Whenever you head down to the pullup bars for a calisthenics workout the muscle groups in your back are pretty much guaranteed to get a good workout.
To be honest with you it’s probably trickier to come up with a list of decent leg exercises with calisthenics than it is for the back.
Pull-ups and push-ups would have to be the first calisthenics exercises most people have done, and without realizing they were doing a calisthenics exercise.
But what is calisthenics?
Simply put, it is resistance training done with your own bodyweight, minimal equipment exercises are starting to come in calisthenics now as well.
At least one resistance band is always on hand for most calisthenics workouts.
A pull-up itself has got to be regarded as the best bodyweight exercise you could do with a pullup bar so we’ll start there.
The starting position for a pull is pretty straightforward, hold the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
To do them with proper form you need to keep your body in a straight line.
For me, though I prefer to keep myself in a slight hollow position with my hips tucked back and toes pointing forward.
Doing this forces you to keep your core engaged for the entire movement. Now pull yourself up in a controlled manner.
If you can’t do this without swinging or wriggling you need to use a resistance band to help you out.
When you train with good form you are getting more out of the exercise, don’t cheat yourself.
When done correctly regular pull-ups are almost a complete back workout.
And by adding a few resistance band exercises you can get your full workout in down at the calisthenics park.
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Any exercise the requires you to pull will be working your back.
So training you back with calisthenics is really pretty simple.
The best bodyweight exercises for your back are all compound movements as well so you’re working multiple muscles at the same time.
Aside from normal pull-ups, you can turn your hands around to an underhand grip and try chin ups.
There are also close grip and wide grip pull-ups.
Very similar but all working slightly different muscles.
There are plenty of other back exercises you can try.
There are various names for a body row.
Horizontal pull-up, Australian pull-up, inverted row.
But you can also take a resistance band to perform other back exercises you can like bent rows, deadlifts, good mornings, and lat pulldowns.
It’s very easy with a resistance band to replicate cable rows and other exercises you can do with cable machines.
And there are no rules that say you can’t use some heavy weights to help get more out of calisthenics movements.
Progressive overload can be tricky with bodyweight exercises.
So using a weight belt to hang weights off is one of the best ways to progress further with pull-ups.
But failing that, adding bar muscle-ups to your calisthenic workouts is a good idea.
It is quite an advanced move in calisthenics, requiring you to pull through the full range of motion and up onto the top of the bar.
By combining a pull-up and a straight bar dip is a great workout on its own.
So let’s say you can’t get to a pull-up bar.
That’s fine, let’s have a look at some calisthenic back exercises you can do without equipment.
For starters you can use your table, I know I said no equipment, but everyone has a table.
You can use this to do bodyweight rows at home.
A superman hold or reverse snow angels are another good idea for back exercises you can do without a pull-up bar.
You can even tie a resistance band to the bottom of your couch and get more out of snow angels as well.
Once the band is secured, set up for your snow angle only now you have the resistance of the band to work against.
I’m not going to say it doesn’t use your back.
But your back is certainly not the focus of a push-up.
A push-up is a great exercise that has a variation for any fitness level.
But its primary movers are your chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles.
But when done with the correct form. your core and back muscles do come into play as well.
I constantly refer to pushups as a core movement, with confuses some people.
But the reality is a push-up is much better for your core strength than a sit-up is.
When you keep your body straight and your core engaged you get so much more of a workout than sit-ups give you core.
I made a video on youtube where I talk about the importance of push for your core and go as far and challenge people to do 100 a day.
And just to prove it’s not too difficult a task, I do 1000 in one day.
You can see that video below
So for me, push-ups can work your back muscles but I wouldn’t count it as an outright back exercise.
But in saying that my principles around how you set up with your core are the same with a pull-up.
When you do these with your core engaged from the get-go, it’s much better for your core than some of the core movements you see done on the bar in CrossFit, like a toe 2 bar.
The way these movements are done in CrossFit is there to test your fitness more than your core.
So I wouldn’t do kipping movements and think you are getting a stronger core. You’re improving your fitness.
Without any sort of equipment, it can be a bit hard.
But at a standard gym, you can use and lat pull-down machine to work all the same muscles as you do with pull-ups.
Here’s an article I wrote comparing pull-ups to lat pulldowns.
The benefit of doing lat pulldowns instead is you can reduce the weight you are pulling.
So if you can’t do pull-ups yet and you’re struggling to build the strength this is a great piece of equipment for doing that.
But if you don’t have a gym you can use a resistance band and work the muscles the same.
But you’re going to have to be a little creative.
But by tying the band to a door and bending over to a 45-degree angle you can replicate and lat pull of pull from the comfort of your own home, You can do these single-arm, or with both hands no problem.
But if you want to replace it because you don’t like doing them then I think you need a bit of an attitude adjustment.
Avoiding exercises because you’re not good at them defeats the purpose.
You are exercise to improve yourself.
If you are not good at something, working on it and becoming better at it is just another way to improve yourself.
Just another part of the journey.
For me, the two go hand in hand.
They both build muscle and they both improve strength.
I don’t think it needs to be an us vs them situation.
Plenty of my friends who train calisthenics train with weights as well.
I love bodyweight training, but I also love kettlebell training.
So I do both.
A pull is a challenging exercise and should be part of anyone’s workout routine.
I consider it one of the core compound movements we should be doing.
But as I mentioned early progress overload can be tricky with bodyweight movements, for this reason, weight training is still so good as well.
One thing I will say for calisthenic though. You can’t get the strength required for calisthenics with weights.
But the strength you develop with calisthenics can cross over a lot easy to weight training.
I say weight training and not weightlifting.
Weightlifting is a different beast and it requires a mountain of skill, not just strength.
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The best exercises for your back would have to start with pull-ups.
When done with proper form and slow and controlled movements it really is a strength and muscle-building powerhouse for your back.
And spending more time doing it in an overhand grip is going to help build the strength you need to start performing muscle-ups.
Bent over rows and deadlifts would be the next two exercises you need to do for your back.
But if you don’t want to be doing these with weights then a set of resistance bands are a great substitute.
I use my set all the time, and I use them whenever and wherever I want.
That’s the beauty of resistance bands and calisthenics training.
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