How to Get Wide and Strong Back with Calisthenics (Based on Science)

To build a wide and strong back with calisthenics you need to do regular pull-ups, chin-ups and horizontal pull-ups [1], do progressive overload with them [2], rest a minimum of 48 hours between the back workouts [3] and eat more calories than you burn every day. [4]

Here’s exactly how to do all those steps according to science and my personal experience.

What You Will Learn

  • What are the best bodyweight exercises to build a big and wide back (and how to do them)
  • How to progress with calisthenics (for maximum strength and muscle mass)
  • Why you must eat more calories than you burn in calisthenics (for progress)

What are the best bodyweight exercises to build a big and wide back (and how to do them)

The 3 best exercises that completely target your whole back which you must include in your workouts are:

  • Pull-ups (different variations)
  • Chin-ups (different variations)
  • Horizontal pull-ups (different variations)

So what works best for your back is to combine them in one simple workout and do it 2-3 times per week (with minimum of 48 hours rest time between workouts [5]) so you can have enough time for your body to recover and still develop it as fast as possible.

My Bodyweight full back workout (circular workout)

  • Exercise: Pull-ups (wide-grip)
  • Exercise: Chin-ups (normal grip)
  • Exercise: Horizontal pull-ups (normal grip)

What do you need? (equipment): For this workout you will need access to a pull-up bar (or anything similar) to do the pull-ups and chin-ups and something like dip-bars (or anything you can hold and have your body in horizontal position for the horizontal pull-ups. If you own a set of gymnastic rings you can do all 3 exercises with ease.

Recommended equipment for this workout (what I personally use and own):

How many sets/reps to do: If your main goal is muscle growth (for back width and thickness) you should aim to do 6 to 12 repetitions until failure for maximum muscle hypertrophy. [6].

You should be able to do only between those numbers and fail somewhere between (you can’t do any more with proper form).

If you can do more than 12 reps with proper form you should add more resistance in the form of a weighted vest, resistance bands or anything heavy you can carry.

As for sets you must do between 3 to 4 supersets (you start with the first exercise, finish it, do all the next ones in the same way and only when the last one is ready you rest). 

How long to rest between exercises: For muscle growth it is recommended to rest between 30-90 seconds between the supersets/exercises. [7] (the shorter the rest time, the more intense you are going to make the workout). The safest number is to start with 90 seconds and lower it to 75 or 60 if you have more left in the tank.

How often to do this workout: According to science you should rest a minimum of 48 hours (2 days) after you have trained a certain muscle group so for maximum recovery and muscle growth you should do it 2-3 times per week.

Here’s an example calisthenics workout weekly plan (based on science)

  • Monday: Chest and arms
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Rest Day 
  • Friday:  Chest and arms
  • Saturday: Back
  • Sunday: Legs

How to do every exercise: If you don’t have a clue how to do a particular exercise you should ask somebody more advanced to show you or watch a free Youtube tutorial video. In short you have to always use proper form, pull-yourself up while contracting hard your back muscles, holding for a bit at the top and then lower yourself slowly towards the ground while controlling your body.

Can’t do pull-ups/chin-ups?: If you don’t have the strength to do any pull-ups or chin-ups you should focus on horizontal pull-ups instead (do as many as you can for 3-4 sets). They are easier because you only lift your upper body instead of your whole body. 

How to learn pull-ups/chin-ups: A great method to develop upper body strength to pull your body is to simply hold the bar, jump until your head is above the bar. Then lower yourself as slowly as you can in the starting position.

  • If the pull-up bar (or alternative to one) is too high for jumping, use a chair/pile of rocks or something to stand on top so you can jump.
  • Repeat this negative movement as many times as you can for 3-4 sets. (you can do 3 for pull-ups and 3 for chin-ups)
  • Combine it with horizontal pull-ups for maximum effect (start with them first) 

How to progress with calisthenics (for maximum strength and muscle mass)

In order to keep growing your back (and every other body part) you must become stronger with your workouts. That’s a process called progressive overload which is one of the most important factors in muscle and strength development according to science. [8]

Here are one of the best ways to progress in order to keep getting results:

  • Add extra weight/resistance: If you can do more than 12 reps in any exercises you can always progress by wearing a weighted vest (link to mine), use resistance bands (link to mine) or carry a backpack filled with bottles of water/sand to increase difficulty.
  • Do more reps/sets: Another way to progress is to simply aim to do one more rep or set compared to your previous workout. (Example: You did 10 pull-ups for the final superset, now aim to do 11)
  • Lower the rest time: If you always rest 90 seconds try and lower it to 60 or 75 seconds. That small difference will have a huge impact on how you feel and dramatically increase the intensity of your workouts.
  • Do harder exercise variations: If you can do 13+ chin-ups try and hold for 1 second next time while your head is above the bar. It’s a lot harder. Implementing such small changes can really help you progress.

Quick Tip: Always keep track of where you currently are somewhere. After every workout take 1 minute to write down the weight you used, the number of reps and sets you did so you know what to beat next time.

Why you must eat more calories than you burn in calisthenics (for progress)

According to science it’s mandatory to eat more calories than you burn every day in order to keep building more muscle, strength and add weight. [9]

Neglect food and sadly you won’t see any significant results no matter how hard and properly you train (sadly I say this from personal experience).

Here’s what you need to do in order to succeed with nutrition:

  • Calculate how many calories you need daily (link to free calculator)
  • Add 10-20% more calories than what it gives you (Example: 2000 + 200 (10% of 2000) = 2200 calories)
  • Create a list of how many calories you eat in every meal (this website can help) and write them like this (Breakfast – 400 calories, 20g. Proteins, 50g. Carbs, 15g. Fats)
  • Choose meals/foods you like eating so you can reach the amount of calories you calculated earlier.
  • Aim to eat around that number and weigh yourself 1 time every week (do it first time in the morning) and track down your progress.
  • Adapt your food intake depending on the results you get. If you don’t gain any weight/muscle mass increase calories by 100 for a week. If you gain too much weight and fat – lower it by 100. Then repeat.
  • Track down everything, train properly and be patient.

Doing all those steps will really help you grow your back (and your entire body) with calisthenics. Just remember that all good things take time!

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