If you want to grow a nice thick and wide back then the Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) should be a top priority. Connecting at various parts of the spine and all the way up into the shoulder/arm pit it provides both the width and thickness every bodybuilder is wanting. One issue with typical back training is incorrect technique, which switches most of the focus on the rear delts and bicep with very little Lat work. When people do work the Lats, again due to improper technique, they are only working in a partial range. Follow these 5 great exercises to stimulate every part of the Lat and witness the results in no time at all!
This is going to be totally different to your normal training, print this off and spend time learning the skill, trying to do all this and train at 100% intensity is possible. Dedicate time to learn 1 or 2 of the 5 exercises per session and within a month you should have mastered all 5!
I must also give full disclosure to IFBB Ben Pakulski and the Mi40 team who I work with for providing all these great execution points and tips which have transformed the way myself, my friends/followers and my clients train their backs!! Let’s get started:
This is a great exercise to work the lower Lat fibers that are usually left untouched or under worked. Position yourself on a cable row with your feet stable and the knees slightly bent. Next, you must position your torso slightly forward, which may feel weird as everyone performs their rows in an upright or leaned back position.
To start the movement the arms should be fully stretched and the shoulders protracted (forwarded), this lengthens the Lat as much as possible in the current position. Initiate the movement by retracting the shoulders (pulling the shoulders back together) without altering arm length. The next part involves a row like movement, however rather than focusing on elbow flexion (bending at the elbows) you should be focusing on drawing the elbows back and down, around the side of the body (which is how the Lat functions/shortens). To help you with this, imagine rowing back and down, so you are pulling the handle back and down into the bench.
Despite what everyone teaches, the movement should finish around 2inch from the stomach, further movement recruits the biceps and other muscles as the Lats are already fully shortened. So although it’s taught as the “correct technique” it is actually bad if our goal is to work the back due to it taking tension off the Lats and placing it on other musculature. Once in this fully shortened Lat position, squeeze for around 2 seconds in an isometric contraction.
Next, slowly lower back to the starting position by focusing on the Lats controlling the elbow. E.g. Rather than just letting it return, try to focus on your Lat controlling the speed and movement. This takes some time to learn but in the long run, it will help the muscle stay in full tension during the eccentric (rather than the Bicep controlling the arm). This is one full rep, repeat for a full set focusing on all parts of the movement, particularly the fully shortened and stretched part.
Great for: Working the lower Lat fibers
This is a great exercise for the Lats which allows you to isolate the muscle and manipulate the strength curve via altering body position.
Set up your cable machine and set the pin just above head height. Attach a rope to the cable and position your body around 3 – 4 feet from the machine. To start the exercise angle your torso diagonal down so it’s almost in line with the cable insertion (imagine 40 degrees or 1.30 on a clock). Make sure knees are slightly bent and spine is neutral. Your arms should be straight throughout the exercise, all the movement occurs at the shoulder joint with no movement at the elbow joint.
While focusing on the Lats, pull down on the cable and imagine you are drawing a circle with your hands to your hips. As you are pulling down and bringing the cable into the body, slowly raise your body into an upright position. The idea is the body movement falls in line with the rope pull, e.g. It should be a smooth rise of the body with a smooth pull on the rope.
The movement should finish with the hands by the side of the hips, hold this and focus on the shortened position for 1-2 seconds. To lower, simply do the reverse, control the cable back to the start in a circular motion while you lower your torso back down. As you practice the movement the transition with your body and the cable should become smoother and more in sync.
Great for: Isolating the late
This is your typical and popular one arm DB row but performed to actually work the Lats, rather than the bicep, forearm and scapular retractors. As a guide, you will need about half the weight of what you would normally use for a typical DB row (trust me!),
Position yourself either on a bench (like a typical one arm row) or in a bent over row position with the other hand supporting the body on a dumbbell rack or bench. The knees should be slightly bent and spine neutral, the torso should be nearly in line with the floor (e.g. hips flexed at 90 degrees). Most of the weight should go through the leg which is on the same side as the working arm, drive that leg into the floor to create a solid and strong foundation.
Before you start to position yourself like in exercise one, with the arm lengthened and the shoulder protracted. Before initiating the movement the last thing you should do is focus on elbow flexion (bending the elbow) or bringing the dumbbell to your ribs. Throughout the movement, you should aim to minimize any bicep recruitment or purposeful elbow flexion.
To start, initiate the movement with shoulder retraction, e.g. Pull your shoulder back with a minimal change in arm length. From here rather than bending the elbow imagine you are taking the dumbbell back towards the hips. This is similar to the cable pull down, you want to focus on a circular, scooping motion back with only a slightly bend in the elbow at the top. One other great tip is to image your muscles fibers are shortening in a diagonal fashion from the shoulder to the middle of the spine.
Once in the shortened, end position; hold there for 2 seconds before starting the eccentric. To start the eccentric, perform the reverse movement. Rather than dropping straight down, focus on a scooping motion taking the DB from the mid back diagonally forward so it's under the shoulder or neck. Make sure you fully stretch at the bottom, so the DB is almost touching the floor and your shoulder is protracted (hanging down) with the arm straight. Repeat for a complete set and immediately swap sides.
Great for: overloading the Lat in a shortened position
The typical pull up is known as a staple back exercise, which may, or may not be correct.. depending on technique and execution. It’s true the pull up is a great exercise for your back, however, chances are you are missing out on full Lat recruitment by following the “Common” and “taught” technique that you see in magazines and online. Follow these tips to perform the exercise correctly and grow that back!
Firstly, we must ensure the grip position is correct. One common mistake is going to wide with the hands, which limits the range of movement that can occur at the lat. To set up your hands correctly, simply take your arms by the side of the body palms facing back. From here, take the arms straight up without restricting movement in or out, most people’s arms should be slightly wider than shoulder width, which is a good grip for maximum Lat recruitment.
Start the movement in a fully stretched position, this means you are hanging as low as possible, most people never go all the way down into a full stretch, meaning the Lats are never fully lengthened. Like with the other back exercises above, start the concentric (pulling) phase with retracting the shoulders, this should move you 2-3 inches higher before driving with the elbows.
The next part is focusing on the elbows driving back and down into the lower / mid spine above your love handles. It’s very important to focus on the elbows driving down, rather than pulling yourself to the bar or your hands, which is most people do.
When your elbows are as close to the spine as possible you stop and hold for 1-2 seconds, this is a full “back/lat pull up” which is probably half the distance you would normally travel. Further movement to get all the way up to the bar will come from adjustments in sternum position and elbow flexion (biceps), which again, takes the emphasis of the lats and loses the contraction/tension.
So in summary for this, you should be going much lower into a full stretch but not “pulling up” as high, the goal should not be getting your chin to the bar, it should be working the target muscle in its full range of movement!.
This is a similar movement/variation of the cable pull down; if you look at both movements they are very similar, just in different positions. So which is best? The answer is both, they alter the strength curve and this method eliminates the need to adjust your torso, which makes it more suited to a beginner/intermediate.
Position the cable at the bottom with a rope attachment. Your bench should be slightly declined at about at 45-degree angle with your head being near the cable machine. There should be about 25 inches space from the cable to the bench so when your hands are taken over the head they won’t hit the cable machine or re-rack the weight back on the stack.
Lying on the bench with your arms extended behind the head grab the cable rope and remember, keep your arms straight. From here draw a circle over the body until you are in line with your head, or when you feel you are losing tension/stress. Hold this isometric for 1-2 seconds and slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat for a given amount of reps, remember not to take it too far into the body or you will lose tension in the Lats.
There you have it, 5 great exercises taught in a way that will actually make your back GROW! Give it a try and watch how your back training transforms in a matter of sessions. Again, I must thank Ben Pakulski and the Mi40 team for teaching me these great techniques, which I’ve successfully implemented into mine and my clients routine.