It goes without saying that the lats are an extremely important muscle. Without them, it would be nearly impossible to conduct daily activities. This article takes a look at what exactly the ‘lats’ are, what they do and the best lat exercises.
Lats is short for the more scientific name, latissimus dorsi, which gets it’s name from it’s location – the lateral (side) and dorsal (back) of the body. The lats therefore make up the back and side of the body. They’re responsible for allowing the arms to move closer to the body, behind the body and turn toward the body. The lats connect to the pelvis which is what creates the muscular link between the upper and lower body. The lats also attach the lower back, mid back, and upper arm.
Best Lat Exercises 1: Wide Grip Pull-Ups
Wide Grip Pull-Ups are a compound exercise which primarily works the lats. They also work the biceps and the mid back. They don’t require anything more than your body weight and a pull-up bar that allows for a wide grip.
To begin, hang from the bar with your arms completely extended. Your hands should be placed 6 to twelve inches further than shoulder width apart. Your palms should be facing straight ahead and away from your body. Pull yourself up by flexing your elbows and without swinging to gain momentum. Pull yourself up so that your chin reaches the bar height. Once your chin reaches the top of the bar, lower yourself and return to the starting position, then repeat.
Don’t let the ‘basic’ exercises like pull-ups fool you. They pack a punch and are definitely one of the best lat exercises you can do.
Best Lat Exercises 2: Wide Grip Lat Pull-Down
The wide grip lat pull-down is another compound exercise that primarily targets the lats. But, it also targets the biceps, mid back, and shoulders. This exercise requires a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached.
To start, sit down facing the machine with a wide bar attached to the pulley above. Adjust the knee holder so that it fits snuggly above your knees. This will help prevent you from using your lower body to assist with the intended exercise and keep you in position instead of being raised from the seat when the wide bar returns to its starting position. Curve the top of your back out and the front of your lower back in maintaining a curve of approximately 30 degrees. Keep your chest stuck out.
Place both of your hands out wider than the shoulders and grip the bar. Pull the bar down with both hands until the bar touches your chest, or as close as possible. Try to use only the arms to pull the bar down. In a controlled manner, return the bar to the starting position. Then repeat for the desired number of reps.
Best Lat Exercises 3: Weighted Pull-Ups
Weighted pull-ups are an advanced exercise that will work your lats, biceps, and middle back. Attach a weight to a dip belt and secure it around your waist. Grab the pull-up bar with the palms of your hands facing forward. For a medium grip, your hands should be spaced at shoulder width. Both arms should be extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip.
You’ll want to bring your torso back about 30 degrees while creating a curvature in your lower back and sticking your chest out. This will be your starting position.
Now, exhale and pull your torso up until your head is above your hands. Concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades back and down as you reach the top contracted position. After a brief moment at the top contracted position, inhale and slowly lower your torso back to the starting position with your arms extended and your lats fully stretched. Repeat for desired number of reps.
Best Lat Exercises 4: Rope Climb
Feel the burn! Embrace the compound moves. This exercises main muscle group is your lats, but you also will be working your biceps, forearms, middle back, and shoulders. Grab the rope with both hands above your head. Pull down on the rope as you take a small jump. Wrap the rope around one leg, using your feet to pinch the rope. Reach up as high as possible with your arms, gripping the rope tightly. Release the rope from your feet as you pull yourself up with your arms, bringing your knees towards your chest. Resecure your feet on the rope, and then stand up to take another high hold on the rope. Continue until you reach the top of the rope. To lower yourself, loosen the grip of your feet on the rope as you slide down using a hand over hand motion.
Best Lat Exercises 5: Straight Arm Pull-Down
You will start by grabbing the wide bar from the top pulley of a pulldown machine and using a wider than shoulder-width pronated (palms down) grip. Step backwards two feet or so. Bend your torso forward at the waist by around 30-degrees with your arms fully extended in front of you and a slight bend at the elbows. If your arms are not fully extended then you need to step a bit more backwards until they are. Once your arms are fully extended, your torso is slightly bent at the waist, tighten the lats, and then you are ready to begin. While keeping the arms straight, pull the bar down by contracting the lats until your hands are next to the side of the your thighs. Breathe out as you perform this step. While keeping the arms straight, go back to the starting position while breathing in. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.
Best Lat Exercises 6: Shotgun Row
Shotgun row will work your lats, biceps, and middle back. Attach a single handle to a low cable. This will be a single arm move. After selecting the correct weight, stand a couple feet back with a wide-split stance. Your arm should be extended and your shoulder forward. This will be your starting position. Perform the movement by retracting the shoulder and flexing the elbow. As you pull, rotate the wrist, turning the palm upward as you go. After a brief pause, return to the starting position, and do your desired reps. Then switch arms and repeat.
Best Lat Exercises 7: Close Grip Front Lat Pull-Down
Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar.
Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using the prescribed grip. Note on grips: For a wide grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance wider than your shoulder width. For a medium grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance equal to your shoulder width and for a close grip at a distance smaller than your shoulder width.
As you have both arms extended in front of you – while holding the bar at the chosen grip width – bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
As you breathe out, bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary (only the arms should move). The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore do not try to pull the bar down using the forearms.
After a second in the contracted position, while squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched. Inhale during this portion of the movement. Repeat this motion for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
Best Lat Exercises: Final Thoughts
If you are in the market for building massive lats then try the seven best lat exercises above. After completing these seven exercises do not forget to stretch the muscle groups! Stand tall with your hands above your head and lean to one side until you feel the stretch, then lean to the other side. These proven exercises will enhance your lat muscles in a short amount of time.