Swap the gym equipment for a filled backpack in this strength-building workout for full-body muscle.

If you want to add some extra weight to your workout, you might immediately reach for dumbbells – but have you ever considered the humble backpack? With points for portability and the potential to hold a range of different weights, or even one of the best exercise mats, a backpack is the perfect companion for any on-the-go workout.

So grab your gym bag and try this backpack workout from F45 Tooting trainer and co-founder of the Plant Based Games Connor McDonald.

How to do this backpack workout

Fill your backpack with books, tinned food, bottles of water, or anything else you can find to add enough weight that will challenge you. Perform each rep with control and focus on form throughout.

The exercises in this backpack workout

These are some of the best bodyweight exercises on their own, but adding extra resistance with a backpack will help you build muscle fast.

  1. Bent-over row
  2. Single-leg Romanian deadlift
  3. Russian twist
  4. Overhead lunge
  5. Upright row
  6. Press-up

Keep reading for full exercise instructions.

Try this backpack workout for total-body muscle – Men's Fitness UK

1. Bent-over row 

15 reps / 4 sets / 60 secs rest between sets  

How to do a backpack bent-over row:

  • The bent-over row is an awesome strength-builder for the upper back, as well as the posterior chain and biceps. 
  • Keep a soft bend in your knees and hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. 
  • Start with arms at full extension, then contract your lats to pull the bag into your stomach, keeping your elbows tucked in. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement, then lower with control. 
  • To increase the difficulty, single-arm row the backpack instead.

Try this backpack workout for total-body muscle – Men's Fitness UK

2. Single-leg Romanian deadlift 

12 reps / 4 sets / 60 secs rest

How to do a backpack Romanian deadlift:

  • This move targets the hamstrings and glutes.
  • Gripping the bag, step one foot out in front of the other, keeping both feet hip-distance apart. 
  • From there, slightly bend the back knee to increase the tension in the lead leg.
  • Keeping your chest up, hinge at the hips, leaning forwards until you feel the stretch.
  • Rise back to the start, complete the reps, then repeat with the other leg in front. 

Try this backpack workout for total-body muscle – Men's Fitness UK

3. Russian twist 

30 secs / 6 sets / 30 secs rest 

How to do a backpack Russian twist:

  • Start by sitting up with your legs slightly bent and heels off the floor. 
  • Hold the bag out in front and focus on keeping your spine neutral.
  • Rotate your shoulders from side to side and rotate your trunk. 
  • Just before the bag hits the floor, twist across to the other side.
  • Keep it up for 30 secs, rest for 30, and repeat. 

Try this backpack workout for total-body muscle – Men's Fitness UK

4. Overhead lunge 

12 reps / 5 sets / 60 secs rest 

How to do a backpack overhead lunge:

  • The overhead lunge works multiple muscle groups, while challenging core strength and stability. 
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Raise the bag above your head on one side, brace your core and step forward with your opposite foot. 
  • Drop your back knee until it’s just off the floor, then return to standing. 
  • Focus on hitting a 90-degree bend in both knees when you’re at the bottom phase of the move. 

upright row

5. Upright row

15 reps / 4 sets / 60 secs rest 

How to do a backpack upright row:

  • The upright row is a great exercise to build shoulder strength. 
  • Starting with the bag held with a narrow grip and hand fully extended, pull the bag up your body. 
  • Allow your elbows to flare out to the side and raise them as high as possible while keeping the bag close to  your body. 
  • The focus on this exercise is to isolate the shoulders with a slow, controlled movement, and to keep elbows higher than the wrists at the top. 
  • To progress, try using just one hand to pull the bag through the movement.

press up

6. Press-up

12-15 reps / 5 sets / 90 secs rest 

How to do a backpack press-up:

  • Start in the high plank position with feet shoulder-width apart and hands slightly more narrow. 
  • Keeping your core tight, bend at the elbows to slowly lower your chest down to the floor, ensuring your elbows stay close to your body.
  • Once your chest is just off the floor, press yourself back to the starting position. 
  • To make it harder, raise alternate legs off the floor with each press-up, or bring the hands closer together to target the triceps more.