It is not possible to spot-reduce back fat. However, decreasing overall body fat through diet and exercise may help reduce back fat and benefit someone’s overall health.

This article discusses the causes of excess back fat and the dietary and lifestyle habits that a person can adopt to help them reduce body fat and improve their overall health.

It also explains how to perform exercises that can help tone different areas and muscle groups of the back.

A person performs a shoulder stretch while warming up before doing exercises to reduce back fatShare on Pinterest
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It is not possible to target fat removal to specific areas of the body.

People who desire a more lean appearance around the back will need to use a combination of diet and exercise to reduce their overall body fat. This approach should also reduce the fat around the back.

According to a 2020 study, reducing fat, especially around the middle, can prevent insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

A person can take several steps to reduce overall body fat:

Create a calorie deficit

The way to reduce body fat through the diet is to create a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when a person consumes fewer calories than they require to maintain their current body mass.

A person can create a calorie deficit through a combination of decreasing daily calorie intake through food and drink and expending caloric energy through exercise and other physical activity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people lose weight gradually and steadily — aiming for 1–2 pounds per week — as this will maximize the likelihood of them being able to maintain the weight loss.

The number of calories by which someone needs to reduce their daily intake can vary from person to person. It can depend on their height and weight, their activity levels, and how much weight they have lost so far.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) offer a Body Weight Planner to help someone make a personalized plan for their calorie intake and activity levels.

Health experts based the planner on research on metabolism and energy expenditure when someone loses weight.

Eat nutrient-dense foods

Eating nutrient-dense foods can help someone lose weight.

Nutrient-dense foods are those that contain plenty of beneficial nutrients and are low in calories, sugar, and fat.

Nutrient-dense foods contain good amounts of:

Examples of nutrient-dense foods are:

  • vegetables, including leafy greens, starchy vegetables, and different colored vegetables
  • fruits, such as apples and berries
  • lean protein, such as poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat
  • beans and legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain bread and pasta
  • healthful fats, such as oily fish, avocados, and olives

Avoid added sugars and saturated fats

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to limit added sugars to no more than 10% of their daily calories.

People should be aware of added sugars in drinks, sweet foods, and processed foods.

The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that calories from saturated fats should not exceed 10% daily.

Meat, full fat dairy foods, and processed foods can contain saturated fat.

Reduce salt intake

According to a 2018 study, a low salt diet can reduce body mass index (BMI) and body weight. However, the researchers observed that this was due to a reduction in total body water rather than body fat.

Lowering salt intake may, therefore, help reduce bloating. A low salt intake is also beneficial for overall health.

Dietary guidelines in the United States currently recommend that people limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

Salty foods include pickles and relishes, processed meats, and olives.

People looking to boost the flavor of their food can try adding herbs and spices instead of extra salt.

Studies suggest that cardio exercise can promote weight loss, while resistance training can decrease body fat.

Yoga can also help strengthen and tone the back.

Exercises that target the back could help a person tone this area of the body, which may improve their self-esteem if they are worried about its appearance.

The following exercises may help tone the lower, mid, and upper back.

Beginners unused to resistance training should start with one set of each exercise and gradually work up to more sets as their muscular strength and endurance improve over time.

It is also advisable to take at least 1 or 2 days’ rest between training sessions for a particular muscle group, especially when starting out.

Exercises to tone the lower back

Exercises that can help tone the lower back include:

Reverse hip raises

An exercise ball is helpful for this exercise, which targets the obliques and extensors. Alternatively, people can use a flat bench.

  1. Lie with the stomach on an exercise ball and the hands flat on the floor.
  2. Squeeze the glutes to lift the legs while balancing on the ball.
  3. Hold for a few seconds before lowering the legs. Repeat several times.

Side jackknife

This exercise helps tone the lower back, internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis.

  1. Lie on the side with the legs on top of each other.
  2. Straighten the lower arm along the floor for support and bend the upper arm so that the hand touches the side of the head and the elbow points upward.
  3. Squeeze the obliques, which are muscles in the abdomen, and lift the top leg toward the top arm, keeping a slight bend in the knee.
  4. Repeat several times and then switch to the other side.

Exercises to tone the mid back

Exercises that can help tone the mid back include:

Bridge position

The bridge can strengthen and tone the muscles that run along the spine and help someone maintain good posture.

  1. Lie on the back with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor directly under the knees. The arms should stay by the side.
  2. Raise the pelvis toward the ceiling while squeezing the buttocks.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds before gently lowering. Repeat 12–15 times.

Cobra pose

Cobra is a yoga pose that strengthens and tones the muscles around the spine.

People may find this difficult at first, and they should not stretch beyond what is comfortable.

  1. Lie face down on the floor with the hands flat on the floor under the shoulders.
  2. Engaging the buttocks and leg muscles, lift the head and then the chest from the floor.
  3. If possible, straighten the arms as the back bends.
  4. Hold for 20–30 seconds before gently returning to the floor. Repeat the stretch 2–4 times.

Exercises to tone the upper back

Exercises to help tone and strengthen the upper back include:

Lateral raises with dumbbells

Lateral raises can improve definition in the shoulders and back.

  1. Either stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly raise the weights out to the sides until the arms are parallel with the floor.
  2. Bring the arms back to the body, controlling the movement.
  3. Repeat 10–12 times.


Using a rowing machine can help strengthen and tone the upper back.

Alternatively, someone can use a barbell or dumbbells to do bent-over rows.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and bend over from the waist, keeping the back flat and the neck in line with the spine.
  2. Squeezing the shoulders together, lift the weight toward the chest.
  3. Slowly lower the weight and then repeat the exercise 10–12 times.

As well as making dietary changes and getting regular exercise, people may find that other lifestyle measures help them reduce body fat.

Use stress relief strategies

Research indicates a link between prolonged exposure to the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of body fat.

When a person feels stressed, they may also reach for unhealthful foods or comfort foods.

Having strategies for stress relief is useful. People can try various practices, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or gentle exercise, to see what works for them.

Get enough sleep

Not having enough sleep can contribute to weight and fat gain.

A large prospective study from 2013 indicated that adults without obesity had a 40% higher risk of developing the condition if they had less than 5 hours of sleep a night.

The authors of the research paper suggested that this might be because sleep restriction increases cortisol.

As well as potentially leading a person to increase their food intake, cortisol promotes fat accumulation.

People may develop excess back fat if they have overweight or obesity and do insufficient exercise.

Research also suggests that genetic factors contribute to fat distribution and waist-to-hip ratio.

In some cases, people may have excess back fat due to stress, lack of sleep, or certain medications causing weight gain or bloating.

Reducing overall body fat through diet and exercise is the best approach to decreasing back fat.

People can try eating a diet with nutrient-dense foods that puts them in a calorie deficit. Exercises that target the different muscles in the back can also tone the area.

Other factors, such as sleep and stress, are important to consider, as they can influence body composition and weight.