Your latissimus dorsi, more commonly known as lats, are those big muscles on the sides of your back that can help you achieve that toned silhouette that you’ve been looking for – you only need to know how to train them properly!
They’re the biggest muscles in your back, which is already composed of several other big muscle groups, so targeting them and making them grow can be a challenging journey. But it is definitely possible with the right exercises that target your lats specifically!
We’ll show you some of the best lat exercises that you can try to build a stronger back at the gym or even at home, as well as some things to keep in mind so you can train more effectively.
Best exercises for your lats
Looking for a stronger back that can support you during your strength training exercises? Take a look at these lat exercises that you can add to your next weightlifting routine.
Pull-ups are a staple at the gym, and while they might be difficult to work up to, they can be highly rewarding. It’s a compound movement that will work your whole upper body, primarily targeting your lats for a bigger and more toned back.
How to do it:
- Find a pull-up bar and stand straight in front of it. If you’re still a beginner, you can use an assisted pull-up machine and kneel on the pads for support.
- Grab the bar with both hands wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip and begin the movement by pulling yourself up to the bar until your upper chest touches it.
- Keeping your back straight and your shoulder blades down and back, pause for a second, then lower yourself and repeat.
Bent-over barbell row
Another back-killer exercise, the bent-over row is one of the best you can do to grow a bigger back and more defined lats. The addition of the barbell helps add more resistance to the vertical pulling, making your muscles work even harder.
How to do it:
- Stand straight in front of a loaded bar on the floor, and hinge at the hips to grab it with both hands in an overhand grip. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet slightly wider.
- Hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly to grab the bar, then pull it until it’s right below your knees, with your torso almost parallel to the floor.
- Engage your core and begin the movement by pulling your elbows back and rowing the bar toward your body so that it almost touches your belly button.
- Pause for a moment while squeezing your working muscles, then lower the bar below your knees and repeat.
Single-arm dumbbell row
Similar to the bent-over barbell row, the single-arm dumbbell row mimics the rowing pattern with a loaded weight, in this case, a dumbbell. Because it’s a unilateral movement, it allows you to lift more weight on each side, helping you develop functional strength and correct any muscular imbalances that you might have.
How to do it:
- Grab a dumbbell in your left hand with a neutral grip, then find a bench and place your right hand and knee on it, keeping your left foot on the floor. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
- With your left arm extended and pointing down with the weight, engage your core and begin the movement by pulling the weight up to the side of your ribcage, rowing your elbow up and back.
- Hold the position for a moment while you squeeze your muscles, then lower the weight back down to the starting position and repeat.
- Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.
Another staple, and for a good reason! Planks are a great compound exercise that works your whole body, and by adding a weighted rowing movement to it you can target your back muscles better, primarily your lats. Plus, you alternate your arms throughout the movement, challenging your balance.
How to do it:
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and get in a high plank position, with your arms extended and your feet on the floor, forming a straight line with your body. Your hands should be in a neutral position with the dumbbells on the floor supporting your weight.
- Engage your core and begin the movement by lifting the right dumbbell, rowing your elbow up and back until the weight almost touches the side of your chest while you keep your stability with both feet and your left arm.
- Squeeze your muscles for a second, then lower the weight back to the floor and repeat on the other side, alternating on each rep.
Straight arm pulldown
Lat pulldowns are the king exercise when it comes to your lats, and there are many effective variations of this movement, such as the straight arm pulldown! It’s just like the standard lat pulldown, except you keep your arms straight throughout the whole movement, fully engaging your lats and strengthening them.
How to do it:
- Find a cable machine and attach a bar handle to the high pulley, then stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart and reach for the bar, grabbing it with an overhand grip.
- Lower the bar to face height without bending your elbows, bend at the hips and knees slightly, and begin the movement by pulling the bar down until it almost touches your thighs.
- Pause for a moment while keeping your back and arms straight, squeeze your back muscles, then bring the bar handle back up and repeat.
Seated cable rows
Seated cable rows are one of the most effective exercises that you can try if you’re serious about growing and strengthening your lats. It’s yet another rowing movement, but it’s never too many since it’s such a great way to build a toned back!
How to do it:
- Sit on a seated cable row machine, making sure it’s correctly set up for your body, and place your feet on the machine pads (or the floor if it doesn’t have any).
- Grab the handle with both hands and begin the movement by pulling it toward your chest, rowing your elbows back while you keep your back straight. Make sure to drive your shoulders down and back when you pull.
- Pause for a second, squeezing your muscles while you’re still holding the handle near your chest, then release it and repeat.
This is a killer variation of the bent-over barbell row, but it’s performed with a landmine and in a neutral grip, making it easier on your shoulder joints when pulling from the heavy weight. It also allows you to work with more weight at once for a bigger back!
How to do it:
- Load one end of a bar with the desired weight and place the unloaded end against a corner or a rack for support. Make sure it’s secured so that it doesn’t slip.
- Stand with the bar between your legs and the loaded end facing forward, and grab it with both hands in a neutral grip.
- Hinge forward at the hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor, bend slightly at the knees, and begin the movement by rowing the bar up to your chest until it almost touches it.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and your working muscles, then lower the bar and repeat.
Inverted bodyweight row
During this movement, instead of pulling the bar toward your body, you’ll be pulling your body toward the bar. It’s similar to a chin-up, except a lot closer to the floor with your feet supporting you, making it a challenging movement for your lats.
How to do it:
- Place a bar on the lower rack level but still high enough that you can fit under it with your arms extended, then lay on your back under it with your feet close together.
- Lift your arms and grab the bar with an underhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart and begin the movement by pulling yourself up and toward the bar until your chest almost touches it.
- Pause while your squeeze your muscles, making sure you’re keeping your body in a straight line, then lower yourself and repeat.
How to train your lats effectively
Knowing which exercises to do isn’t the only thing you need to build a stronger back. Here are a few tips so you can make your lat-building sessions more effective:
Use a variety of different exercises
Your lats are a big muscle group, so doing just one lat exercise forever won’t cut it. You need to hit them from every angle possible with different exercises if you want them to grow stronger, like bilateral and unilateral exercises as well as following vertical and horizontal paths during your movements.
An example of this is doing pull-ups and lat pulldowns and combining them with barbell rows and plank rows. Even the landmine row, which follows an angled path, is a great way to challenge your lats and keep you from hitting a plateau.
Prioritize progressive overload
Because they’re a large muscle group, growing your lats takes time and effort. Forgetting about them, neglecting them, or even just training at the same pace for a long while will make you lose any gains that you might have already achieved. You need to constantly give your muscles a new challenge, which is what progressive overload is all about.
If you’re serious about your muscle gains, make sure to change your workout routine from time to time. Try more difficult exercises, increase the volume and intensity of your workouts, and play with the different weights and machines at the gym… There are many things you can do to keep progressing!
Pay attention to your form
When it comes to training your lats effectively, you need to keep in mind that they’re located in your back, meaning that you have to be very aware of how your back is positioned during each exercise for maximum gains.
Not only you’ll need to keep a straight back during your workouts to make sure you’re making your muscles work against the resistance and not your spine, but also that your shoulder blades stay down and back when they need to be so you can better engage your lats and other surrounding muscles.
Build a stronger back with the right exercises
Remember, your lats are a big muscle group, so you need to perform exercises that primarily target them instead of just general back exercises if you want them to grow bigger and stronger. And be careful with the weights that you use! Just because your back is stronger than other areas of your body doesn’t mean that you can lift more than you should.
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