arm Circles Backward + 10 Arm Swings

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Doorway Power Row 3 5-10 Alternate arms with no rest until all three sets are complete for both arms.  
Door Pull-Up 3 To failure Advanced option: Wear a backpack for added resistance.
Table Inverted Row 8 20 sec. Tabata intervals: Rest 10 seconds between all 20-second sets.
Pre-Exhaust Superset:      
One-Arm Straight-Arm Pullback 3 To failure See copy above for exercise how-to.
Doorway Row 3 To failure Perform both exercises for each arm before moving to opposite arm.

Download Workout Here

 

More At-Home Workouts:

Legs

Chest

Shoulders

Arms

Abs and Calves

 





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