The 7 Best Resistance Band Exercises For Back Strength
Fun fact: Doing these can help combat lower back pain.
The muscles of the back tend to be forgotten about. People love glute and ab and arm workouts, after all. But when you have access to a resistance band, you’ll find that the stretchy workout tool makes it easy to target multiple muscle groups at once — including key back muscles like your traps, lats, and rhomboids — and that’s whether you’re at the gym or at home in your living room.
Resistance bands are light, portable, and come in various thicknesses and lengths depending on the difficulty level you’re looking for, says Danny Lehnert, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Some bands are a single piece of rubber while others are a loop or circle. Whichever you choose, using it to do resistance band back exercises on a regular basis is an excellent idea.
“Exercising back muscles is important for functional reasons as well as for injury prevention,” Lehnert explains. “We use our back muscles in many day-to-day activities, including pulling and lifting, so stronger muscles mean that we can do those tasks with less effort.” A stronger back might also ease and prevent back pain, he says, which is great since about 80% of people will experience lower back pain at some point in life (including me rn).
Lehnert recommends doing most resistance band exercises for three sets of 10 to start, but you can add more reps as you build strength. “This gives you a good workout, provides muscular strengthening, and is not too fatiguing,” he says. Here are trainer-recommended back exercises to help get you started.
1. Bent-Over Rows
This move targets the lats, traps, and the smaller muscles of the back, like the rhomboids, says certified personal trainer Darlene Bellarmino.
- Start by holding the handles or ends of your resistance band.
- Step on the middle of the band with both feet.
- Hinge your hips 45 degrees, keeping your arms extended and allowing your knees to bend slightly.
- Keep your spine neutral as you pull your elbows up and back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and focus on your lats to drive the motion.
- Pause at the top, then release back to the starting position.
2. Face Pulls
“These are similar to rows, but they target your upper back more including your rhomboids, rotator cuff muscles, and your traps,” Lehnert says.
- Anchor your band at about face height and grasp it with both hands.
- Pull back as if you were trying to touch your face between your nose and chin with the band.
- The movement should come from your back muscles. Think about pulling your shoulder blades back.
- Do not let your shoulders shrug too much with this exercise.
- Return to the starting position with control and repeat.
3. Shoulder External Rotations
Lehnert also recommends this exercise to target the rotator cuff muscles on the back of the shoulder blades. These will help combat rounded shoulders and improve your posture.
- Grab a band with both hands.
- Keep your elbows pinned to your sides.
- Bend your elbows to about 90 degrees in front of you with your palms facing up.
- Pull the band apart by rotating your shoulder without moving your elbows off your body.
- Go as far as is comfortable, then return to start.
4. Pull Aparts
Here’s another one that hits the rhomboids and traps.
- Hold a band in front of you.
- Your palms will face downward this time.
- Pull the band apart as far as you can by squeezing your shoulder blades.
- Slowly return to start and then straighten arms again.
This exercise is designed to work the latissimus dorsi, Lehnert says.
- Anchor your band at a low height and lie on your back with your head pointing towards the band.
- Grasp the band with one or both hands.
- Keep your arms straight as you pull the band down to your hips.
- Try not to crunch or move your body while performing this exercise.
6. Seated Rows
Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness instructor, loves this exercise for targeting the lats and rhomboids.
- Sit down with legs stretched out in front of you.
- Loop the resistance band around your feet.
- Pull the band towards you, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
- Once you hit the point of furthest resistance, release your arms slowly back to the starting point.
7. Lat Pulldowns
Curry says you can do this move standing up or while kneeling to mimic the lat pulldown machine at the gym.
- Hold onto a resistance band with both hands.
- Bring your arms straight up overhead.
- As you keep one arm steady at the top, pull the band down on another side until you get to a 90-degree angle. Your elbow will go out wide.
- Release your arm slowly back to the top and repeat.
- You could also pull both arms down at the same time, keeping tension in the band.
Resistance Band Mistakes To Avoid
Take note if your band feels too loose or easy to pull on, Lehnert says, as that’s a sign there isn’t enough resistance. “They are a replacement for weights, but they should still be taxing,” he says. If pulling the band feels too easy, try folding it in half to create more resistance. You can also try moving your hands closer together or stepping further away from the anchor point.
Another common mistake? Letting the band snap back inward without control. “Part of the benefit of the bands is resisting the pull as that further develops the muscle,” he adds. “After you bring your hands back for a row, for example, try to slowly let the band pull you back to the starting position. Don't just let go.” Follow these tips, and you’ll have yourself a great back workout sesh.
Freburger, J. K., Holmes, G. M., Agans, R. P., Jackman, A. M., Darter, J. D., Wallace, A. S., Castel, L. D., Kalsbeek, W. D., & Carey, T. S. (2009). The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain. Archives of internal medicine, 169(3), 251–258. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2008.543.
Danny Lehnert, CSCS, certified strength and conditioning specialist
Darlene Bellarmino, certified personal trainer
Alayna Curry, AFAA-certified fitness instructor