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12 Back Exercises For All Fitness Levels, From Our Top Trainers

Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor By Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.

Back exercises can come in all shapes and forms, but one thing is for certain: It's important to strengthen these muscles to have a strong base for however you choose to move.

Your back is a part of your core, which supports all that you do, putting your body in a good position to add more weight to your squats, stand on your feet for longer throughout the day, or even knock out a few pullups (if you're really looking to level-up).

We've rounded up the best back-strengthening exercises to release tension and build muscle, setting you on the path to success. Choose a few of these moves below to create a dedicated back workout, or sprinkle them into a full-body routine.

Also, to show your back some extra love, might we recommend rounding out your routine with a gentle yoga flow for a healthy spine?

1. Bent-Over Row

bent over row

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Start standing, hinge at the hips, and brace your core. Hold a heavier dumbbell in between both hands (or a set of lighter dumbbells in each hand).
  2. Press your shoulders down toward your hips to initiate the movement. Draw your elbows toward your hips to lift the dumbbell.
  3. Maintain control as you return the dumbbells back toward the floor. That's one rep. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps. 
  4. Note: While the chest stays open for the movement, be sure to initiate by pressing your shoulders down toward the hips instead of shoulder blades together (that's more for upper-back-focused moves).
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2. Pull Over

pull over

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Lie on the mat with your feet planted on the ground. 
  2. Hold one dumbbell with both hands and brace your core.
  3. With straight arms, press the weight to the sky and reach the dumbbell overhead and toward the floor. 
  4. Hover the weight for a moment, and return the dumbbell to the start position. That's one rep. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps.

3. Bird Dog in Knee Hover

Helen Phelan - Bird Dog In Knee Hover

Image by mindbodygreen

Demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

  1. Start on all fours. Float your knees a couple of inches off the ground, and hold.
  2. Without shifting your hips, inhale and extend your right arm forward. Exhale as you crunch your abs and pull your elbow toward your torso. Reach it back out, then return it to the ground.
  3. Inhale as you extend your left leg out; squeeze through the glutes. Try not to lift your leg up much higher than your torso. Then exhale to curl your spine and crunch your body inward.
  4. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Continue for 8 breaths.

4. Wheel Pose

wheel pose

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Emily Chen.

  1. Begin lying on your back with feet hip-distance apart and knees bent so your fingertips can just graze the backs of your heels.
  2. Bend your elbows and reach your hands up and back, placing them underneath your shoulders with palms flat on the ground and fingers pointing toward your feet.
  3. Begin pressing your hands and feet into the ground. Without going all the way up yet, lift your hips and shoulders up.
  4. Lean the head back to bring the crown to the mat, without putting any pressure on your head or neck. Keep elbows tucked close to your ears as you press more into the ground.
  5. Straighten your arms and lift your head off the mat. Squeeze the knees together, keeping them parallel and in line with the hips and feet.
  6. Send the hips toward the ceiling and your chest toward the wall behind you. Straighten your arms and legs as much as you can without hurting your back.
  7. Breathe and hold for 30 seconds. Exit by tucking the chin and slowly lowering down, bringing the knees together.

5. Prone Swan Lift

Helen Phelan - Prone Swan Lift

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

  1. Start by lying on your stomach. Glue your feet together, or spread them apart if you have any back pain. Open your arms into a cactus position.
  2. Exhale, drop your belly button away from the floor, and press your pubic bone into the ground. Lift your head, chest, and arms upward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Inhale as you lower your body to the ground.

6. Swan With Shoulder Squeeze

Helen Phelan - Swan With Shoulder Squeeze

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

  1. Start by lying on your stomach. Glue your feet together, or spread them apart if you have any back pain. Open your arms into a cactus position. Lift your head, chest, and arms upward. This is your starting position.
  2. Exhale as you bring your elbows toward your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  3. Inhale as you reach your arms out in front of you.

7. Back Extensions

back extensions

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Lie on your stomach. 
  2. By squeezing your back muscles, lift your chest off the floor with gaze remaining down and forward. 
  3. Lower chest to the floor to complete the movement. 
  4. Add dumbbells in hand to advance the exercise. That's one rep. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps. 

8. Lateral Fly

lateral raise

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Hinge over at the hips, and maintain position throughout the set.
  2. With soft elbows and weights in hand, initiate the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together. 
  3. Float arms up toward the sky to make the shape of a capital letter T. 
  4. Return arms back down toward the floor. That's one rep. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps. 
  5. Note: A strong visual cue is to imagine you are a falcon flying over the land.

9. Standing Bird Dog

standing bird dog

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Hold a lighter weight in one hand, and stand on the opposite leg.
  2. Hinge over and extend your free leg behind you like a tail, and bring your hand with the weight out in front of you.
  3. Bring your elbow and knee together in the center, then extend back into that long body position.
  4. Keep your hips square throughout the exercise. That's one rep. Repeat for 8 to 10 reps, then switch sides. Complete 3 sets on both sides.
  5. Note: You will feel the greatest challenge in your back when the body is fully extended.

10. Plank Row to Downward Dog

plank row downward dog

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Suki Clements.

  1. Grab a set of dumbbells, and hold one in each hand. Start in a high-plank position, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  2. Row your right dumbbell up to your chest, then slowly bring it back down to the mat. Repeat on your left side.
  3. Pike your hips up, and move into a downward-facing dog.
  4. That's one rep. Continue for 30 seconds.

11. Negative Pushups

Negative pushups

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Start in a full or modified (on your knees) plank. Place one dumbbell underneath your chest.
  2. Brace your core and lower down slowly for 4 seconds, and tap your chest to the dumbbell.
  3. Straighten your arms to return to starting position.

12. Medial Delt Raise with Hinge

medial delt raise with hinge

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by BB Arrington.

  1. Seated or standing, hinge forward about 45 degrees above a flat-back position. 
  2. With dumbbells in hand, keep your arms straight and raise your arms up to make the shape of a capital letter "Y." 
  3. Lower your arms back down toward the ground to complete the rep. (Note: Soften your knees and engage your core to help you feel grounded in the movement.)
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