The so-called lat muscles (or lats, as most body-building magazines call them) are the broadest muscles of the back region and the under-arm and truck regions of the body. Unlike popular opinion, the abbreviation “lat”, short for the scientific name latissimusdorsi, doesn’t come from “lateral” but from “latissimus” which means “broad” in latin. While the fact that these muscles are situated in the lateral of the body is true, this lateral position isn’t what gives them their name: their shape and size do. Indeed being very broad, the lat muscles cover the whole region on the lateral of your trunk, under your arms, on the front and back sides of your ribs, and the outer areas of your back. Working these muscles is essential for your capacity of lifting things up, for flexing your body in a whole range of actions and moves (like walking, bending, stretching, dancing and so on), and for achieving a harmonious look when working out.
As you may have noticed around the gyms you’ve ever set foot in, there’s nothing worse than people (especially men) who worked out certain areas of their body in the detriment of others, leading to an unpleasant and disproportionate effect. This is often most noticeable in the upper body and trunk areas, where achieving a well-proportioned trapeze-like shape requires a careful balance between each and every exercise session for each and every muscle group. Even if they’re not quite as visible as biceps or triceps or perfectly-sculpted abs, you should include a lat workout every now and then in your routine to make sure you obtain a harmonious result in your body-building efforts. Our present guide will provide a detailed list of the most popular and efficient lat exercises for every category of people which might be interested in them; so we will have a section of lat exercises for men, one of lat exercises for women, one for beginners, one for those who prefer to work out at home (thus without access to any fancy professional equipment) and so on.
Lat Muscles Basics: Anatomy 101
Before we move on to exemplifying the types of exercises which are best suited to your particular situation and body goals, we should delve deeper into the anatomy of the lat muscles. There’s no way to put those lovely lats to a good work out and use unless you first know what you’re working with, right? Right, so let’s get started. The first thing to know about the lats is the fact that even though these muscles seem quite far away from the spine, they are actually very involved in its flexing functions.
As far as textbook anatomy facts go, the latissimusdorsi muscles are responsible for any movement involving extension, adduction (bringing something closer to you), transverse extension (or horizontal abduction), or flexion from a fixed position or the internal rotation of the shoulder joint. Basically any movement of your arms or shoulders and the back of your upper arms are all triggered and sustained by flexing the lat muscles. The extension and the lateral extension of the spine (and especially the lumbar area of the spine, also known as the lower back) are also enabled and powered by the lats. A large portion of the lat muscles is attached directly to the spine, making them have a large part to play in exercises that involve the movement of the scapulae (like the downward rotation of the lats which you unwarily perform during a pull-up). Actually, the basic pull-up is one of the best lat exercises you can perform to strengthen the lats and to build mass on the whole frame of your back.
An unusual detail about the anatomy of the lat muscles is the fact that they are attached to the spine by a variable number of ties to vertebrae (four to eight), so there isn’t such a thing as a “normal” number of attachments between the lats and the spine, which are to be found in virtually every human being. The direct consequence of this variability on the topic of lat exercises is the fact that the levels of strain you can earn yourself after an intense workout can vary. You mustn’t be surprised if your gym colleagues or workout buddies experience less strain or pressure on their spines after a lat workout, but that means that the same variability can be experienced in terms of benefits as well, to some degree.
Lat Exercises for Beginners
If you haven’t tried any kind of lat exercises before, or, even more, you’re a beginner when it comes to working out in general, then you need to take it slow. Lat exercises can be notoriously more intense than your regular warm-up exercises for general purposes, such as your average push-up or crunch. The lat muscles are naturally very big (broad) but also thinly spread over a large and generally bony area, and straining them too much can leads to a pretty uncomfortable soreness, the kind which you painfully feel upon your every breath, slight move, cough or sigh. The good news is that you can avoid this effect if you take is slowly and only gradually increase the pace at which you’re working out. Here are a few great lat exercises for beginners, to get you started:
Pull-ups – The most basic of all basic lat exercises, the humble pull-up can do woners for helping your back and trunk achieve that well-balanced state you’re after. Pull-ups help build mass in the upper back region, increase your resistance to weight-lifting, and are also targeting other muscles (such as the bicep and tricep muscles) as well. For the ladies which may not be looking to build mass, but just to help define a highly toned frame for their backs and waist areas, limit the pull-ups to 5 a day or per workout, at least at first. For men looking to build mass, feel free to begin with as many as 10 pull-ups a day or per workout, perhaps even 15 if you think you’re up for it.
Wide grip lat pull-downs–This is an exercise which requires a pull-down machine, so you can only perform it at the gym. If there’s any part that’s confusing about it, feel free to ask a trainer for advice, this is a very well-known exercise so they will be able to help. To begin, sit down on the pulldown machine, after you make sure there’s a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Adjust the knee pad of the machine to your height, so you don’t risk any injury or lack of efficiency. Start by grabbing the bar with the palms facing forward, with the prescribed grip (according to the instructions on the machine). For a wide grip, keep your hands further apart than the distance between your shoulders. For a medium grip, shoulder width is ideal, and for a closer grip, the distance should be even smaller. After you grip the bar firmly, extend your arms in front of you and bring your upper body (torso) back around 30 degrees or so, curving out your lower back and sticking your chest out. Maintain this position for a second or so, and register it as your starting position. Next, bring the bar down until it reaches your lower chest, as you breathe out. Draw your shoulders and upper arms down and back as you do this. Once you reach the position you feel as the tensest, focus on contracting as much of your back muscles as you can. Maintain the position for a second or two, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and then slowly raise the bar up to the starting position. You’re done. A series of 10 latpulldowns should be fine for a beginner, and you can gradually increase them to 15 per workout, after you become more trained.
Lat Exercises for Men
When men are looking into the topic of the best lat exercises for them, they are usually looking for mass training with body-building level results. It’s true that the only way to build muscle mass in the whole back region is by making sure your train all the muscle groups in the area equally, and not just the main attractions, like the shoulders, pects and abs. This kind of well-thought training is most efficient with exercises using weights (though, as you’ll see at the section detailing lat exercises for home, further below, it’s not mandatory). However, if you’re trying to incorporate an efficient lat workout into your training routine, don’t just focus on the few exercises that follow below, but include the ones above (for beginners) as well. Few things are more efficient than a pull-up for exercising your lats. That being said, here are some of the best lat exercises for men trying to build more mass in their upper and middle back.
The Bent-arm Barbell Pullover – This slightly advanced (or at least intermediate exercise) has the advantage of being relatively well-known, so any trainer at your gym should be able to give you direction of performing it correctly. Also, this type of pullover also engages the chest and shoulder muscles intensely, so you will contribute to a multi-workout at once. To begin, lie on a workout bench with a barbell in your hands, using a shoulder width grip. Hold the bar over your chest, using a bent arm position. While keeping your arms bent like that (and remember this as your starting position), slowly lower the weight behind your head, describing an arc, until your feel a good stretch in your chest. Breathe in as you do this, then bring the weight back to its initial position while breathing out and recreating the same arc you used for the initial move. Hold the weight in the initial position and repeat. You can start out with 15 such bent-arm pullovers at the beginning, and perhaps increase the number as you become more experienced. If you prefer dumbbells to a barbell, note that you can also use a dumbbell instead for this exercise (or an E-Z bar, if you’d like).
The Cable Incline Pushdown – For this exercise, you will need access to a high pulley machine with a straight bar attachment to it. Lie on a bench facing away from the pulley machine, and grasp the straight bar attachment overhead at a shoulder width grip, keeping your hands oriented palms-down (what the trainers usually call a pronated grip). The bar should be about 2 inches away from your thighs in this initial position; remember this as the exercise’s starting point. While keeping your upper arms as stationary as possible, lift your arms back in a semicircle until the bar is right over your head. Breathe in, maintain the position for a few seconds, and then slowly go back to your starting position, while breathing out and contracting your lats as much as you can. It’s up to you to make this move one of the best lat exercises there are, so focus on stretching and contracting those muscles! A series of 10 of these per workout is sufficient, as long as you also do the rest of the recommended exercises.
The Close-Grip Front-LatPulldown – Another one for the pulldown machine, this exercise is a huge stimulator especially for the front lat muscles, just as the name suggests. To begin, sit down on the machine with a bar weight attached to the top pulley. Adjust the knee pads to your height. Use a close grip on the bar, then proceed with the exercise just as you would in the case of a wide-grip latpulldown(presented above, in the lat exercises for beginners section). Extend your arms in front of you, bring your torso back around 30 degrees, curve out your back, then bring the bar back down and repeat (detailed instructions above). Make sure to give some extra focus on contracting your lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together; it’s the one detail that amps up the efficiency of this exercise considerably.
The Full Range-of-Motion LatPulldown–This is another kind of cable type exercise, specifically designed to target the lat area. Stand up or sit on a high bench (whatever you prefer), and grab two cables above you, attached to the upper pulleys. Grab them each with the opposite hand, so that you make sure your hands are crisscrossed in front of your face (only this angle will make sure you work out the lat muscles extra high duty). Also position your palms forward and remember this as your starting position. Keep your chest back and maintain an arch in your lower back, and pull down the handles as if you were performing a regular pulldown. The range of motion will be more of an arc, hence the name of the exercise. During the pull, rotate your arms and palms slightly so that in the bottom position your palms face each other instead of forward, like in the initial position. Maintain the pose for 2 seconds, then slowly return to the initial position and repeat. A series of 10 full range-of-motion latpulldowns is enough as part of a regular workout, for starters.
The LatissimusDorsi SMR– This exercise doesn’t feature a pulldown machine or cables, but a simple exercising mat and a foam roll. In spite of its simple props, it’s actually one of the most efficientlat exercises you could find. To get started, lie on the floor (on a mat) and place a foam roll under your back and to one side of your torso, just below your arm pit. Remember this as your starting position. Continue by keeping the arm at the side stretched behind and to your side, as you shift your bodyweight onto your lats. Keep your upper body off the ground while you perform this move. Hold the pose for 10 to 30 seconds, trying to contract your lat muscles as much as you can. Switch sides and repeat; a series of 10 SMRs total (5 on each side) should be enough for the start, as long as they are part of a wider lat exercises workout routine.
Lat Exercises for Women
When it comes to the women interested in working out their lats, very rarely they are pursuing the kind of mass building which the men are interested in. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, and we don’t want to imply that women shouldn’t be interested in building mass; that’s a perfectly legitimate option for any woman who is working out. But if that is the case (and a less encountered one), the best recommendations of lat exercises for these women are the ones detailed above at the subsection dedicated to lat exercises for men. Those are the best exercises for developing mass. For the majority of women who just want to tone up their body, upper back and their waist, without adding any bulk to their trunk frame, the following exercises are better suited. They stimulate the back muscles just enough to create a better posture, tone and contribute to an overall sexy back.
The Bent-Over Row – For this one, you will need a pair of lightweight dumbbells (foam ones work nicely, the kind you may already have lying around your house if you’re a sporty type). This can also work with a kettlebell or free weights of any kind. Stand up and hold the two dumbbells at your sides and bend your knees slightly. Push your hips back and lean in to your front, keeping your trunk core as contracted and tight as you can manage. Continue by slowly bending your elbows, still keeping them relatively close to your body, and pull the dumbbells to your sides. Breathe in for 2 seconds, and then slowly lower the bells back down to the starting position, as you breathe out. Repeat this exercise 9 more times for a series of 10; a series should be enough per workout.
The Bent-Over Lat Pull– This exercise requires having a resistance band and a fixed point to hold the other end of it. Such a setting is easy to find in any gym, and some of you may even have all that is required at home. To begin, fix the resistance band around a sturdy object or fixed point of any sort. Holding both handles, back away until you are bent over and your arms are straight. Keep your feet hip-width apart and the knees slightly bent. Lower your torso toward the floor as far as the stretch can take you and extend your arms past your head. Pull the handles towards you and bend your elbows outwards (to the sides) until your hands are next to your shoulders, and then maintain the position for two seconds. Slowly return to the starting position, then repeat 9 more times to make sure you get the most out of this move (and for a whole set). One set of bent-over lat pulls per workout is enough.
Superman – For this exercise with an inspiring name, all you need is a large fitness ball, the kind found at every gym and in almost every home of a person minimally interested in exercising. Lie across the ball, face down, and with the feet at hip-width distance. Rest against the wall or some other large object, for extra stability, and with your arms extended over your head and the palms facing each other. Squeeze your glutes and bottom and straighten out your back to lift up your whole torso from the ball, only resting on it with your pelvis. The arms should continue to be extended over your head. Maintain the position for a few seconds until you feel a good stretch in your back as well, and not just in your thighs and buttocks. Then, reverse your back down onto the ball, relax for a bit and repeat the motion. A series of 15 of these should be enough per workout.
The Chair Lower Back Stretch –This is a very simple exercise which can work the lat muscles beautifully, and all you need for it is a regular chair. To begin, just sit on the chair in an upright position and with your back as straight as possible. Bend to one side with your opposing arm over your head, trying to contract the back muscles as much as possible. You can hold on to the chair using your free hand, for extra stability. Maintain the position for 10 seconds, tightening your back muscles as much as possible, and then repeat for the opposing side as well. A whole series of stretches should feature 5-7 stretches for each side, 10-15 total. Include a series in each workout you plan and you’re good to go: your body and your back will achieve an awesome shape in no time.
Lat Exercises at the Gym
There have already been lat exercises presented above, at the sections for men or women or beginners, which are also performed at the gym, of course. If you’re looking for lat exercises to be performed at the gym (which means exercises that specifically used sophisticated equipment to maximize the results), then you are of course free to include in your workout routine any of the gym exercises presented above. But to extend your range of choices, here are a few extra options you can include in your workout routine to make sure everything runs smoothly.
The Leverage Iso Row (also known as The HammerstrengthIso Row) –This exercise requires an Iso machine which you can usually find at any given gym in your area. To begin, load an appropriate weight onto the machine’s pins (don’t use more than you usually lift when exercising) and also don’t forget to adjust the seat height so that the handles are then at your chest level. Grasp the handles using your most comfortable grip (either a neutral or a pronated one). Retain this as your initial position. Start by slowly pulling the handles towards your torso, retracting your shoulder blades in the process, and flexing your elbows at the same time. The movement will be similar to rowing a boat (hence the exercise’s name). Pause at the bottom of the trajectory, breathe in or out for a couple of seconds, then slowly return to the starting position, making sure you don’t move the handles too fast and that your grip on them remains stable. Continue with 9 more repeats for a full set; an average lat workout should contain a set of these. If you’re doing the repeats one right after the other, try not pushing the handles all the way to the end of the line, to maintain the tension in your muscles at an optimal level at all times.
The Shotgun Row – This exercise, although another type of row, doesn’t employ the use of an Iso machine, but of the basic cable system instead. The name comes from the basic pull movement you’ll be repeating throughout performing this exercise, which resembles the reloading and shooting of a shotgun. To prepare, attach a single handle to a cable in a low position (closer to the floor and your feet). Select the correct weight (corresponding to the weights you’re used to train with), and then assume a wide-feet stance, standing a couple of feet back from the handle you grabbed. Your arm will be extended and your shoulder will be oriented forward. This will be the starting positionfor this exercise. To begin, start moving your shoulder to retract it and to also flex your elbow. Pull slowly, as far as you can, and supinate the wrist as you go, turning your palm upward. Pause for a couple of seconds at the tensest point of the stretch, and then slowly return to the original position. Repeat 9 more times for a set; a routine of lat exercises at the gym should contain one set of shotgun rows.
The Weighted Pull-Up –To perform this exercise, you will need a weighted pull up machine, which is quite common at strength training gyms. To prepare for the exercise, attach an appropriate weight to a dip belt and then secure it around your waist. Then, grab the pull up bar above you with a medium grip (at shoulder width) and with your palms facing forward. Both of your arms should now be extended in front of you while holding the bar above. Curve out your lower back area by bringing your torso back at about 30 degrees and pushing your chest forward. This will be the starting position for this exercise. To begin the motion, breathe out and pull your body up until your head is situated above your hands. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down to allow the most efficient stimulation for your lat muscles. As you reach the most contracted position, focus a bit of extra energy on keeping those shoulder blades very contracted and tight. After pausing for a second at the top, inhale and slowly return your body to the starting position, with your arms extended and the lat muscles relaxed by stretched. Repeat nine more times for a set; and include a set in each workout targeting lat muscles or the back muscles in general.
The Wide-Grip Pull-Down behind the Neck – This is a highly efficient machine-assisted exercise for the lats, but it can also be somewhat risky to perform on your own if you’re not experienced, so it’s best to ask your trainer to supervise you the first few times. If performed at the wrong angle, you risk damaging your neck and having some pretty unpleasant pains for a while. To prepare, sit down on a pull down machine and attach a wide bar to its top pulley. Adjust the knee pads to your height, and grab the bar with your palms oriented forward, with the prescribed grip. At this point, you should have both arms in front of you, extended and holding the bar. Carefully bring your torso and your head forward towards the bar, imagining a line uniting the bar with the back of the neck and making sure it’s all aligned. Consider this your initial position. Next, bring down the bar slowly, until it touches the back of your neck. Just draw your shoulders back and down, and your upper arms as well. Just as with any other lat exercises, once you attain the fully concentrated position, you need to squeeze your shoulder blades together as tightly as possible to make sure the exercise reaches its full effect. Your upper torso should remain stationary and you’re supposed to perform the motion by moving only your arm. Also, don’t try to move the bar using the forearms, their sole job should be holding the bar, and the back muscles and arms should deal with the moving. After you reach the fully contracted position, spend a second or two there and then slowly return the bar to its original position. Repeat the motion 9 more times for a set; a lat exercises session should include a set of these if you’re working out at the gym.
Lat Exercises at Home
There are numerous people committed to working their body into a better shape, but for whom the gym is not an option for a plethora of reasons, like the extra expenses, or the extra time wasted by going to and from the gym, or simply because how you like to train is always a matter of personal preferences. Such people obviously prefer exercises which are especially designed to be friendly towards those who work out from home, which meant that they can be performed without requiring any specialized equipment. Here are our best few picks of lat exercises at home, which require no equipment or bare necessity levels of equipment to start with. Do note that besides the short list presented below, there are also a few exercises within the “lat exercises for women” subsection, which can be performed at home with no equipment whatsoever. Take those into account as well when building your workout routine.
The T Extension – for this exercise, all you need to do at first is lie on the floor (or a mat for extra comfort). Lie face down with your arms on the floor, extended together with your shoulders such as to make your body form a “T” shape, and with the thumbs pointing to the ceiling. From this initial position, slowly lift up your arms as far as comfort will seem to take you, until you feel a good stretch in your upper back (the shoulder blades region). Maintain this position for a few seconds, contracting your upper back muscles as much as you can, then slowly lower your arms back down to return to the starting position. Repeat this move nine more times for a whole set. A set of ten T extensions per workout is enough to start with.
The Dynamic Back Stretch –This is another great exercise to perform at home, because it doesn’t require anything but the floor you are standing on and your willingness to exercise. To get started, just stand up, with your feet at shoulder width distance. Make sure the position is stable and comfortable: this will be your starting position. Keeping your arms straight, start waving (swinging) them in front of you 5 to 10 times, increasing the range of motion each time you take the next swing, until your arms reach high above your head. Lower them gradually back down, through similar swinging motions, until your reach your initial position. It may seem silly that you’re basically wiggling your hands around, but after you repeat this exercise a couple of times, you will realize how incredibly effective it is by the good stretch you’ll be feeling in your back. A series of 10 repeats per workout should be enough to prove efficient in sculpting your lats.
The Overhead Slam – This exercise is just as fun as it sounds, and all you need for it is a medicine ball or fitness ball, the kinds of which you can easily find at most large supermarkets and which aren’t expensive at all. To begin, you need to grab the ball with both hands and stand up, with your feet distanced at shoulder width. Consider this your starting position. Next, continue by raising the ball high above your body and fully extending your body upwards. Initiate the motion by suddenly slamming the ball on the ground right in front of you as hard as you can manage, and then put both your hands on the bounce to catch it back again. Repeat the motion by getting the ball above your head and slamming it again. A series of 10 slams would count as sufficient in a lat-focused workout. But in order to make sure this exercise is as efficient as possible, make sure you perform the whole body stretch correctly, by contracting your back muscles right before the slam.
These were but a fraction of all the possible lat exercises you can use to tone up your back and waist areas. You can create your own routine using any combination suits you best from all the suggestions above, and don’t forget that all of our featured exercises also come with a video archive of instructions on how each of them should be performed. Check out our video gallery links for visual depictions, and if you keep your motivation levels high, nothing will be able to stand between you and your new body. Also, a last word of advice regarding workouts in general, but especially lat exercises (since they can bring greater strain on the body) and especially workouts when you’re a beginner: take it easy and remember to discontinue pushing your body if it shows signs of rebellion. It’s ok to take a break and drink small amounts of water to regain your breath, because the burn-out from lat exercises can really be intense and incapacitating, if you allow it to build up beyond reasonable levels. Good luck with your workouts!