These resistance band exercises for back muscles will help you strengthen your upper body and improve your posture — all without risking injury.

By Megan Falk
October 08, 2020
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Compared to heavy-weighted deadlifts or thrusters, bent-over rows appear to be a straightforward exercise that seriously strengthens your back — without as great of an injury risk. You don’t have to worry about keeping your form perfect *and* generating most of the power through your legs, as you would to to avoid back pain during a deadlift. And you won’t run the risk of overloading your spine when hoisting a massive barbell overhead, as you could with a thruster. Sounds like a win, right?

Hate to break it to you, but even the most seemingly elementary moves can still do some major damage. When certain back exercises, such as bent-over rows and reverse flys, are performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell, you might start jerking the weight — rather than lowering and raising it in a slow, controlled motion — as your muscles fatigue, says Dannah Eve Bollig, a certified personal trainer and the creator of The DE Method. “When you jerk a weight around, that can really strain and potentially pull or tear a muscle,” she says. “Any time you’re performing a weighted exercise, you have to be really careful...and the heavier the weight used, the greater your risk of injury.”

That’s not to say you should skip strength training your back muscles. This muscle group is utilized when performing everyday activities (such as moving furniture and bending down to pick up a laundry basket), supports your spine, and helps you maintain good posture, says Bollig. Plus, establishing strong back muscles may help prevent strains and sprains that can occur while twisting and bending during those daily tasks, she adds.

So how do you give your back the muscle-building workout it needs without risking injury? Swap your free weights for resistance bands. “With a resistance band, you’re in full control of both the concentric (pushing) and eccentric (pulling) movements,” says Bollig. “A dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or any gym machine with a set weight stays constant throughout the entire movement, while a resistance band increases in tension and decreases in tension throughout the movement….so it’s really hard to jerk it around.”

This changing tension during a resistance band back workout also allows you to exercise your muscles differently than a free weight. For example, if you’re performing a bent-over row with a dumbbell, your muscles will mostly be challenged during the concentric portion of the movement — when you’re rowing the weight to the top and the muscle shortens. When you use a resistance band, however, your muscles will have to push through the resistance during the concentric segment *and* fight the pull of the band during the eccentric portion of the movement — when you’re lowering your arms back down to your sides and the muscle lengthens, says Bollig. Not only will your muscles spend more time under tension, which leads to more muscle breakdown (and, thus, growth!), but the fluctuating resistance of the band will also challenge your stabilizer muscles, she says. By training these muscles, you’ll get your larger dominant muscles ready to perform at their best when executing more demanding moves later on, Tara Laferrara, a certified personal trainer and founder of the TL Method, perviously told Shape.

Another major perk of performing a resistance band back workout: You won’t have to constantly swap heavy plates or re-rack free weights as you would when exercising with a barbell or set of dumbbells. When you need to amp up the tension or make the move a little easier, all you have to do is grab a different compact band or adjust your grip placement on the band you’re already using, says Bollig. Plus, they pack away easily —  so you can tote them on the go, while traveling, or in a small living space, unlike free weights. (Related: The Benefits of Resistance Bands Will Make You Reconsider Whether You Even Need Weights)

Ready to test out some resistance band exercises for the back yourself? Try Bollig’s resistance band back workout, which uses a large-loop resistance band to give your muscles that “hurts so good” burn. 

15-Minute Resistance Band Back Workout

How it works: Do each move for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before moving onto the next move. Repeat the circuit a total of 3 times, with 1 minute of rest between rounds.

You'll need: a large-loop resistance band (Buy It, $30, amazon.com)

Resistance Band Pull-Apart

Looking to fix those rounded shoulders and arched back? This resistance band exercise for the back strengthens the muscles in your upper back, including your deltoids, rhomboids, and traps, and can help improve posture, says Bollig.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the resistance band at each end and hold it out in front of chest, keep arms straight and palms facing the floor. 

B. Squeeze shoulder blades together and pull the band apart as far as possible, keeping arms as straight as possible, chest high, and back flat. Be sure sure relax the traps to drop shoulders away from ears.

C. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band back to start. 

Repeat for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Bent-Over Rows

Much like pull-aparts, this resistance band exercise for the back works your rhomboids and traps, but it also strengthens the lats, which will further polish your posture and can help reduce neck and shoulder tension.

A. Stand with feet-shoulder width apart. Secure the long-loop resistance band under both feet so there's a loop sticking out on each end. Grip each loop with palms facing in. 

B. With chest high and back flat, bend at the waist and lower upper body to a comfortable row position, about 45 degrees forward. 

C. Pull each loop of the band up toward ribcage and squeeze shoulder blades together, as if trying to hold a pencil between them. 

D. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band to return to start. 

Repeat for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Face Pull

During this part of the resistance band back workout, you’ll need something sturdy to wrap the band around, such as a support beam in your home, the legs of your couch, a vertical stair railing, or a metal pole. But the benefits of the exercise are worth the hassle: You’ll strengthen your rear deltoids and rhomboids with every rep, says Bollig.

A. Fix a long-loop resistance band around a secure object at waist height. Stand a few steps back from the object with feet shoulder-width apart, facing the object to which the band is attached. Grip the band in front of waist with hands 3 to 4 inches apart and palms facing down.

B. Pull the band up toward face and squeeze shoulder blades together, keeping elbows high and back flat. Try to keep traps relaxed so shoulders don't shrug up toward ears.

C. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band to return to start. If it's too easy, take another step back from the object.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Deadlift

You probably know deadlifts as a killer glute and leg exercise, but they can also do some serious work on your erector spinae — the deep muscles of the back that run down both sides of your spine, says Bollig. Just make sure to keep your back from rounding while performing the resistance band back exercise to get the most benefit, she adds.

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Secure one side of the long-loop resistance band under feet. Hinge at hips to bend torso forward, pushing butt backward. Grip one or both sections of the band between feet (one is easier, two is harder), with arms extended and palms facing toward body.

B. Keeping back flat, chest high, and hips pushed back, squeeze glutes together and pull the band up until standing fully upright. 

C. Slowly release the band to return to start. 

Repeat for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Good Morning

If you’re looking for a move that strengthens more than just your back, you need to try good mornings. The resistance band exercise for the back strengthens your posterior chain, which is made up by the calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes, erector spine, and lats, says Bollig.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Secure one side of the long-loop resistance band under feet and the other end across the back of shoulders. Grip the band just outside shoulders, palms facing toward body. 

B. Keeping back flat, chest high, and a slight end in the knees, hinge at hips to bend torso forward until you feel a stretch in hamstrings.

C. Engage lower back, hinge at hips, and slowly bring torso up to standing. 

Repeat for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds.

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