Strength & Conditioning

7 Best Bodyweight Pulling Exercises For Back Strength

bodyweight pulling exercises

If you’re a fan of training at home then you’ll know how difficult it can be to adequately train the muscles of your back when you have access to little equipment, not even a pull-up bar.  

The good news is that there are several bodyweight pulling exercises you can do to effectively target this large muscle group which we’ll go over in this article.  


Recommended Reading – 6 Vertical Push Exercises For Improved Shoulder Strength


Bodyweight exercises have become more popular but in order for them to be effective they need to be able to work your back muscles through their entire range of motion and offer enough resistance to elicit muscle growth.  

Before we jump to our tried and tested bodyweight pull exercises, let’s look more at what pulling exercises are and the muscles that they work.  

What Are Pull Exercises

In a nutshell, pull exercises are movements that involve pulling resistance toward your body.  

cable row exercise using attachment

They can comprise of body weight, free weight, and gym machines and include exercises like pull ups, bent-over row, deadlifts, and lat pulldowns.  

It doesn’t matter whether you pull resistance from the floor, above you, or from directly in front of you, they would all be classed as bodyweight pulling exercises.  

This is in contrast to push exercises, like the bench press, which involves pushing resistance away from your body.  

Lying-Barbell-Bench-Press

To effectively work all the upper body muscles you should incorporate a range of push exercises to recruit your chest and triceps and pull exercises to focus more on the back and biceps.  

Ultimately, both types of exercises will lead to increased muscle mass and upper body strength.  

What Muscles Do Pull Exercises Work

A pull workout routine will typically work the muscles of your back and biceps, usually with some assistance from your core muscles for stability.  

This is often why you’ll see people training both these muscle groups on the same day.  

That’s because the back and biceps are what’s known as synergist muscles meaning they work together to perform certain movements.  

When you perform a pull exercise the prime movers are the muscles of your back, specifically your lats, traps, and rhomboids, working together to initiate and complete the movement.

The biceps brachii engage to help the back muscles flex the elbow joint pulling the weight towards your body.  

It’s worth noting that while the back and biceps work together for many pull exercises, some allow for better isolation of these muscles.  

For example, bicep curls will recruit much more of the biceps with little engagement from the upper or lower back muscles.  

On the other hand, the deadlift is a significant compound exercise that will work your entire back but, as the elbows remain locked out there is little recruitment of the biceps.  

Best Bodyweight Pulling Exercises For A Stronger Back

Get ready to fire up those pulling muscles with our at-home pull exercises below.  

No machine is needed for this variation on the traditional lat pulldown, just a couple of large towels or bed sheets will do.  

As bodyweight training goes, this is a great pull exercise for working your latissimus dorsi – the widest muscle of your back.  

How To Do It:

  1. Take your towels or sheets (you’ll need two) and tie a large knot in the end of both. 
  2. Place both sheets over the top of the doorway making sure the knots are over the top.  When the door is closed the knots will prevent the sheets from sliding through.  
  3. Sit on the ground directly in front of the door and extend your legs so that your feet rest against the door. 
  4. Wrap the sheets around your hands so you have a good grip on them. 
  5. Keeping your elbows tucked in pull yourself up going as far as you can. 
  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades together before using control to lower yourself back down. 

This variation on the standard upright row makes use of a resistance band to target your upper traps and shoulders.  

Using a resistance band is a great way of providing tension to the muscles through a full range of motion making it one of favorite bodyweight pull exercises.  

banded upright row

​How To Do It:

  1. Place the resistance band directly under both feet and hold it with an overhand grip. 
  2. From a standing position place your feet shoulder-width distance.  This is the starting position. 
  3. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, row the band up towards your chin. 
  4. Flex your elbows so that you bring your arms parallel to the ground. 
  5. Lower your shoulders and extend your arms back to the start and repeat. 

Inverted bodyweight rows are a highly effective compound exercise that will recruit a lot of muscles in your upper body and core.  

It’s a great exercise for firing up all your back muscles including your posterior deltoid as well as stabilization muscles being your abs and erector spinae.  

You can adjust the intensity of the exercise by modifying where you place your feet.  

Elevating them while make it a little more challenging.  When doing this exercise it’s important to keep your body in a straight line and lead with your chest.  

How To Do It:

  1. Take a couple of chairs and place them back to back and shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Grab a broom or similar and rest it along the backs of the chairs. 
  3. Position yourself under the broom so it’s inline with your upper chest.  
  4. With your knees bent to 45-degree angle and your body forming a straight line from head to knees, take hold of the broom with an overhand grip. 
  5. Brace your abdominal muscles then pull yourself up towards the broom, pause briefly before lowering yourself back to the start. 

Back to the sheets or towels, this is a great substitute for the traditional straight-arm pulldown that you’d perform on a cable machine working those upper back muscles.  

By keeping your arms straight and driving your arms down, the lats are engaged through their full range of motion, enhancing muscle activation and development.

When starting out take a couple of steps away from the door so that your torso doesn’t move forwards as much.  

As you get stronger, feel free to place your feet closer to the door which will increase the range of motion and the difficulty of the exercise. 

cable straight arm pushdown

How To Do It:

  1. Take your knotted towels or sheets and position them over the top of the doorway. 
  2. With your back to the door, take a sheet in each hand (wrapping them around your hands if you prefer). 
  3. Extend your arms straight out in front. 
  4. Allow your body to lean forward so that your arms raise above your head.  Keep your body in a straight line
  5. Engage your lats and drive your arms down so that your body returns back to an upright position. 

The doorway row is a unilateral exercise where you can focus on correcting any muscle imbalances that you might have across your back.  

It’s a great movement for working your lats and mid back muscles.  

How To Do It:

  1. Stand so that you’re facing the edge of a doorway and take hold of the edge with one hand. 
  2. Sit back so that your arm is fully extended and the tops of your legs roughly parallel to the floor. 
  3. With a bend to your knees, pull yourself towards the doorway while keeping your elbow tucked in. 
  4. Lower all the way back until you feel a stretch to your upper back muscles.  
  5. be sure to complete equal reps on both sides.  

This is the one exercise where you’re going to need to get your hands on some pull-up bars.  

But we had to include it on our list of top bodyweight pulling exercises due to its effectiveness at blasting those back muscles.  

It’s also probably the most challenging movement in our list but, when done with proper form, will lead to fantastic gains. 

pull-up

How To Do It:

  1. Take hold of your pull up bars with an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. With your arms fully extended, raise both feet from the ground and cross one foot behind the other. 
  3. Brace your core and initiate the movement by pulling yourself up towards the bar, avoiding swinging or using momentum. 
  4. Try and get your chin to the bar if you can before lowering yourself back to the start.   

Face pulls are one of the best pulling exercises to target your upper traps and strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and rear shoulders which are important for healthy shoulders and good posture.  

In the gym, you’d perform face pulls on a cable machine but for this at home bodyweight variation you’ll be using your sheets again. 

If you want to make the exercise a little easier, adopt a split stance before moving to a feet-together position to make it more difficult.  

How To Do It: 

  1. With your sheets over the top of the doorway, grab hold of them while facing the door. 
  2. Wrap them around your hands for good grip. 
  3. Take a couple of steps away from the door. 
  4. With your feet at a hip-width distance, lean back until there’s some tension in the sheets. 
  5. Your body should be around a 30 degree angle from the floor and arms fully extended. 
  6. With your elbows high, pull your hands towards your face. 
  7. Hold briefly before lowering back to the start. 

What Are The Benefits Of Bodyweight Pull Exercises

Strength training nowadays doesn’t have to mean spending several hours a week in the gym.  

Bodyweight workouts, whether push or pull, have become so popular due to them being an accessible form of exercising and doing them in the comfort of your home makes it easy to fit your training around other commitments.  

Aside from the convenience, other benefits of bodyweight pull exercises include better core stability, improved functional fitness making it easier to perform daily activities, along with enhanced posture and the relief of common conditions like low back pain.  

Wrapping Up

Our bodyweight pull exercises recommended in this article are a sure-fire way of lighting up your back muscles making for a highly effective workout with very little needed in the way of equipment.  

If you do them regularly, you’ll build strength, improve your functional fitness, and add some lean muscle for back definition.  

Whether you’re new to working out or simply don’t have enough time to get to the gym, there’s no excuse for not being able to fit in some back training, especially when you can do them in the comfort of your home.  

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