Are you dissatisfied with the width of your back? You could be working out your lats incorrectly. In this article, I’ll go over two of the lats exercises you should know – and how to do them.
The lats are one of the most challenging muscles to develop. Lats is short for the latissimus dorsi muscle. This is sad because they are critical to establishing a broader looking back. But, first and foremost, why are lats so difficult to develop? There are two basic causes behind this. The first is that you are unable to see them. As a result, activating them is tough. And what about the second, and perhaps more important, reason? It’s just that most of us are doing the improper ‘lats workouts’ to begin with.
Consider any of the lat pulldown movements. You’d assume that based on their names, they’d be great lat exercises. But what about in reality? Because of the way the lat fibers run, they don’t impact the lats very well and are more of an upper back and traps movement. The same may be said for pull-ups and various rowing actions (e.g. your barbell rows). These workouts do, indeed, involve the lats and the entire back. However, they aren’t the best choice for including in your routine if you want to really prioritize lat growth – and have a wide back. Which, to be honest, is exactly what the majority of people require.
Sure, the lats and entire back are included in these workouts, but they aren’t the ideal option if you want to really prioritize your lats development, which is something that most individuals want. So, in this article, I’ll teach you two of the best lats workouts to help you do just that. After experimenting with them, many of you will most likely:
Feel what it’s like to have a lat contraction AND
Begin to notice a difference in your back width.
Of course, if you’re seeking to do more than just work on your lats, one of our programs might be beneficial. These walk you through the process of developing a well-rounded physique (not simply a wider back!) step by step. If you’re interested, please contact:
Understanding Your Lats Anatomy Aids in Exercise Selection
First, let’s go over the anatomy of the lats. The lats are a large fan-shaped muscle that wraps across the back of your body. It is actually separated into three sections: thoracic, lumbar, and iliac lats. These are simply the upper, middle, and lower lats. At the top, the lat fibers become more horizontal, and at the bottom, they become more vertical.
It is important to note that throughout any “lats” exercise, all three regions of the lats will be included. However, as this article will show, you can somewhat favor certain regions over others by better matching the workout to the direction in which the fibers run. Knowing your lats’ basic architecture and fiber direction can help you complete the following two workouts more effectively, giving you a wider back.
1st Exercise: Lat-Focused Row
We’ll employ a lat focused row to concentrate the upper and mid lats even more. This is a maneuver I learned from Coach Kassem, the inventor of N1 training.
Most of you are probably already doing some sort of cable row in your routine, which is excellent for your general back health. However, if you want to make it more lat-focused, you’ll need to be aware of (and implement) a few critical setup changes.
Take Note of Your Elbow Positioning
To begin, tuck your elbows into your sides. Instead of fanning them out, keep them in place while you row. The greater the distance between your elbows and your torso, the greater the involvement of your rear delts and upper back. As a result, there will be reduced activation of the lats.
The row should then be stopped when your elbows reach your torso. You don’t want to go any further with the move. This is because when we pull the elbows further back behind our body, the lats become less involved in the movement. Instead of the lats, the extra range of motion will come from the rear delts and upper back muscles. Furthermore, it tends to be beyond the range of motion that most people’s shoulders are capable of in the first place.
You should also be aware of your forearms in the final posture. They should ideally align with the cable’s direction. As a result, when pulling, avoid unnecessarily flexing or stretching the elbow. This will cause your arms to become more involved rather than your lats.
Reduce the amount of arching you do in your upper back.
Finally, when you pull, limit how much you extend and arch your upper back. Overarching your back will, once again, put the upper back in a better posture than the lats. Instead, integrate a modest hip hinge forward. This allows you to better align the lats with the line of pull and extend their range of motion.
You’ll want to keep your abs engaged as you do this. Make sure your lower back isn’t rounded. You may only be able to achieve a little torso tilt forward depending on your hip mobility. That’s OK.
You may also discover that putting your feet on the floor is more comfortable. This is also acceptable. It may appear strange, but it works wonders for activating your lats.
The tiniest changes to your form and workout execution can sometimes make or break your muscle activation.
Additional Tips for Making the Exercise More Lat-Focused
Now that you’ve mastered the setup… The next important factor is execution and your cognitive process as you row. To begin, instead of thinking about drawing back and retracting your shoulder blades, think about pulling your elbow down with your lats. Then, while you pull, think about pulling your elbow down and in.
Let us return to the anatomy of the lats image provided above. Take a look at their pull line: you can see how the fibers go down and in. Assume a rope is attached to your upper arm and is tugging down, back, and in towards your spine. That’s basically what your lat does. It also helps to envision as you pull.
Finally, in terms of handles, you should ideally use a neutral grip broader handle. This is the ideal way to bias the lats. However, regardless of which handle you have access to, using this form and execution will make a significant difference. Don’t have access to a cable row right now? Then you can apply most of these tips and cues to something like a dumbbell row in order to make it more lat focused.
Alternatively, you may simply replace the cable with a band.
Do note, however, that with these modifications in place, you will have to drop the weight considerably. This is a good thing. And is expected. Because it means that your lats, which are likely weak, are finally being forced to work.
Exercise 2: Single-Arm Pull-Down
Next, we have the single-arm pull-down. This exercise will help bias the lower lats a little more by incorporating a more vertical pulling angle. Here, we’ll want to use a half kneeling stance. Grab a handle with a neutral grip. Make sure that:
Your arm is positioned at roughly a 45-degree angle in front of your body AND
The cable is positioned such that it’s in line with your forearm
Brace your abs, keep a neutral spine, and then drive the elbow down to your side. As you pull, similar to the lat-focused row, you’ll want to keep your elbow as close as possible to your torso. You don’t want them flared out. Think about driving the elbow down and then in towards your spine at the bottom position.
In the end position, you can even slightly bend your torso sideways towards the pulling arm to get an even greater contraction.
And again, it can be helpful to visualize a rope pulling your upper arm down, back, and in towards your spine. You can see how with this exercise the angle of pull lines up very well with the lats overall. Especially with the lower lats that wrap around the pelvis. Many of you will likely feel a strong contraction in this area that you’ve never quite experienced before.
Don’t have access to cables? Then an easy alternative is to use a band with the same setup and execution.
How To Program These Lats Exercises Into Your Routine For Big Lats
As for programming these into your workout routine for a bigger back, if your lats are currently lagging, then feel free to swap some of your horizontal and vertical pulling with these routines. As mentioned earlier, traditional back movements are great for overall back development. But they do tend to bias the upper back more than the lats. Which is where most people need to focus on if they’d like to add more width to their back. So, try out these exercises or their variations. And many of you will, for the first time, feel what it’s like to actually train your lats.
All in all, hopefully, you were able to see that in order to maximize your gains in any muscle, you need to pay close attention to the exercises you’re using and even closer attention to how you go about performing them. That’s what makes all the difference.