Welcome to this short, but complete guide on the top 8 exercises for a targeted and effective lats workout.
If you are looking to build a thick, V tapered back, you should pick out a few of the exercises in this article and use them in your own routine.
You’ll find a mix of exercises that you can perform in, and outside of the gym so if you don’t have access to the latter, you can still train for optimal muscle growth.
Recommended exercises for an effective lats workouts
In order to have complete back development, you should be pulling in both the horizontal and vertical plane. This insures that you are hitting your back from all the major angles. You can even take it up a notch and cycle between two different exercises for both horizontal and vertical pulling.
Your standard vertical pulling movement. This is probably one of the most effective vertical pulls you can perform. If you look around you in the gym, you will often see people performing lat pulldowns or using some sort of machine, preferring to use pull ups as a finisher, or simply excluding them completely. This is a huge mistake. EMG studies have shown that the pull ups activate your lats, biceps, rhomboids and core to a higher degree than lat pulldowns. In other words, you are better off building strength in your pull up as it will give you the most results.
It’s highly recommended that when you perform this exercise you avoid bending your legs in front or behind your body, and really try to perform a “hollow body” like position. This will allow you to plug any potential energy leaks and will automatically provide a small boost to your strength. You’ll also place more tension on your core.
If you aren’t yet strong enough to perform this movement, focus on doing negatives. You can also use resistance bands to alleviate the resistance, or assisted pull up machines.
These were made famous with golden era bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane back in the 70s. They will give you a lovely stretch in the lats and can serve as an effective isolation movement.
Lat pull downs
If for some reason you can’t do pull ups, lat pulldowns are a good alternative. You’ll be able to feel your lats nicely, provided that you use good form, and you may feel less bicep activation too, depending on the grip width.
Straight arm pull downs
Similar to the pullovers, these are more of an isolation exercise that will specifically target your lats. It would be preferable to keep this one for after your main compound exercises. When performed right, you should feel your lats working.
What’s great about this exercise is the fact that you start in an almost overhead, arms extended position, really going to the maximum of the latissimus dorsi’s available range of motion. Using a rope attachment would be further beneficial here as you could take your arms behind your back to really get as much out of the range of motion as possible.
We are now getting into the horizontal pulling movements, starting with the trusty barbell/dumbbell row; it’s a classic and it works. It will build thickness in your back and also build up your biceps and forearms to a certain degree, depending on whether you are using on underhand or overhand grip. The standard variation is simple to set up – all you need is a bar and some weights.
There are plenty of similar rowing variations with dumbbells or barbells such as the seal row, cambered bar row, trap bar row, meadows row, and single arm barbell rows. It’s up to you to try them out and see which one works best for you. Exercises like the seal row for instance feel great and take out any lower back involvement (for those who suffer from lower back pain), but requires a bit more setup.
If you don’t have access to a gym, you can also use gymnastic rings or some TRX straps to perform rows. What’s great about his bodyweight variation is that you can also consistently make them harder, without the need of any other piece of equipment. Start by doing them with your feet on the floor. The closer you are to being directly underneath the anchor point, the harder it becomes. Once that is too easy for you, you can elevate the feet. The next progression is up to you; either you shift towards a one arm row, working again on gradually placing yourself closer to the anchor point and elevating your feet, or you can do archer rows instead.
If you do have weights, you can put them in a backpack and gradually add weight to your rows. Resistance bands or weights vests can also be used.
Another bodyweight variant. With this exercise you’ll be challenged even at elite levels of strength. Starting with the tuck row, one can progress all the way to a full front lever row – something you don’t see often. This may not be the most efficient bodyweight variation as it can be hard to progressively overload, and requires a lot of base strength to perform with a full range of motion.
Machines offer plenty of variations for different parts of the back and can be fun to implement in your training, although they really aren’t an absolute necessity, if you are short on time. If you are getting enough volume through your standard vertical and horizontal pulling movements like the pull up or any variation or a barbell/dumbbell row, you will progress consistently.