September 13, 2021
You might not think of the lats as a mirror muscle as they are on your back. However, if you have a nice set of wings, you can see the lats from all angles. After all, it’s the biggest and broadest muscle of your upper body. And while a wide set of lats is impressive looking (that V-taper essential), the muscle also plays a major role in fitness and athletic performance. So, needless to say, for both aesthetics and performance reasons, it’s important that you give your lats the attention they deserve, and this is why we are here. In this post, we have the 14 absolute best latissimus dorsi exercises for you (plus bodyweight lat exercises you can do at home at the end). Moreover, we are going to explain literally everything that you need to know about developing your lats to their fullest potential.
Your latissimus dorsi, more commonly referred to as the lats, is a big, flat, triangularly shaped muscle that covers the width of your middle and lower back. You, of course, have two lats, one on each side of your spine.
The word “latissimus dorsi” comes from Latin, with ‘latissimus’ meaning ‘broadest’ and ‘dorsum’ meaning ‘back’. The name perfectly describes the muscle.
It is the largest and broadest muscle of your back. In fact, it’s the largest muscle in your entire upper body.
When people say “build back width”, they are referring to the lats. If developed enough, you’ll have that awesome aesthetic v-taper.
The latissimus dorsi arises from the spine (T7 all the way down to the L5 vertebrae), thoracolumbar fascia and lower part of the scapula and inserts into the humerus (upper arm bone) underneath the bicep.
You can feel your lats by simply running your hand along your posterior side from under your shoulder all the way down to your lower back. Only a small part of the lat is covered (by your lower traps) right in the center-middle part of your back.
The main function of the latissimus dorsi is adduction, horizontal abduction, and extension, as well as internal rotation, of the shoulder joint. It performs these actions in collaboration with the teres major and pectoralis major.
Adduction: Lowering your arm toward your body from the side (i.e. wide grip pull ups)
Horizontal Abduction: Moving your arms out to the side (i.e. rows)
Extension: Lowering your arm straight down from a raised position (i.e. lat pushdowns or swimming)
Internal Rotation: Bringing your arm towards the midline of your body (i.e. arm wrestling)
It’s a super strong muscle that facilitates movements of the arm when your torso is fixed and vice versa.
The lats also assists in keeping your scapula against your thorax during upper arm movements, as well as other stability roles for your spine.
It should be noted that most movements powered by the latissimus dorsi also concurrently recruit the teres major, posterior deltoids, long head of the triceps brachii, and other shoulder and scapular stabilizer muscles. Moreover, most compound movements of the lats involve elbow flexion, which means the biceps and forearms will be involved (which is why back and biceps are so often worked on the same day by bodybuilders). As such, there is no way to completely isolate the lats.
While the latissimus dorsi is a single muscle and the entire latissimus dorsi activates for all of the aforementioned functions, certain movements alter which region of the muscle is at the greatest advantage (and thus activated the most). This is why the lats are often broken down into three parts in fitness, the upper, middle and lower lats.
The upper lats are at a biomechanical advantage during movement that involve shoulder adduction.
The middle lats are at a biomechanical advantage during movements that involve horizontal abduction of the shoulder.
The lower lats are at a biomechanical advantage during movements that involve shoulder extension.
This is why a variety of exercises based on each of these types of actions is important for full and equal development of your lats as a whole.
All in all, your lats are a very big and strong muscle that are involved in pretty much every compound movement of your upper body, whether that be as a primary mover or stabilizer. The lats play a role in every pulling exercise (to some degree, often a high degree) and even pushing exercises. So, if you want a high level of strength performance (as well as good aesthetics), it’s vital that you give your lats plenty of attention in your training...
The lats are an interesting muscle in that they play a small role in the average (modern) person’s daily life, but they play a big role when it comes to athletics and fitness. It’s not like your glutes or quads that are pretty active throughout the day (due to walking and standing up regularly). With that, if you don’t workout, your lats can easily be underdeveloped.
Note: Your lats are not completely unused during the day, as they are involved in things like pulling on a shirt, closing a car’s trunk, and swinging your arms while walking...but this is obviously not enough.
So, while the lats may not play a big role in your daily life, unless you are required to do things like climbing and swimming, if you plan to get into fitness or some sport, having strong lats is going to boost your performance tremendously. In truth, if your lats are strong, then everything else will follow. That’s how big of a role they play in fitness.
The main purpose of your lats, in a simplified manner, is to provide shoulder strength and back strength and to help protect and stabilize your spine. So, the stronger your lats, the stronger you will be at shoulder and back exercises (pressing and pulling) and the more injury resilient you will be at a spinal and shoulder level (two of the most susceptible areas in the human body).
What’s more, strength training is also a form of dynamic stretching, so as long as you are using a full range of motion, as you are strengthening your lats, they will also become more flexible and mobile, which in turn will help you to move better.
When it comes to lifting, having strong lats means you can deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press, row and pull with heavier weight and more intensity. This is not just important for the development of your lats, but it is also important for all the muscles we mentioned that work with the lats, which are basically all of the muscles of your back, your deltoids, biceps, forearms, triceps, and pecs.
Strong lats = strong, well-developed, resilient upper body.
In terms of aesthetics, the lats are a crucial muscle to have well developed.
With well developed lats (and shoulders and pecs), you will have that V tapered look.
The V-taper makes your shoulders look wider and your waist more narrow, which is innately attractive to both genders.
Ergo, if you want to have an aesthetically impressive body, you need to develop those ‘wings” (evocative term for lats). Not only does it look great (on a level so deep it is basically in our DNA), but it is also a clear sign of power (which is instantly recognizable).
Note: Some aspects of aesthetics will come down to genetics, which you can’t change, so not everyone will have the same look. Some people have a higher or lower insertion of the lats, which changes how their upper body tapers. But either way, you simply can't go wrong with big lats.
After hearing all of these great things about the lats, you might be thinking, "damn my lats are more like flats...why are they so small and weak?"
Well, the latissimus dorsi can be weak and underdeveloped for a few reasons:
The first one is an easy fix, just start working out and be sure to do a variety of pulling exercises from all angles (horizontal and vertical pulls + shoulder extension exercises).
The other two need a little more understanding, which is why we are here.
If your form is poor (for example, you use too much traps and/or biceps for pulling exercises), then you need to pay attention to how to do each exercise and use lighter weight until you know how to activate your lats when performing them.
If other muscles are overactive during your pulling exercises, and this is not due to poor form, then you need to build that mind muscle connection, which also starts with lighter weight, and you may also need to try out some different exercises that better target the lats for you.
Switching up your grip may help you deactivate other muscles a bit and increase engagement of your lats. For example, switching from overhand to underhand rows will greatly change the dynamics of the muscles worked, allowing you to hone in on your lats a little more.
The good news is, your lats can and will grow and get stronger, and we are going to explain everything in detail below for building stronger bigger lats, with very clear instructions for all of the best lat exercises. All in all, we are going to help make your lats big and strong.
The lats are definitely one of the more problem areas for beginners simply because it’s hard to engage them properly. It takes time to learn how to hone in on them and build that mind muscle connection so that they are fully activated when they should be.
That said, if you do the right exercises, with the right load, the right volume, and use progressive overload, your lats will surely grow. Moreover, you need to eat a lot.
The latissimus dorsi is not a muscle like the calves, which are really hard to grow. As long as you are doing things right in the gym, size and strength will come. However, it is a very big muscle, so it takes hard work and time nonetheless.
If you follow everything below and stick with it, as a beginner, you can see some significant growth in 6 months.
Being a beginner applies to anyone who has yet to train their lats properly up till now.
The lats are a little slower of a muscle to grow. Similar to the legs. Begin that the lat is so big, it’s going to take time to see some results. But if you stick with it and follow the information below, you can expedite the process of growth.
If you want to build your lats fast (or at least as fast as humanly possible), there are a few things you need to consider:
Let’s go over each of these points...
There are three main types of exercises for the lats:
If you want well developed lats, you need to do all three of these types of movements, as each one targets the lat muscle differently.
What’s more, you need to consider the way your arm is moving, or in other words, the action of your shoulder joint, as that will determine which region of the lat is being worked more or less.
As mentioned previously, shoulder adduction targets the upper lats best (i.e. wide grip pull ups), horizontal abduction targets the middle lats best (i.e. rows), and shoulder extension targets the lower lats best (i.e. pushdowns).
Depending on your grip and angle of your body, the action of your shoulder joint can change, which in turn means your back muscles are worked differently.
Grip positioning plays an important role in determining which region of the muscle is at the greatest advantage, not to mention, whether the lat is the primary focus or not.
For example, overhand barbell rows will work your middle lats more because it is involves more horizontal abduction with your arms flared out, whereas reverse grip keeps your elbows tucked thus making the movement act more on shoulder extension. So, with the same bent over row, you can target your middle or lower lat more simply by changing the grip.
The same is true for vertical pulls. With wide grip pulldowns or pull ups, the movement will be more shoulder adduction, whereas with a close grip, your elbows are tucked and the movement acts on shoulder extension.
This is why variety is key. By changing grip and performing vertical and horizontal pulls as well as shoulder extension based movements, you will be able to develop your lats as fully.
Now, it should be noted that no matter what lat exercise you are doing, your entire latissimus dorsi will be working. You CANNOT isolate your upper, middle or lower lats. Again, it’s just certain regions will be activated more or less. Certain movements also do a better job of activating the lat as whole too. So, of course, we are going to make those primary for our best latissimus dorsi exercises to come.
The point of all this is, variety is key.
Lastly, we must mention equipment, as this plays into variety as well. Whether you just want to change things up to stress your muscles differently (i.e. use dumbbells rather than a barbell to work each side independently and iron out muscle imbalances or do seated rows rather than bent over rows to take your low back and legs out of the equation a bit) OR you just don’t have access to certain equipment, we will provide you with variations of the same exercise using different equipment, highlighting what unique advantage each has to offer as well, rather than just simply being an alternative because you don’t have the other kind of equipment.
All that said, some equipment is better than others for developing the lats. Most would say that the barbell is the best for rows, with dumbbells being a close second, and pull ups being the best for vertical movements (weighted pull ups if you are strong enough). This is because they are the hardest and provide the most load potential. Be that as it may, other equipment like cable machines most certainly have their place, as we will explain when we demonstrate all the different variations.
We hope this point above explains why we’ve included different types of equipment in our best latissimus dorsi exercises below.
By volume, we are referring to rep ranges and total volume.
The best rep range for hypertrophy of the lats is 10-15 reps. You can even go higher depending on the exercise.
If you want to focus more on strength, which you should too, lower reps are also good as well. The best rep range for strength will be somewhere in the 6-10 rep range, give or take.
It’s important that you train for both strength and hypertrophy. So, mix things up. Plus, you will build pure size in any rep range, and endurance will be gained in the hypertrophy rep ranges, as will strength.
In terms of total volume (weekly sets + reps), your lats are a tough muscle. Think about how often you hear someone tell you they tore a lat. You probably never heard that. The point is, your lats can handle more volume than many other muscles. So, if the optimal training volume for muscle groups is 10-15 sets per week, you can up this to 15-20+ sets for the lats.
Volume doesn’t mean anything without noting intensity, and by intensity, we mean weight load.
Before we get into that, it’s important to understand that the latissimus dorsi has an even ratio of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, which means it’s going to respond best to moderate loads for moderate to higher reps.
However, it will do well with moderate-heavy loads for moderate reps as well.
So, again, you should be training with the well-rounded rep scheme we mentioned above (6-10 and 10+).
In terms of weight load, we can’t say what will be right for you, but an easy way to know if the weight load is appropriate is to gauge the difficulty within that rep range. Essentially, if you are working for 10-12 reps, then you want the weight load to bring you to or near failure within that rep range. If you are training for hypertrophy and you are able to go well past 15 reps, then you need to up the weight load. The same is true for the strength rep range.
It’s really that simple.
You obviously can’t keep the same intensity week in and week out. To build muscle and strength, you need to progressively make your workouts harder. This will ensure that your muscles are being overloaded each workout so they are forced to adapt (grow and get stronger).
The easiest form of progression is to increase weight, which we recommend for beginners, but as you get more advanced, you will need to play around with progressive overload methods.
Related: Progressive Overload Guide
We aren’t going to go too in-depth on this point, but you obviously need to eat enough food if you want your muscles to grow and if you want to have enough strength during workouts.
When it comes to building up some big lats, you need to eat A LOT.
None of the above about exercising your latissimus dorsi will matter if you don’t have a good mind-muscle connection with your lats. You need to be able to perform the exercises with maximum activation of your lats, and to do that, you need a good mind-muscle connection. It’s a lot harder with the lats since they aren’t on the front of your body like your chest. So, work on this, and the best way to do that is to really focus on contraction with light weight when first starting out, and then progressing from there.
While there are so many different exercises you can do for your back and lats, the below are the absolute best, most tried and true latissimus dorsi exercises.
We will categorize the exercises by vertical pulls, horizontal pulls, and shoulder extension exercises, while making note of the emphasized region of your lat (upper, middle or lower) where necessary.
As not everyone has access to the same equipment, for certain exercises, we will provide alternative examples using different equipment.
Note: We are saving the best lat exercises for home (without equipment) for last. So, if you want to build your lats purely with bodyweight exercises, skip through these 14 latissimus dorsi gym exercises.
Vertical pulls involve pulling a weight down vertically in relation to your torso.
The three main types of vertical pulls are pull ups, chin ups, and lat pulldowns. All vertical pulls emphasize the lats, which is why we are starting here.
While vertical pulls are categorized by pull ups/chin ups and pulldowns, different grips and equipment can be used, which is why we have more than just 3 exercises. And as we mentioned, grip makes a big difference, so this is not just redundancy.
The wide grip overhand pull up is the hardest pull up variation you can do. Moreover, it is hones in very well on the lats.
Essentially, the wider your grip, the less help your lats get help from other muscles, including your biceps and forearms. It’s about as isolated as a lat exercise is going to get.
In terms of the lat itself, because the movements primary action is shoulder adduction, the upper region of the lats will be activated most.
Weighted Pull Ups
When you are able to do 3-4 sets for 10-12 reps of wide grip pull ups, it’s time to add some weight. Use a dip belt and connect a plate (start light) and then perform as many pull ups as you can (i.e. 6+). When you reach 10-12 reps, up the weight slightly and repeat.
Weighted pull ups is a must if you want to keep progression rolling. It’s far better than doing countless reps with just your bodyweight.
Related: Pull Up Alternatives
Unlike the wide grip pull up, the close grip chin up is more of an all around back exercise, as many other back muscles, as well as your arms, are going to be able to help power the movement.
That said, we love the close grip chin up because it is different. With a close grip chin up, the movement involves more shoulder extension, which means your lower lats (and mid lats) are going to be activated to a higher degree.
Weighted Chin Ups
Just like pull ups, when you can do 10-12 clean, full reps, then you can start to add weight. Try to use a weight that brings your down to 5-6 reps then work your way up to 10-12 reps before increasing the weight more. The same form rules apply when weight is added, no cheat reps!
ASSISTED PULL UPS & CHIN UPS
For beginners who can’t do pull ups (or not enough for adequate volume), there are two ways that you can do pull ups. You can use a pull up assist machine or bands.
With a pull up assist machine, test out the weight assistance you need for 6-12 reps to failure. Then, as you progress, slowly lower the amount of assistance. Eventually, you will be ready to do bodyweight pull ups (and chin ups). We recommend doing pull ups and chin ups when you can do a minimum of 5 clean reps on your own.
Pull up assist bands work in the same way. You can start with a heavier band or multiple lighter bands and then as you progress either use a lighter band or remove a band. The total resistance that a band has is the total assistance you will get. So if a band has around 80lbs of assistance, it is essentially taking 80lbs off your bodyweight. If you use two bands at once, combine the total resistance of both (so if you are using a light yellow band that has 35lbs of assistance and a black band with 50lbs of resistance at the same time, that’s 85lbs of total assistance).
Note: Use the same form as you would with bodyweight pull ups when doing assisted pull ups! Teach yourself how to move correctly right from the start.
The wide grip lat pulldown is the cable machines version of the wide grip pull up. It works your arms in the same way (shoulder adduction), so the emphasis is on your lats, with your upper lats receiving the greatest demand.
Now, you might be wondering, why do pulldowns if you are doing pull ups already. Well, there are a few reasons why the cable pulldown is great in addition to pull ups.
First, the pulldown allows you to increase the volume (remember, your lats need high volume for best development potential). Often times, you can’t do any more pull ups but your lats are yet to be fully exhausted through this plane of motion.
Second, the lat pulldown makes honing in on your lats (mind-muscle connection) easier, so you can stretch and squeeze them as much as possible.
Lastly, pulldowns are a good option for beginners who have troubles with pull ups, as you can control the weight.
Related: Lat Pulldown Alternatives
The close grip lat pull down with a v-handle puts your hands in a neutral grip and allows you to keep your elbows tucked, which means the movement involves a high degree of shoulder extension. With that, your lower lats are going to be at a greater advantage.
What’s more, with this variation, you should be leaning back as you pull down. This allows you to use more weight, and also brings your middle delts into play to a higher degree, making it a more total lat movement.
The close grip lat pulldown incorporates more muscles, so it will allow you to use a heavier load, in addition to the leaning motion of your torso. Furthermore, comparing to the traditional lat pulldown, you will have a considerably greater range of motion with this exercise. With that, it’s a great exercise for building STRONGER more mobile lats, not just bigger lats.
Close Underhand Grip Pulldown
You can also get a similar effect by using a close underhand grip with the straight pulldown bar.
Plate Loaded Pulldown
If you have a plate loaded high row machine, you can also switch things up and use it rather than the cable pulldown on certain days.
Some, like the one pictured, will allow for different angles too, enabling you to stress different regions of your lats. This one is kind of like a mix between a pulldown and a row.
Whether you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine or you simply want to change things up, the cable crossover machine lat pulldown is an awesome variation to hone in on your lats.
The biggest difference with this variation is your grip position. Your arms are going to be very wide and your hands will be in a neutral position. This makes it really great for your upper lats (shoulder adduction) and teres major. Not to mention your lower trapezius.
Another cool thing about this exercise is how well you can squeeze and stretch your lats. You can really optimize tension with this one.
The final lat pulldown on our list is the single arm lat pulldown using a cable crossover machine. For this one, you are positioning your body so your working side’s shoulder is in line with the pulley. This will make the movement based on shoulder extension, and thus work your lower lats more.
Another reason this exercise is good is that you can focus on just one side at a time, which can help you iron out muscle imbalances and asymmetries. Moreover, you can maximize range of motion with this one.
Note: Being that this is a half-kneeling position, not only will your back be working, but your glutes will too for stability purposes. Half-kneeling is an often overlooked and under appreciated body positioning.
Horizontal pulls involve pulling a weight toward your body.
In other terms, horizontal pulls are rows. For example, bent over rows, seated cable rows, t-bar rows and single arm dumbbell rows (aka Kroc rows).
There are many different types of rows and equipment that can be used to perform rows. Depending on the type of row and your grip position, you can target different muscles in your back. Obviously, we are going to focus on the rows that best hit your latissimus dorsi.
The bent over barbell row is the king of rows. It is the row that allows you to lift the most weight and is definitely the best option for building serious back and pulling strength, as well as packing on muscle.
With bent over barbell rows, you have two main grip variations, underhand and overhand grip.
While both underhand and overhand bent over rows work your lats, the underhand row is lat centric (middle and lower), whereas the overhand row is more for your upper back (traps and rhomboids).
As such, we have are displaying the underhand bent over row (aka reverse grip bent over row).
The Yates row was created by Dorian Yates, who is known for having a very impressive back. It is a variation of the underhand grip bent over row. Basically, it is the same thing, but you position your body with your torso more upright (about 30˚ downward from the upright position). You will still be pulling the bar toward your abs.
The benefit of the Yates row is in hits your upper back well too and you can lift more weight. More weight is always ideal for building overall strength and muscle as well as boosting androgenic hormones. This exercise will directly translate to bigger deadlifts.
Smith Machine Underhand Bent Over Row
The smith machine is a good option if you want to focus on good form and isolation of the lats when doing bent over rows.
Dumbbell Underhand Bent Over Row
You can use dumbbells for bent over rows as well. With dumbbells, each arm will be working independently, which ensures that both sides are working evenly. This can help you fix muscle imbalances. Furthermore, with dumbbell bent over rows, you can have a greater range of motion on the concentric phase, maximizing the squeeze at the top of the row.
Note: You can also use a neutral grip with dumbbells.
EZ Bar Bent Over Row
The only real benefit of the EZ bar for bent over rows is it is a little easier on your wrists as you can position them in a more natural way (slightly neutral).
The Pendlay row was created by Glenn Pendlay, an Olympic weightlifting coach.
This is a great power and strength exercise for the back muscle, with one of the main movers being the lats.
The difference between the Pendlay row and normal overhand bent over row is:
Overall, it is a pure back builder, so it’s going to work all the muscles of your back. It’s great for your lats a whole, but the emphasis is on the middle lats, which is the biggest area of your latissimus dorsi.
The T-bar row with a v-handle is an extraordinary exercise for building a thicker wider back.
Your body positioning, grip, and the load positioning is what separates it from the bent over barbell row.
With the t-bar row, you will have a greater range of motion, you can use a heavy load, and overall it hits your lats a bit differently. It’s very effective at activating the low central region of your lats.
Related: T-Bar Row Alternatives
The Kroc row (aka single arm row) is great for your entire back (as well as your grip strength), but in terms of the lats, it does a really good job of activating them through a wide range of motion. It also enables you to focus on one side at a time with maximum weight. This is a great exercise to build your wings.
Besides being an excellent exercise for your latissimus dorsi, it’s really a good overall upper body exercise. It’s going to work your core significantly through stability, anti-rotation demands and your biceps and forearms.
Related: Best Dumbbell Back Exercises
You can do seated underhand rows with either a cable crossover machine or a row machine (some use a cable pulley system, some use plates).
The seated underhand row is just like the barbell bent over row in terms of how the lats are targeted, but it allows you to take your lower body and lower back out of the equation. Thus, it is more of a lat isolation row exercise...or at least as isolated as it’s going to get.
While you can do overhand and underhand rows for your lats, the underhand grip is going to allow for better lat activation, but we still recommend doing both grip variations.
Here is an example of another machine for seated chest supported rows.
We recommend lifting the seat so that you are rowing to your lower ab level for best activation of the latissimus dorsi muscle.
Related: Best Cable Back Exercises
The inverted row is essentially the pull up of rows, albeit it’s easier than a pull up.
The is a bodyweight exercise, so it’s great for those who do calisthenics or bodyweight only exercises.
But it’s not just for bodyweight training. Even bodybuilders do inverted rows. At the end of a workout, repping out on inverted rows can be a great way to bring your lats and back to full exhaustion.
And while it may look easy, when done properly, it is quite challenging. You should be using a full range of motion.
Moreover, difficulty can be increased by bringing your feet off the floor onto a bench.
As for beginners, this is a great exercise to build up rowing strength, and it will also translate to improvements in your pull up and chin up game.
As for grip, we chose the underhand grip as it better targets the lats, as you’ve probably gathered by now ;)
The good thing about using a smith machine is that you can set the bar to different heights, allowing you to make the movement easier or harder. The closer your body is to parallel with the ground, the harder it will be.
Note: While this inverted row is demonstrated using a smith machine, which is what most people will use in gyms, you can do a similar set up at home using a couple of chairs and a beam of some sort positioned on top of them (we will show you what we mean in the home lat exercise section soon to come).
While rows and pulldowns involve shoulder extension, some more, some less, they are not purely based on shoulder extension like lat pushdowns and pullovers.
As such, lat pushdowns and pullovers are essential for full development of the lats. Remember, shoulder extension is one of the main responsibilities of the lats.
That said, lat pushdowns and pullovers are more of an accessory exercise on back day. They should be done near the end of your workout (or beginning with light weight just to get the blood flowing to your lats).
The lat pushdown, also called a pullover, is the first lat exercise up till now that has no elbow movement. Your arms will remain straight for the entire exercise (a slightly bend in your elbow is ok).
This movement is purely shoulder extension. It is essentially a lat isolation exercise that is particularly good for the lower central region of your lats.
Another way to do the cable pushdown is to start with a slight bend in your knees, your hips back, and your torso leaning slightly forward. Then as you press down, you perform hip extension (bring your hips to neutral) while pressing your chest up proud and squeezing the heck out of your lats.
Seated Incline Lat Pushdown
This is another variation of the lat pushdown. This one is worth trying out to see if it does a good job of allowing you to really focus on your lats. Essentially, with the backrest, you can be sure you have no movement at your torso.
To do this one, position an incline bench so that it is facing away from the machine. Sit on it, then grab the straight handle overhead behind you at about shoulder width and pushdown with your arms fixed as seen in the pic.
The lat pullover is similar in terms of movement pattern. It is also a purely shoulder extension movement.
The big advantage of the pullover is that you can overload with more weight during the stretching phase of the lift.
That said, your lats become less activated as the weight moves over your head and your chest takes over. So, unlike the pushdown, which is a lat isolation exercise, the pullover is a lat and upper chest exercise.
As for equipment, the dumbbell pullover is the most popular, but we find the barbell gives better lat activation due to grip and hand positioning. You can try both to see what works best for you.
The dumbbell pullover with this body positioning allows you to better target your lats rather than your chest. So we recommend positioning yourself off the side of the bench rather than with your back fully on the back like the barbell pullover above.
Pushdowns vs Pullovers, Which is Better for your Lats?
The only real advantage of the pullover for the lats is that you can overload with more weight in the stretching position. Besides that, you will get better overall activation of the lats with pushdowns.
That said, the pullover is interesting because it is also a good upper chest exercise. So, it can be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. If you do a push-pull workout or upper/lower split, you can add the pullover in at the end to hit your lats and chest at the same time.
While variety is important for building your lats over time, beginners can really stick to just a few exercises and see some fantastic results. So, if we are to narrow down the best latissimus dorsi exercises, they would be:
If a beginner can’t do pull ups or chin ups, lat pulldowns with the same grip would be the next best thing.
With these three exercises, you will be working your lats through all of the main actions, so you can get full development.
In terms of muscle activation, pull ups and chin ups and bent over rows are shown to have the highest results with EMG studies, so while other exercises are good, these are the best.
As you become more advanced, you will need to add more variety to your training, but if you are looking for somewhere to start, this is it.
What about deadlifts?
Deadlifts are a must and they will do a great job of strengthening your lats as well, especially if you do wide grip variations of the deadlift. We didn't include the deadlift simply because it is more of a total body exercise rather than a lat exercise. Nevertheless, include it in your routine. With the lat exercises above, you will see serious improvements in your deadlifts over time as the lats play an important role in deadlifting.
This really depends on your training program. It’s going to be different if you do a body part split comparing to a full body split or upper lower split.
Ultimately, the goal is to get around 15+ sets in per week. This includes vertical pulls, horizontal pulls, and pushdowns/pullovers.
Since a lot of people do back days or pull days, here is an example of a well-rounded back workout that has plenty of lat volume.
Not only will the be an effective workout for your lats, but your entire back as well. If you need a little additional erector work, add in some back extensions at the end.
If you do a full body routine or an upper lower routine, just spread the volume out appropriately throughout the week.
Here are the 5 best training splits (with full routines), each of which will ensure you are getting enough work in for your lats.
The best way to warm up your lats before working out are with some dynamic lat stretches (which we have for you at the end of this article) and by doing lightweight resistance exercises with a full range of motion to get the blood flowing, increase body temperature, and optimize mobility.
Some good warm up lat exercises are lightweight pushdowns and seated rows. Resistance bands are also a great way to warm up. You can perform a few different resistance band rows and pulldowns before you get into the weights.
Also, if you are doing heavy lifting, then start light and work your way up to your working set. For example, if your workout begins with bent over rows, do a few warm up sets, increasing the load each time until you are at your working weight.
Whether you don’t have access to equipment or you simply prefer bodyweight training at home, the below exercises are your best option for developing and strengthening your latissimus dorsi muscle.
Pull Ups & Chin Ups
We’ve already wen’t over the benefits of pull ups and chin ups, so you can scroll up to learn why you should do them and how to do them.
As you progress, weighted pull ups and chin ups are a must.
We’ve also already covered inverted rows, but we used a smith machine above. You don’t actually need a smith machine to do inverted rows (although it is arguably the best option due to your ability to change the height of the bar easily).
There are many ways you can do inverted rows, from under a table to a set up with chairs as seen in the pic above. Figure out a good set up and get them done. This is going to be the best bodyweight row you can possibly do.
Note: If you have a suspension trainer, you can use it for rows as well. These are very effective.
Get a towel and anchor it to something at about chest height and perform rows! It’s essentially like an inverted row but from a standing position (it’s easier, but if you use high reps and volume, squeeze the heck out of your lats, and work on full range of motion, it can be effective for your lats).
You can increase the difficulty with one arm towel rows too!
...decrease difficulty by using just your hands rather than a towel. The towel increases stability, range of motion, and grip demand, so it is harder.
Related: Best Bodyweight Back Exercises
Resistance Band Lat Exercises
With resistance bands, you can mimic all of the free weight exercises above.
Bent Over Rows
Single Arm Rows
Pushdowns, and more...
We won’t go in-depth on resistance band lat exercises as we’ve covered this in another blog.
Progressive overload with bodyweight lat exercises:
With free weights and other equipment, you can progressive overload by increasing weight load. With bodyweight, the only way to do this is by using an external load of some sort like a weighted backpack or resistance bands.
However, you can also use other progression methods to increase intensity...
You can increase reps and volume, decrease rest time, slow down your tempo, speed up your tempo, and do harder bodyweight exercises. Play around with these variables and you will be able to keep making your workouts harder, thus overloading your muscles to force them to continue adapting. It won’t be as easy as with weights, but you can surely build your lats in any case.
How can I train my lats without a pull up bar?
If you don’t have a pull up bar, you obviously can’t do pull ups and chin ups. With that, your next best option is inverted rows and grabbing a set of resistance bands.
With resistance bands, you can perform lat pulldowns in the same way you do cable pulldowns.
Be that as it may, you will still need some anchor point for your bands. There are door anchors for this.
All that said, we highly recommend getting a pull up bar or finding one at a park nearby and doing pull ups. It’s the best bodyweight lat exercise you can do. And if you don’t have any access to a pull up bar, you probably can find a beam of some sort to do pull ups on.
You can get pull up bars on Amazon for as little as $30.
Do push ups work latissimus dorsi?
Like bench press, push ups will work your lats, particularly the middle lats, as the movement requires horizontal abduction.
However, push ups are not going to be enough for the best possible lat development, so we highly recommend adding the above lat specific exercises into your home workouts.
What causes tight latissimus dorsi?
You lats can become tight from overuse or if they become overactive. They can also be tight from certain injuries or simply a lack of stretching and using a full range of motion.
Remember, the concentric phase of lifting (squeezing of the muscle) is important, but the eccentric phase (stretching of the muscle) is just as important. By using a full range both on the concentric and eccentric phase, you really shouldn’t have an issue with your lats becoming tight as you will be dynamically stretching them as you workout.
That said, your lats can still become tight for one reason or another, and if they do, you should know how to stretch your lats.
How do you stretch your latissimus dorsi?
There are many different effective lat stretches. Below you will find some of the best ones that pretty much any healthy individual should be able to do...
We should note that some stretches are meant to be done before you workout (dynamic stretches) and some for after your workout (static stretches). So, we will organize the below as such.
Dynamic stretches involve movements with short stretches. So, essentially, you will be moving in and out of the stretch, holding the stretch for 3-10 seconds.
Note: Dynamic stretches can also be done after a workout, but static stretches should only be done after a workout.
Reach Up Stretch
Reach your arms directly overhead and position your arms so your palms are pressing into each other with your fingers shooting toward the sky. To increase the stretch, raise your arms up higher by raising your shoulders and move them slightly rearward.
As a dynamic stretch, release the stretch after 5 seconds and then repeat for 5-10 reps. As a static stretch, hold for 20+ seconds.
Overhead Side Stretch
Interlace your fingers above your head with your palms upward and your arms fully extended. Then, lean directly to your right side, feeling the stretch in your lats. Hold for a few seconds, then come back to your center and lean to your left side.
If you are doing this as a static stretch, hold the stretch for 20+ seconds on each side.
Arms Bent Side Bend
Stand up straight and bring your right arm up so your upper arm is perpendicular with the floor and your elbow pointing up. Grab your left elbow by positioning your left arm in the same manner, on top of your right arm. Using your right arm for leverage, lean directly to your left side. Hold for a few seconds, then come back to the standing upright position and repeat. Be sure to do the same amount of reps on both sides.
If static stretching, you can hold each side for 20+ seconds
Foam Roller Lat Stretch
Get down on your knees with your knees directly in line with your hips. Place your hands palm down at shoulder width on the foam roller. Then roll it forward until it comes to your elbow/upper forearm. Pause, and roll back toward your hands.
Stability Ball Lat Stretch
This is a similar exercise as the one above. With this one, place your hand palm down on the stability ball with it right up near your shoulder and then you roll it out by just moving your arm directly forward until your arm is fully extended and you have a nice stretch in your lat.
Static stretches involve long holds (20+ seconds). This can temporarily lengthen the muscle. Because of this, it is best to do at the end of your workout, as too much laxity in your muscle will decrease workout performance.
Side Lat Stretch
This is similar to the above side lat stretches, but for this one you will be using a door or some structure for leverage, which can help you get a deeper stretch. You should really feel this one stretching your lat, so if you don’t reposition yourself until you feel it.
One Arm Wall Lat Stretch
With your toes just about touching the wall and your body standing directly in front of it, hips squared forward, lift your right arm up and place your elbow onto the wall. From here, press your chest forward until you feel the stretch down your side. If you need a deeper stretch, step your feet back a little.
Squatting Bar Hold Lat Stretch
Find a pole and grab onto it with one hand, then sit back into a squat. You will feel this one in your shoulders and lats. The further you lean back, the more you will feel the stretch.
One Arm Hang
If you have a pull up bar, you can simply hang using one arm to get a great stretch in your lats. This is also great for building up grip strength!
Back Lat Pec Stretch
This stretch is good for your pecs and back. Simply place your hand on a table (or bench) and while keeping your legs straight, lean your torso down. Once your torso is parallel with the floor, you will feel the stretch. To go deeper, push your chest toward the floor so your arms/hands are higher than your back.
Foam rolling your latissimus dorsi is another great way to relieve pain, stiffness and tightness. It can also help to relieve DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and help you to prevent injury (if you foam roll a little before working out).
Foam rolling can be done before and after your workouts if you want, as it doesn’t involve lengthening of the muscle and won’t decrease performance in any way.
Now that you are armed with everything you need to know about developing your latissimus dorsi, it’s time to go out there and put your lats and these exercises to the test! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.
More Exercises for Specific Muscles of the Back:
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