Written by Jack Boardman
The Best Lat Exercises
Latissimus dorsi is Latin for ‘broadest of the back,’ so if you’re a weightlifter or serious bodybuilder there are few excuses for not having developed lats.
Your latissimus dorsi, or ‘lats’ as everyone calls them, connect the upper extremity to the vertebral column. In a muscular skeletal diagram, you will see that they are large areas of muscle that resemble folded wings. When your lats are well developed you can see them from the front, bulging out from behind and below your armpits.
Their job is to adduct (move a body part towards the midline of the body), extend and internally rotate the arm. The latissimus dorsi supports various different movements of the shoulder. It pulls the humerus towards the torso (adduction) and behind your back (retroversion).
Look behind you. The fact is that many people like to exercise what they can see before them. This is by no means a bad thing initially and implies that is likely that you will have a solid core strength, a well-developed chest and shoulders, but the greater percentage of your muscle is behind you! If you’re reading this, then perhaps you’re at a point where you are paying more attention to your back, or maybe you’ve already been trying to work your back but are not yet seeing the results that you’d expect.
To develop the width of your lats you should focus on exercises that work on a lateral plane. Upright exercises involve the pull-up motion (or pulling down if you’re seated). There are also horizontal movements that will help to develop your lats; these generally involve a rowing motion.
It is always a good idea to approach workouts in as simple a way as possible so that complications are eliminated, leaving the increase of weight as the only variable in the equation. That said, though the aforementioned lateral and horizontal movements suggest simplicity, there is a lot of room for creativity and variety when performing these motions.
For example, there are numerous ways in which you can perform a pull-up by varying the width of your grip, including chin-ups. These are exhausting exercises without weights as you are hauling your body weight from a resting position. Yet they can also be turned into heavy lifting exercises with a weight fastened to a dipping belt, or with a dumbbell between your knees.
Because of the strenuous nature of this exercise, some suggest three-four sets of eight reps to pump up your muscles and then lowering the number of reps to three-eight with added weight for mass building. As for adding weight, this like any mass muscle gaining exercise depends on your one rep max.
When you know this you should aim to reach the 60-80 percent range of this maximum, lowering the number of reps with each advancement before growing more comfortable. This is a good way to overcome any plateau if you’re not getting the gains you want. The same applies to rowing in your horizontal range of motions, and pull-down exercises when using seated equipment.
If you are seeing results that quickly deflate and you’re struggling to add on extra weight with each lift, this is when you need to look at lowering the reps you are performing and make adding weight the focus of each session above the number of reps. Also consider longer rests between each set.
Your next bit of food for thought is, in fact, food. Nutrition is key to growth, so if you’re not making the mass muscle gains you want to see but are putting the work in at the gym, it may be time to analyse what you’re putting into your body, and how much you’re burning.
If you’re doing a lot of cardio, you need to consume the extra calories to compensate. Further to this, have a look at how much protein you’re taking in and if there are any other ways that you can consume it more strategically. For example, make the most of whey protein shakes immediately after a session, and consider casein, which is slowly metabolised.