The Best 20-Minute Bodyweight Back Workout for Busy Guys

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Most of us spend our days hunched over computers, phones, and steering wheels. You feel the toll. It shuts down your glutes, rounds your shoulders, and tightens your hips, creating a domino effect of dysfunctional pain that, not surprisingly, has made back pain one of the fastest-growing ailments of the last 20 years.



So while there’s nothing wrong with thinking of a back workout as a means to build the proverbial V-shape, think of taking 20 minutes a day to counteract the effects of sitting. It’ll help prevent long-term ailments and pain.

This eight-exercise, two-set circuit will realign your body and strengthen your back using only your body as resistance.

Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.

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1. Cat/Cow

Why it works: This two-part yoga move improves flexibility in the lumbar and cervical spine; it’s an effective warmup before any back routine.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest as you gaze forward. For cat, exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 of each move.

2. Half Locust

Why it works: This yoga move strengthens the erector spinae muscles, which run on both sides of the spine from the pelvis to the upper back.

How to do it: Lie facedown on the ground with your arms by your sides. Inhale and lift your head and upper chest off the ground a few inches. Everything above your breastbone should be in the air. Hold for two seconds, then return to the starting position.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.

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3. Backward Lunge With Twist

Why it works: This move provides all the benefits of a lunge while also giving you a great stretch along your back.

How to do it: With your feet together, step back with your right leg into a lunge. Arch your back and twist your torso over your left (front) leg while reaching your right hand to the sky. Push out of that position into the next lunge.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.

4. Hand Walks

Why it works: Even though hand walks are a full-body move that lengthen your hamstrings and calves while stabilizing your shoulders, they’re also effective at lengthening your lower back muscles.

How to do it: Stand with your legs straight and hands on the floor. Walk your hands out. Keeping your legs straight, walk your feet back to your hands using short steps from your ankles.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.

5. One-Arm, One-Leg Plank

Why it works: This move challenges you to keep your back flat and stabilized, strengthening those small stabilizing muscles.

How to do it: Come into a forearm plank. Tuck your chin so your head is in line with your body. Lift one arm and opposite leg, hold for two seconds. Switch limbs.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.


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6. Floor Ys

Why it works: This move not only strengthens the back and shoulders, it counteracts the effects of sitting by pulling your shoulders back and down where they belong.

How to do it: Lie facedown on the floor so your back is flat. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down and lift your arms above your head to form a Y, rising off the floor. Keep your thumbs up.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.

7. Pullups

Why it works: You’re hitting the muscles of your upper back, along with the shoulders, biceps, forearms, and chest.

How to do it: Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Hanging from the bar, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up and build momentum. Finish by pulling up with your arms.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps.

8. Pushups

Why it works: Though more of a chest exercise, pushups, if executed properly, challenge your stability and pull in the shoulder blades and lats.

How to do it: Come into a pushup position with your shoulder blades pushed away from the ground. Lower to an inch off the ground, then explode back up.

Prescription: 2 sets of 10 reps

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