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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Updated On: June 19, 2023
Not only are the lats the strongest upper body muscle, but they also play a pivotal role in crucial functions such as spine stability, pulling motions, and posture. And with jobs like that, it's easy to see why strong lats are essential to your overall health.
Plus, when muscular lats are paired with well-defined shoulders, you'll create the wide V-tapered physique all lifters are striving for. A training technique that can help you create this build is to train the lats as if they're multiple muscles.
To be clear, it is only one muscle, but because of its size, the lats have different parts. And of these parts, the lower lats tend to be the least trained, meaning your back program could be missing a significant training component.
This article is going to tell you all you need to know about the lower lats, along with the best exercises to train them effectively.
Table of Contents:
Lats is short for latissimus dorsi, a pair of large, fan-shaped muscles that cover a large majority of the back and when properly trained, have the ability to make your back muscles wider.
In fact, some lifters refer to the muscle group as wings, because a set of well-developed lats are easily visible from the front. The lats contribution to aesthetics and function makes them one of the most important muscle groups to build.
While this article is about the "lower" lats, in reality, the lats are one large muscle group. Therefore, you are unable to completely isolate different parts as the entire muscle must work together.
That said, the lats do have various origins, connecting to different spots around the middle of the spine. From here, the muscle runs up the back, inserting into the intertubercular groove of the humerus, the upper arm bone.
This makes it the broadest and largest muscle in the upper body, taking up over two-thirds of the back.
The lats have several functions and are responsible for controlling many shoulder and arm movements. The majority of these functions involve pulling motions.
A list of the significant functions lats perform, both in everyday exercises and in pulling exercises, include:
When looking for a well-rounded lat workout, it should include exercises that incorporate these three movements: vertical pulling, horizontal pulling, and shoulder extension.
Now that we have a good idea of lat anatomy and function, let's get into the 5 best exercises to work your lower lats. Remember, we aren't able to fully isolate the lower lats as it's one large muscle group.
However, if we want to target the lower lats to a greater degree, using exercises for lower lats that focus on pulling the elbow low and toward the body is the best way to do it.
Further, if you're able to manipulate a movement to mitigate the usage of the biceps, it will force the lats to compensate and work harder, which leads to building muscle in your back.
The lat pulldown machine is designed to target, you guessed it, the lats. There are a few different grip variations you can use, and two popular choices are gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, along with the close grip pulldown.
These are great lat exercises, but if your goal is to target the lower lats, you actually want to perform a wide-grip lat pulldown, which involves a grip that's a few inches wider than shoulder width apart.
While the normal grip has your elbows moving down, a wide grip lat pulldown causes your elbows to move inward to a higher degree. And as there's less flexion in the elbows, the biceps are used to a lesser degree, meaning more lat work occurs.
How to do the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown:
While a single-arm lat pulldown is a great move, we're talking about the lat pull-in here, which is arguably one of the best lower lat exercises.
You can still use a lat pulldown machine, assuming you can attach a single handle, or a cable machine works well too. The exercise is performed with your body facing away from the cable so that your arm raises to the side.
This lower lat exercise has gained popularity over the years and is seen more often, most likely because people have seen their backs blow up when they start to hit the lower lat. Once you start regularly training your lower lats, you may even find yourself considering adding a lat pull down machine to your home gym, so you can train them anytime, anywhere!
Pro Tip: We like to put more emphasis on a mind-muscle connection here as most people are used to using their upper lats. Concentrating on a good lower lat contraction can help you perform the correct biomechanics and produce better muscle activation.
How to do the Single Arm Lat Pull-In:
The dumbbell row to hips is set up exactly like a regular dumbbell row. In fact, the movement is so similar that many people watching both exercises performed may not notice the difference.
The primary distinction between them occurs with the directional path of the elbow.
While a regular dumbbell row focuses on coming up vertically, the dumbbell row to hips is performed with more of a sweeping motion.
When you're doing this exercise, think of trying to make a circle with your elbow. This motion causes the force to be directed more toward the lower lats rather than the upper back. This is one of the best lat exercises with dumbbells you can perform.
How to do the Dumbbell Row to Hips:
Another twist on a classic, the bent-over row with an underhand grip is set up just like a regular bent-over row, only it uses an underhand grip instead of an overhand one.
This simple alteration causes some major differences in the biomechanics of the movement, making it one of our favorite low lat exercises. With the underhand grip, the elbows are forced to come in narrower.
Because of this, the elbows don't flare out as you pull the weight. Instead, they come up close to the body in a swooping manner similar to the dumbbell row to hips.
Again, we really like using slower movements with lower lat dumbbell exercises, focusing on a mind-muscle connection, as we don't want to allow the upper lats to work more than the lower lats. Be deliberate with each rep.
How to do the Bent Over Row With Underhand Grip:
We like to call these swimmers for short because when watching the exercise performed, it resembles the freestyle stroke seen in swimming.
Regardless of what you call it, the straight arm lat pulldown is one of our favorite single-joint exercises to target the lower lat muscles. It's very easy to perform and only requires a cable pulley machine and straight bar or rope attachment.
For best results, rather than use a specific rep scheme, to achieve muscle hypertrophy, train until failure, keeping the reps somewhere between 8-15.
Looking for some other options? Check out these pull down alternatives that will help you build a V-taper.
How to do Straight Arm Pulldowns:
There are many reasons to train the lower lats. Here are 3 of our favorites.
As the lats are the largest muscle in the upper body and sit on the posterior of the body, they play a major role in your pulling strength.
In fact, they are the primary pulling muscle and will improve your pulling strength both vertically, as in pull-ups, and horizontally, as in the bent-over row.
The lower lats play a large role in aesthetics. You have probably seen guys with well-developed upper lats, yet their back looks more like a T than a V. This is because their lats protrude at the very top but cut into the torso quickly and then come straight down.
When you develop your lower lats, your back will protrude out and then slowly taper down your back. As a result, your back will be significantly larger and broader while looking more solid.
Having stronger and more developed lats down your entire spine provides more back support overall.
Further, the lower lats are obviously connected to the lower parts of the spine, which is more prone to injury compared to the middle and upper spine.
When training the lower lats, there are really no special variables to follow, apart from using the specific exercises we just discussed. In other words, you should train them with similar rep ranges to any other muscle group.
This includes using various angles and the entire rep spectrum.
As you should train the back twice a week, you could use traditional lat exercises on one day while using the lower lat exercises in the second session. Or you could have an upper lat day and a lower lat day.
Just remember that regardless of what exercise you use, you'll still train the entire muscle.
Now that we've gone over the anatomy and functions of the lower lats, along with the best exercises, we can put it all together to create the perfect lower lat workout.
Bent Over Row With Underhand Grip
Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns
Dumbbell Row to Hips
Single Arm Lat Pulldowns
Front Arm Lat Pulldown
This workout is written with the assumption your back workout consists of training your back twice a week, with the other day including exercises that hit the upper portion.
Other than that, all other variables will be similar to any other back workout. This includes things like ensuring the exercise order goes from bigger exercises to smaller ones, starting with heavier loads and fewer reps and progressing to lighter loads and more reps, and alternating movement patterns.
In this scenario, that means alternating between vertical pulling and horizontal pulling exercises.
However, because biomechanics make these exercises tougher, don't use a ton of heavy weight. While we want you to be deliberate with the reps, keep the majority of your sets in the 8-10 rep scheme.
Making gains using lower lat exercises requires progressive overload. This includes both heavy and hypertrophy loads.
However, you might discover that some of these exercises are exceptionally difficult, specifically the pull-downs. This is because not only are you at a mechanical disadvantage but many peoples' muscles aren't developed to be effective with these muscle patterns.
You may find that your muscular strength here will start low but increase quickly, similar to newbie gains.
Having full knowledge of your body's musculature and anatomy can go a long way in building the optimum workout program. Knowing that you may need to make minor movement alterations can be a game-changer in the gym.
Plus, in case you hadn't noticed, many of these aren't even new movements. You're just using a different hand grip. This is why we always push for variation in hand grips as you progress.
Now that you understand what the lower lats are and their importance, start using these exercises in your current workout program.
PSA: Don't forget to also train your upper and middle back. Train it all!
Looking for more great exercises to train your lats? Check out these 14 Best Latissimus Dorsi Exercises!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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