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Lat Exercises

Nine Lat Exercises to Help Develop Your Upper Back

The latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly called the lat muscles, are like the support system of strong muscles. Many people overlook their lat muscles when it comes to working out, but without strong lat muscles, you aren't going to be able to do other exercises efficiently. The best way to get strong, good-looking, wide lats is to do various exercises that target them from different angles. 

About the Latissimus Dorsi Muscles

The lats are the largest muscles in the upper body, and with good reason. They are like the support structures under a bridge--no matter how strong the bridge is, it just won't hold up if the support structures aren't stronger.

The lats are actually a duo with one muscle on either side of the spine from the middle to lower back region. They are attached to the lower six vertebrae of the spine and wrap around each side of your body and connect to your ribs up under your arms. Primary responsibilities of your lats include abduction and horizontal abduction, extension, flexion, and rotation of the shoulder. To put it in simple terms, it is responsible for half of your arm movements and for cushioning your spine, almost like a back brace.

As stated before, having strong lats supports your body, but there are more specific benefits of having strong lats. If you only workout the muscles you can see in the mirror, you will be missing out on half of the payoff from all that hard work you put in at the gym. 

Aesthetic Benefits
One of the most popular benefits of working out the lat muscles are for visual reasons. Both men and women want sexy-looking backs. For women, having strong lat muscles will give you a slender, lean looking back and emphasize the dip in the middle. For men, you will have a strong back that has that V-shape that most gym rats aim for--the broad shoulders and the tapered waist.

Working out lat muscles for aesthetic reasons is incredibly important to bodybuilders. They are judged on their overall physique. This includes the back. You don't want to go into a competition half-worked because you didn't focus on your back.

Body Benefits
Having strong lat muscles can help your body function better. You will reduce the chance of lower back pain. You will be able to bend, twist, pick up things, push, pull, and more with ease. You will be able to stand for longer periods of time because its easier to hold your body weight up with strong lat muscles. In essence, strong lat muscles can improve your quality of life.

Tips For Working Out the Lat Muscles Safely and Effectively

Tips For Working Out the Lat Muscles Safely and Effectively
During your exercise and training routine, you will want to make sure you are working out your lat muscles (in fact, all of your back muscles) as much as you are working out your front side. Having overdeveloped muscles in the front with weak muscles in the back can lead to bad posture, lower back pain, slouching, bad balance, rounded shoulders, and more.

In order to prevent injury, make sure you stretch before working out to warm up your muscles. You should stretch all your muscles, but moves such as the egg roll, ladders, or toe touches will specifically stretch your back muscles. Make sure you use proper form during exercises so that you don't injure your back.

Nine Great Exercises to Work Out Your Lats

​​​​Pull Ups

Pull ups is a compound exercise that really focuses on your lats. Pull ups is the most effective exercise for promoting muscle growth. Doing pull ups also helps with grip strength. To perform the exercise correctly, make sure you grip the bar with a pronated (overhand) grip. Make sure you squeeze your shoulder blades together and down (called scapular retraction) while performing the pull up. As you pull your body up towards the bar, if you are correctly retracting your scapulas then you will feel your lats working. Here is a video from Calisthenic Movement that demonstrates pull ups.

Deadlifts 

Deadlifts is a compound exercise that works all of your major muscle groups at once, including your lats. While doing a deadlift, make sure you are standing in the middle of the bar and the bar is lined up across the middle of your feet. When you lift the bar, make sure your head is correctly lined with your spine. Your head and spine should make a straight line. Lower your rear so that you are "sitting" into the lifting position and lift more with your legs than your back to prevent injury. Check out a great deadlift demonstration on what to do as well as what not to do from the guys at Buff Dudes here.

Underhand Cable Pulldowns

When done correctly, the underhand cable pull down really targets the lats. It also helps you develop correct posture. This is a great exercise for beginners. In order to target your lats properly, make sure you retract your scapulas (as explained in pull ups above) when you grab the bar. This should give your back a slight curve. Use a supinated grip (underhand grip, as the name of the exercise suggests). Pull the bar down to around upper chest level while keeping your scapulas retracted. Hold it and gently return the bar back to the starting position. Check out an awesome guide to having the proper form to do underhand cable pulldowns here from Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean-X.

​​​​Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is a great exercise for beginners. Not only will your lats get a good workout, but you will get a good arms workout also as long as you use the proper form, which can be seen in this video from Scott Herman from Muscular Strength which has a great guide to seated cable rows. As you sit on the bench, your knees should be slightly bent and your feet should be flat on the platform. Lean over with a straight back, grab the bar, and sit up straight, pulling the bar towards you. Keep your back straight and your head aligned with your back, retract your scapulas, and begin rowing.

​​​​Reverse Grip Bent Over Rows

This exercise has a lot of benefits. One of them is the development of hip extensions. This will aid you in sprinting, jumping and more. Another benefit is that doing rows with a supinated grip builds strength by more than 33% than it would the other way. To do this exercise, hold a barbell with your arms hanging in front of you. Your knees should be slightly bent and torso slightly forward. Keeping your body straight, lift the barbell by bending your arms at the elbows then lower the barbell back down. Here is a video of Kris Gethin at Kaged Muscle performing this exercise which shows the proper form for reverse grip bent over rows.

Single-Arm Long Bar Row

This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems because it puts a lot of pressure (torque) on the lower back area. However, if you don't have back problems, this is a great workout for building up the lats. Begin by putting however much of weight you are comfortable with on the bar. If it isn't a landmine, you will want to put weights on both sides. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward, keeping your spine and head aligned and straight. Grip the bar at the end with one hand. Lift the bar up and down. Here is a great example of the single-arm long bar row from James Kohler of FitRX Pros.

Close-grip Lat Pulldown

The close-grip lat pulldown will give your lat muscles a serious workout. They will also workout other muscles such as the biceps. The key with this exercise is to make sure you are pulling the bar with your lat muscles, not your forearm muscles. Sit at a pull down machine and make sure the leg pads are adjusted accordingly. Grip the bar with your hands next to each other and lean your body back by about 30 degrees. Be sure to keep your back straight. Begin pulling the bar down to upper chest. Make sure you retract your scapulas so you work your lat muscles. This video from Bodybuilding.com is a great guide which will show you the correct form.

Decline Dumbbell Pullover 

If you want to develop a big chest, then pullovers is the exercise for you. This was once the staple exercise for every body builder around (paired with a gallon of milk!) and although it isn't as popular as it once was, it is still just as effective. To do the decline dumbbell pullover, grab two dumbbells, one in each hand, and lay back on a decline bench. Keeping your arms bent at the elbows at a 90 degree angle, hoist the dumbbells over your head. Begin lifting the dumbbells in a semi-circle over your head and to your waist, making sure to squeeze your lats in the process. An example can be seen here from the guys at Jersey Beast.

Straight-Arm Pulldown 

This exercise will help you develop a larger back without having the limitations of the biceps. It is also really good for a beginner since it is a fairly simple move. With this exercise you will use a pronated grip. Start with your feet shoulder width apart and a good, strong stance. Slightly bend your torso forward (just slightly!) and as you pull the bar down towards your waist, retract your scapula. Return to the starting position and each time that you pull the bar down, retract your scapula again in order to work out your lat muscles. Here is a demonstration of the straight-arm pulldown from the guys at Colossus Fitness.

Summary

The lats are the biggest muscles in the upper body and it is very important to exercise these muscles as much as any other muscle in your body. Having strong lats will make you look good, feel good, and give you the support you need to power through many other exercises. The above examples are just a few lat exercises that you can do to get you on your way to a stronger, bigger, and more defined back.

Sources:
[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/
[2]http://jsgrewalexer.blogspot.com/2009/09/weak-back-muscle-imbalance.html
[3]https://www.livestrong.com/article/106856-warmup-exercises-protect-back/
[4]https://www.t-nation.com/training/best-way-to-row-period

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