If you're looking to shape up that body-building physique, then it isn't the biceps, the chest, or even the abs that you need to be focusing on. No, it might surprise you, but the most important muscles to train in the upper body are the latissimus dorsi, and you can target these huge muscles using these five practical lat exercises!
The lats are one for the body's most massive muscles, but too often, they get overlooked. That's part of the reason why so few people can attain that fabled 'V-shape' because few people work out their lats regularly enough to build that body shape.
Now that you know the secret, though, you can start exercising your lats muscle and build a bigger, stronger, and more defined back. The best part is, you don't even need weights or a gym to get started; you can work your lats from home with a few simple pull up bands!
In this article, we take a look at 5 essential lat exercises to include in your strength training routines!
So, where and what are lats?
Given that this is the largest muscle in the upper body, it's surprising how under-appreciated the lats are. In fact, many people would be hard-pressed to even locate them. But, when you know where they are, you start to realize why they're so important - and why it's vital that you train them!
The latissimus dorsi, or the lats, are an essential part of the back. You have two of them, and they stretch from the shoulder right down to your hips. Together, they form the famous V-shaped muscle, although you only see that if you train hard enough!
The lats are there to connect your arms to your spine, and they do a lot of good! Your lats not only allow you to move your shoulders and back, but they also protect your spinal cord from damage (and let's be honest, you do sort of need that.)
Effectively training your lats can give you all sorts of excellent benefits. These aren't just benefits for bodybuilders (who already know the advantages of training their back muscles,) but they are benefits for everyday movement and everyday life, too.
Here are the significant benefits of working out your lats:
- Improve posture
- Improve body shape (get the V-shape if you work hard enough!)
- Improve mobility and flexibility
- Improve your strength and fitness
- Avoid back, shoulder, and hip injuries
- Complement and support other essential muscles, such as shoulders, chests, triceps, and biceps.
There are many other advantages too. Perhaps the most critical benefit in everyday life, though, is the fact that a healthier back will help you to avoid niggling back pains - which always seem to get worse as we get older! You can't have a stronger back without working out your latissimus dorsi (that's a fact!)
Don't forget your lat stretches
Before you get into your back workout, don't forget that you need to perform a few stretches to get warmed up. You can perform these stretches even if you aren't planning on a big workout. Regularly practicing a latissimus dorsi stretch will enormously help you to loosen up and avoid backaches and injuries.
The following lat stretches use resistance bands, as this allows you to control your stretch better and target the lats for a better warm-up or cool-down. If you are just warming up, hold the stretch for no longer than 30 seconds. Hold the stretches for longer, at least 45 seconds, when you are cooling down.
Here are a few of our favorite lat stretches that you can perform anytime, anywhere:
#1 Band lat stretches
- Loop a long resistance band underneath your foot or, better yet, tie it off to a secure object at ground level.
- Pull the band up behind your back using one hand and step forward, so the band is tense.
- Hold this for 30 seconds, then switch arms.
#2 Squat lat stretch with resistance band
- Tie a resistance band to a secure point above you, so it dangles down towards you.
- Grab the band in both hands and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your body into the squat position while holding onto the band.
- Keep squatting and lowering yourself towards the ground, and allow your back to loosen up and stretch.
- Keep holding for 30 seconds.
#3 Banded overhead lat stretch
- Tie a resistance band to a secure point above you, so it dangles down towards you.
- Face towards the band and grab it using one arm.
- Take a few steps back, and sit back into a squat until the band is holding enough of your weight to get a good stretch in the lat.
- Lightly pull the band towards you to engage the lat and then release the tension to open up your muscles.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Resistance band lat exercises
You can use resistance bands to actively train and workout your lats, too. They aren't just for stretching!
Resistance bands are a useful alternative to weights or weight machines. They are particularly useful for working out your back if you're scared of back pains or injuries, as you won't be putting as much weight onto your spine or back muscles.
The resistance offered by bands is surprisingly strong, though, and you'll find that you not only build muscle but also start to burn fat. Using resistance gives you a much more defined and natural-looking back than if you were just to use dumbbells or weight machines.
As your fitness improves, you can also increase the resistance by picking a more substantial band for the exercises.
And as a bonus, you can perform these exercises anywhere; you just need to bring along your resistance band!
#1 Assisted pull up
Pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can practice for building up your lat muscles. For many, though, the pull-up can be too much - it requires a combination of some intense arm, shoulder, core, chest, and back muscles, which is why it's such an effective upper body exercise!
With a resistance band, though, you can begin with assisted pull-ups. This takes away some of your body weight and makes it a much easier exercise. As you improve, you can loosen up the band to remove the assistance.
For this exercise, you'll need a sturdy pull up-bar and a long pull up assist band. Complete as many repetitions as you can in one go.
- Loop a resistance band over the top of the pull-up bar, then loop it through itself to secure it.
- Place your body into the pull-up position, with your hands firmly on the bar above you.
- Step into the resistance band, using either your knee or your foot to hold you in place.
- Lift yourself lightly off the ground and allow the band to take the strain.
- Pull yourself up to complete a pull-up.
- Lower yourself and repeat
#2 Lat pulls with bands
The lat pulldown is another classic exercise that targets your latissimus dorsi muscles. Again, you can change the resistance band to create more resistance as you progress and build strength.
Lat pulls with bands are incredibly diverse, which is why we love to suggest them. The standard exercise makes use of a narrow, straight-armed, two-handed grip. You pull the band towards you with both arms held straight out.
Vary the exercise by using one arm instead of two. Simply face sideways and with one raised arm ahead of you. The single-arm lat pulldown is a great way to better target either side of your back for a more comprehensive workout.
Another great lat pulldown alternative uses a wide grip instead of a narrow grip. This helps to target your shoulders and chest as much as your back, which is excellent for upper-body workouts.
We suggest trying out several different lat pulldowns to see which works best for you. You could even create an entire lat pulldown workout circuit to target your back muscles thoroughly!
- Tie a resistance band securely to an anchor above you.
- Grab the resistance band in both hands, with a close grip and your palms facing down.
- Pull the band down and out to shoulder height.
- Hold, then release back to the middle.
- Repeat for multiple repetitions.
Can I target my lower lats?
The lower lats are often missed when training the back because most exercises will target the upper lats during their movements.
To get that V-shape, though, you need to work your lower back as much as your upper. Don't worry, though, because there are plenty of exercises that will target the lower lats specifically.
The best exercise is the wide grip lat pulldown, which we've already outlined above. Simply perform the standard lat pushdown with a wide grip instead of narrow. This shifts the tension to your lower back.
Other lower back exercises that focus on the lats include dumbbell rows, where you work out against free weights, or the banded row, which you perform while seated on a bench or the floor.
The last word on latissimus dorsi exercises!
With a resistance band and some back power, you can start to work out your latissimus dorsi muscles for a super-defined look! Lat workouts are essential for a healthy back, but it's not only deadlift lovers or squat enthusiasts that can benefit from including regular lat exercises in their training schedule.
Anyone looking to build their strength, increase their power, and work on their mobility and flexibility will benefit from lat exercises. What more convenient way to sculpt your back than in the comfort of your home!
Why not include lat exercises with resistance bands into your next strength training workout?