9 Cardio Exercises That Work Back Muscles

Photo of author
Last Updated On

A lot of movements work your cardiovascular system. Discover the few ones that do this while engaging back muscles.

There are many muscles in your back but you can describe the functions of these as moving your upper arms downward, your shoulder blades back, and tilting your upper body back.

These movements are not as common in bodyweight cardio exercises so a good amount of the examples will be cardio machines.

Additionally, keep in mind that while you can still improve muscle endurance with these movements, they will typically not actually grow the muscles due to a lack of challenge.

Lastly, you can also do cardio on your back but if you are looking for this, you will be more interested in floor cardio exercises.

1. Rowing machine

Rowing machines are basically the best example out there when it comes to back cardio workouts.

If you are not familiar with this gym machine, you can describe it as a seat on a moving rail with a platform for your feet. Rowing machines are made to resemble the movement of rowing on the water.

To do the actual exercise, you pull handles attached to a cord attached to resistance which makes the pulling movement more challenging.

This movement mainly works your cardiovascular system but also engages upper back muscles like your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and a variety of scapular muscles.

Additionally, your bicep muscles and leg muscles like your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and to some extent calves, will have to work too.

One downside is that you do need a rowing machine. You can invest in your own model but for many people, this will mean going to a gym.

Lastly, personal preference plays a role too. Some people really like rowing, others would rather do one of the other examples on this list.

2. Jumping jacks

While there are not many bodyweight cardio exercises that work your back muscles, there are still some examples. The first one of these is the jumping jack. Take the following steps to do this exercise:

  1. Stand up straight with your arms by your sides and feet next to each other.
  2. Jump up.
  3. While in the air, move your legs outward to slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Additionally, move your arms outward and upward so that they point up when you land.
  4. Jump back into starting position. Do the motions in step 3 in reverse.
How to do a jumping jack

Jumping jacks definitely do not only work your cardiovascular system and back. You also engage muscles like your deltoids (shoulders), inner thigh muscles, outer thigh muscles, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

This exercise can also be a bit more awkward to do at high speeds so you may need to stick to a steady-state cardio pace.

Something else to keep in mind is that you likely want to land on the front parts of your feet to absorb some of the impact from landing. This will be more pleasant for your knees.

3. Elliptical machine

The elliptical machine is another piece of cardio exercise equipment. It is a bit harder to visualize but this is a machine with two big pedals and handles that move back and forth.

When you step on the machine and rotate the pedals you will notice that they go through an elliptical motion. At the same time, you move the handles back and forth with a variety of muscles.

More precisely, the elliptical machine works muscles like your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, scapular muscles, to some extent erector spinae and other core muscles, biceps, chest, triceps, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

If you really want to work your back muscles during your cardio exercise you can choose a good elliptical machine with many resistance levels.

Similar to the rowing machine, you need access to an elliptical machine. Additionally, you really work a variety of muscles, not just your cardio and back.

4. Swimming

While there are many swimming styles, most of the standard ones will engage your back muscles a nice amount. Usually to bring your arms from in front of you to by your sides to generate extra movement forward.

Besides that, on top of engaging other muscles too, having the ability to improve cardiovascular health is definitely one of the benefits of swimming.

Some people also really like swimming as a form of exercise. Especially in the summer when the temperature gets warmer.

The main downside is that you have to find and/or get to a place where you can swim. This often means driving a decent amount of time, getting changed, showering, etc.

5. Arm bikes

The word bike may evoke images of people with muscular legs but there are also pieces of fitness equipment called arm bikes that focus more on your back muscles instead.

Arm bikes basically involve rotating pedals similar to a bike but as the name implies, with your arms powering the movement.

This works back muscles like your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and scapular muscles but also your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and potentially chest muscles depending on how you push.

Since arm muscles are relatively weak they may fatigue before you are completely out of breath. However, at this point, you will likely have worked your cardio to at least some extent.

Additionally, as your muscle endurance improves, you will be able to deal with longer sessions.

A benefit of arm bikes is that they are relatively budget-friendly. Additionally, they can be helpful to train cardiovascular health for people who can’t use their legs at all due to injuries or conditions.

Woman using an arm bike

6. Battle ropes

Battle ropes are basically heavy ropes anchored to something. This may not sound like much of a workout but you can hold the other ends of the ropes and move them to get in a cardiovascular workout.

Additionally, your muscles typically have to work a good amount during a battle rope session too. Exactly which ones have to work the hardest depends on how you move the ropes.

However, you can be sure that at least some of your back muscles will have to work relatively hard.

This can be to “slam” the battle ropes downward, to keep your upper body tilted somewhat forward, or to keep your shoulder blades in position while your rear deltoids swing the ropes sideways.

Keep in mind that battle ropes are typically more of a high-intensity interval training equipment option. You will not find many people using them at a steady-state cardio level for an hour at a time.

7. Skier jacks

Skier jacks are a jumping jack variation where you change the direction your body parts move. This will change the muscle engagement to some extent but still works your back muscles a good amount.

More specifically, instead of moving your arms and legs sideways, you move them forward and backward.

This will put more focus on your front deltoids, hip flexors, and glutes and less focus on your side deltoids, inner thigh muscles, and outer thigh muscles compared to regular jumping jacks.

At the same time, your latissimus dorsi muscles (middle/upper back) will still be responsible for pulling your arms down during skier jacks.

In terms of cardiovascular training, the same point as jumping jacks applies. Skier jacks can be a bit awkward to do at high speeds so you may need to stick to a slower cardio pace.

How to do a skier jack

8. Ski machines

Ski machines are not the most popular but they are still a great example of a cardio machine that works your back muscles a good amount.

You can describe these machines as pulling down handles against light resistance. Similar to the rowing machine mechanism, the resistance pulls the handles back up.

That means machines like the SkiErg mainly work muscles like your latissimus dorsi and bicep muscles. Even more so if you turn up the resistance.

Depending on how much you go through your knees, your erector spinae (lower back), glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves may have to work a decent amount too.

At the same time, the main focus of this gym machine is still improving cardiovascular health. You can use ski machines both at high intensities and a more steady-state cardio pace.

A benefit of this type of exercise is that some people really like to use ski machines. However, they are definitely not that common in gyms and can be relatively pricey to get at home.

9. Sledgehammer swings

For some people, sledgehammer swings are part of their daily jobs but many people also implement this movement as a cardio workout.

Sledgehammer swings basically involve swinging down a sledgehammer onto a soft surface like for example a tractor tire.

The downward movement mainly comes from the latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back muscles) and biceps. You also engage your shoulders to some extent to bring the hammer up again.

Similar to battle ropes, sledgehammer swings are typically more of a HIIT movement. This can also be great for training cardiovascular health but some people will prefer one of the less intense exercise options.

You can find sledgehammer swing setups in a good amount of gyms but at the same time, they are definitely not as popular as something like a rowing machine.

Depending on your budget, how much room you have available, and how close the materials are, sledgehammer swings could be possible to do at home too.

Related posts:

Photo of author


Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.