Once you progress beyond the basics, training your whole body using only your bodyweight can be a bit of a challenge. You can hit many of your major muscle groups and ramp up your heart rate easily—think legs, core, chest, and more—but most of that work will be focused on your anterior muscles, those positioned at the front of your body.
When it comes to prioritizing your posterior muscles, particularly those of your upper body which you’d typically train using pulling movements if you had access to gear, you’ll be faced with more of a challenge. If you don’t have access to a pullup bar, you’re mostly out of luck.
There is one solid, simple bodyweight back exercise that you can use to develop back strength in your mid and upper back: the Superman hold. You won’t build major muscle using the exercise, but it’s an easy way to ensure that you don’t ignore your back when you train without equipment. You can also use the exercise as a solid warmup to activate your back muscles on the days you are able to train with equipment.
As simple as the Superman hold appears to be, performing the exercise with good form isn’t easy—particularly due to its positioning and the risk to your lower back. Watch Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and fitness editor Brett Williams, N.A.S.M. break down the movement so that you can understand its subtleties when you add it to your gear-free training sessions.
Eb says: Before you even get into the technical aspects of the exercise, think about the tempo you’ll use when you perform your reps. You shouldn’t be rushing to finish your sets—instead, your focus should be on creating as much tension as possible. Take your time to move properly, hold the top position for a two-count, then pause before beginning the next rep.
Eb says: Your legs come off the ground during a Superman hold, but make sure you’re using the right muscles to drive that. Focus on squeezing your glutes hard on the Superman hold. This will help prevent you from overusing your spinal extensors to drive your lower half off the ground.
This will also teach you to protect your lower back in a real-world way; the more you squeeze your glutes during just about every motion, the more you create hip extension (instead of extension from the lower back).
Take Your Time
Eb says: Don’t rush your Superman reps. Doing so doesn’t give you the proper chance to activate all the muscles you’re trying to train, from glutes to mid-back muscles to rotator cuff musculature.
Think of raising into a Superman rep, then holding for at least two counts. Own those two counts and be mindful of what’s happening in your body when you’re up there: Glutes squeezed, mid-back muscle engaged.
Eb says: Don’t look up on Superman hold reps. instead, work to keep your head in a nice neutral position. Once you look up and forward, you begin to shift the action of your spine and move your lower back into extension. Think about looking at your mat or the floor (or the world you’re “flying” over) instead.
Extend Your Arms
Eb says: You might be tempted to lift your arms out wide, keep them super close to your body, or focus on lifting your hands up. Don’t do that. Instead, extend your arms out.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
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