Your lats, also known by their Latin name “Latissimus dorsi” are the biggest group of muscles on your back. They give that impressive looking V-taper that you’ve been working so hard towards, which shapes a normal, average physical appearance into a superhuman, awesome physique. Also, they play a vitam role in bringing stability to your shoulder joints, which helps protect against hurting your shoulders while doing pressing exercises such as bench presses.
Not only that, but they also matter for having a healthy posture and spine health. If you’ve ever visited a gym you’ve probably seen people that have no idea how to train their lats to become as efficient as possible. It’s very rare to see someone using the right machine but you can almost always see people doing a random upper body workout without any clear goals or directions. Also, you can see people doing dumbbell sets while changing nothing but the angle, jumping off and on weight benches as well as doing every imaginable type of lat pulldown or rowing movement. Doing these things without knowing what you’re actually causing to happen might make you think that the result could be either useless or catastrophic. Let’s look at the issue in more detail.
The lats have two main functions. The first one is extending the shoulders above your head and pulling them down again. This comes into play when you’re doing chin-ups, pull-ups and other “-ups”. The second one is the adduction of your shoulders on a horizontal plane, which can be seen in rowing exercises like the dumbbell row, cable seated row and others. The lats’ muscle fibers are diagonal, from the upper arm bone (humerus) to the middle and lower part of the spine. If you want to build them, you have to contract them in such a way that the two end points are the closest and then the farthest apart, all while keeping the angle of the muscle fibers the same.
The lats are a big muscle group, which means that you’re going to have to do very specific exercises to target it correctly. Make sure to keep proper form with all of your exercises to get the optimal results. First, you’ll need a vertical pulling exercise to train the vertical extension ability.
CHIN-UPS will do a great job at this task. Find a pull-up bar, position your hands on it at shoulder width and start lifting all the way up until you reach your clavicle, just below your chin and above your breastbone. You don’t need any machines or equipment other than a pull-up bar, which you can buy online and attach to your door frame with relative ease.
LAT PULLDOWNS are also an awesome exercise to activate your lats. Take a supinated grip on a lat pulldown machine with a normal lat pulldown bar. Your arms should be positioned at shoulder width, which will let your shoulders stay safe in a position of external rotation. Also, make sure to keep your chest up – don’t let it fall while you’re doing the movement.
Your lat exercises should end with a shoulder adduction to get the optimal results. If you look at the angle of the muscle fibers, you can also figure out the angle at which you need to do your rowing movements to optimize their effectiveness as well. Isolation exercises will get this done, which is why I prefer the single arm row on a cable machine – it places a perpetual tension on the lats and boosts muscle gains. The cable should be at eye level and should be pulled into position below your sternum. You can do this on a bench for extra stability when you’re lifting a lot of weight. Since this is an exercise that targets only a few muscles, your body shouldn’t move to make sure that the lats are getting all the attention they need.
For best effect, do two sets of chin-ups or pulldowns with a supinated grip for six to ten reps and one set of single arm rows on a cable machine for eight to twelve reps. Pay extra attention to the first exercise since you can focus more on your muscle contractions. Finally, make sure to add weight whenever you feel that the current one is too light and you can do the exercise with relative ease. Doing this will ensure that you keep your gains constant and your muscles as stressed as possible. Make sure to always practice proper form too.