As I’ve talked about before here on BroBible, building a big, strong back is not only important to look like you lift, but is important so you can actually lift.
Yet many people still neglect back training, and specifically on of the most important muscles for building not only strength and size, but staying healthy as well.
I’m talking about the Lats.
Function of the Lats
The lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the largest muscles in the upper body and because of that they perform a lot of different functions. They connect at five different points including the spine, pelvis, ribs, scapula, and upper arm.
They work by adducting, rotating, and extending the arms, as well as pulling the arms back and down towards the hips. A classic example of the effect weak or undertrained lats can have in lifters is been hunched over. This is a result of overdevelopment of the chest and shoulder muscles due to performing more pushing than pulling exercises.
Strong Lats, Strong Everything
The lats play a primary role in all strength exercises, even if they aren’t be trained directly. The squat and deadlift may be mostly lower body exercises but the lats play a major role in stabilization. They lats also play a similar role in the bench press.
During the squat, the lats are used to stabilize the bar on your back, as well as protect the spine and maintain an upright torso. This has a ripple effect. The healthier your spine, the easier it is to achieve better hip mobility.
To engage the lats during the squat, rest the bar on your upper traps and try and bend it half by pulling the elbows down and toward your hips.
The lats play a similar role in the deadlift as they do the squat. In order to maintain proper position and not round your back, you need to engage the lats, which will help you drop your hips and bring your chest up.
To engage the lats correctly, think of trying to pull your shoulder blades down into your back pockets. Another good cue is to pretend like you have oranges under your armpits and you’re trying to squeeze the juice out.
Much like the squat and deadlift, during the bench press the lats work to provide stabilization and help transfer force. One of the most often overlooked aspect of bench strength is the leg drive. And in order to transfer that force from your legs to your chest, where does it go through? You guessed it, the lats.
In order to engage the lats more during the bench press, you need to tuck your elbows closer to your body instead of flaring them out. Keeping more of a 45 degree angle helps engage the lats more.
Building Strong Lats
Use the following tips and exercises as part of your back training to specifically target and build strong lats.
Use a Reverse Grip
A reverse grip pull allows the most natural and largest range of motion of all the grip positions. It also keeps the elbows from flaring out. All this serves to help engage the lats more.
Chin-ups are done with the palms facing towards you. This allows you to get the greatest range of motion of any pull-up variation.
Much like the chin-ups, the reverse-grip variation of these two exercises allows you to get the deepest pull and biggest range of motion.
Mix Up Your Pulldowns
They’re called lat pulldowns for a reason…because they are great for working the lats. But varying how you perform them can attack the lats in different ways.
Again, this version lets you get a deeper range of motion than regular pulldowns. See a theme here?
The single arm pulldown really lets you ‘feel’ the lats working. The unilateral nature of the exercise also adds in an increased stability element.
Another great exercise for lat isolation. Keep your arms straight and really focus on using your lats to pull the weight towards your body.
The lats are an extremely important muscle for not only developing strength but keeping your back and shoulders healthy as well. Focus on building strong lats, and everything else will follow.