One of the most common goals you'll find amongst lifters is achieving a V-taper physique. What that means is that the muscles of their upper body form a V-shape from the waistline-up.
It involves having a broad and wide upper back, shoulders, and traps, while the waist is more narrow. Why do they want this? Well, it is a very healthy and desirable look!
I personally make sure to train in such a way to achieve the same look for myself. I guess you could call me your typical gym "bro" ... but this is a huge reason I place an emphasis on training my lats.
Even though your lats are a huge player in helping to get a V-taper look, making sure to have strong lat muscles can benefit you far past just having an awesome physique!
I'll fill you in on everything you may or may not know about your lats, their importance, and 8 of my favorite exercises to build big, strong lat muscles...
What Are My Lats (And Where Are They)?
Before we dive into why it's important to train your lats, let's get familiar with exactly what and where they are. Your "lats" (short for lattimus dorsi) are 2 large muscles that sit on either side of your back. The muscles themselves are very broad and flat in appearance and provide a wide variety of functions.
For one, they help pull your arms to the side, rotate your shoulders forward and backward, and even help with breathing. On top of that, your lats help pull your upper body upwards when your arms are overhead. A great example of this would be rock climbing!
As you reach your arm overhead to grab hold and hoist yourself up, your lats are the primary muscle involved. If you ever find yourself dangling from a cliff ... strong lats could very well save your life!
Benefits of Having Strong Lats
Having strong lat muscles goes much further than just having a wider back and more appealing physique...
Strong lats are associated with:
• Reduced risk of injury
• Stabilizing the spine
• Improving shoulder movement
• Enhanced breathing
• Increased efficiency with throwing, swimming, rowing, climbing, and more
• Improved core support and function
So, what are some of the best exercises that you can do to grow stronger lats? I'll go over 8 of my personal favorites, and exactly how to do them to see the best results...
The Top 10 Exercises For Stronger Lats
I'll cover these in no particular order. I use every single one of these exercises regularly in my lat training, and I know you'll love them!
Quick tip: Make sure to keep your shoulders retracted to engage your lats throughout these exercises! You will feel the stress on the muscle so much more this way.
Pull-ups are easily the most well known exercise for helping to build and strengthen your lats. Don't worry if you aren't able to do them without assistance, because they can be super difficult ... especially early on in our fitness journeys. That's when I recommend using an assisted pull-up machine or even a thick resistance band to help make it easier.
How to: Start by finding a pull-up bar. Grab the bar slightly outside of shoulder-width with your arms fully stretched out overhead, and hold on to suspend your weight from the bar. Retract (pull back) your shoulder blades and pull with your arms and lats to bring your body weight upwards.
Keep pulling until your elbows meet the sides of your body and your chin makes it above the bar. From here, slowly begin lowering your body by straightening your arms and keeping tension in your lats. Slow and controlled is the name of the game!
If you're doing this one with a band, loop one end of the band under your foot or bent knee. The other end of the band should loop around the bar you're doing pull-ups on. This will help offset some weight so you can more easily do your pull-ups.
2. Straight Arm Pull-Downs
This is another amazing exercise for your lats that can be done on a cable machine. First, you'll want to set the cable to max-height and grab either a rope attachment or straight bar.
How to: Grab ahold of the cable attachment about shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider. Bend your knees and hinge your body forward to extend your arms overhead and feel a stretch in your lats. While keeping your arms straight, retract your shoulder blades and squeeze your lats as you draw your arms to either side of your body.
Keep pulling until the cable attachment meets your hips. You should feel a good squeeze in your lats here. Now, slowly return your arms back to overhead, keeping tension in your lats. Make sure to keep your back and neck straight and neutral.
3. Barbell Rows
Not only are barbell rows great for your lats, but also a majority of the muscles in your back. To set up this exercise, you'll need a loaded barbell.
How to: Place the barbell on the floor in front of you, and hinge at your hips to bend over and grab the bar with both hands slightly outside of shoulder-width. Keep your back and neck in a straight line and your core tight. With your upper body still hinged over the bar, pull the bar with your back and arms towards your body.
When the bar meets your abdomen and your elbows are drawn behind your body, slowly start lowering the bar back to the floor.
This one may not have been obvious to you, but deadlifts are a phenomenal workout for your lats! That's because to properly perform a deadlift, your lats need to be engaged the whole time. For this exercise, you'll need a loaded barbell.
How to: Start with the barbell on the ground in front of you with your shins touching the bar. Hinge at your hips while keeping your back and neck straight to bend over and grab the bar at shoulder-width. There should be a bend in your knees, and you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
Take a deep inhale, retract your shoulder blades to engage your lats, and begin to pull the weight from the floor. Push through your quads and squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to bring the bar up to your waist. Stand up tall with the weight still in your hands. Now, slowly start to lower the bar back to the floor, pushing your hips behind you.
5. Dumbbell Pullovers
This is one of my personal favorites, but it can be a bit tricky to execute. Pay close attention to how this one is done. Make sure you have a bench to support your back and a dumbbell.
From this position, grab and hold the dumbbell to your chest as you set up in a tabletop position. Your butt should be off the ground with the bench supporting your upper body and your legs.
Stay in this position and push the dumbbell above your chest, holding on to one end of the dumbbell with both hands. Keep a slight bend in your elbows as you slowly bring the dumbbell behind your head. You should feel a stretch in your lats the further back you go.
When you reach back as far as you can, squeeze your lats to pull the weight back to over your chest.
6. Cable Rows
This exercise is another great one for not only your lats, but your back as a whole. You’ll do this exercise with a cable machine and a wide or narrow double-handed attachment … the choice is up to you!
How to: Just like barbell rows, you’ll be pulling the cable toward your abdomen. First start by reaching out in front of you to grab the cable. Keep your back and neck in a straight line. Now, pull with your arms and back to bring the cable to your abdomen. When the cable meets your abdomen, slowly release your arms in front of you to return the weight back to its starting position.
7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
For this exercise, you’ll need a dumbbell and a bench or weight rack to use for support.
How to: Start by finding a weight rack or bench to rest your hand on while you bend your upper body forward to form a standing table-top. Keep your head and neck straight through the entire exercise!
Use one arm to support your upper body, and one arm to hold on to the dumbbell, fully-extending the arm hanging underneath your body. Pull the weight using your arm and back. Once the dumbbell meets the side of your body, slowly begin lowering the weight back to its starting position.
You’ll repeat this exercise for reps on either side of your body.
8. Single Arm Landmine Rows
For this exercise, you’ll need a barbell and somewhere to anchor it (such as a landmine attachment or put one end of the barbell in a corner). There are also great weight resistance machines that can substitute for a barbell.
How to: Anchor one end of the barbell, load weight on the other end, and stand with your feet on either side of the bar. Hinge at your hips and slightly bend your knees as you reach down to wrap one hand around the bar … almost like you’re holding a baseball bat.
With the bar in hand, pull the weight toward your chest, squeezing your back, lats, and biceps to move the weight. Slowly release the bar back to its starting position on the floor. Repeat this for reps on each side.
Exercise Won’t Do It All
If you’re really trying to build big and strong lats … exercise isn’t even half of what it’s going to take.
When people say “You can’t outwork a bad diet” … they aren’t lying! Yes, your workouts are important. But most people who are looking to see results in the gym mess up the nutrition component, ultimately keeping them from seeing ANY progress.
Don’t fall into the same trap. At 1st Phorm, we understand how hard it can be to adhere to a diet and exercise program. That’s why we made the 1st Phorm App. Inside the app you’ll get access to 1-on-1 coaching, a full library of exercise programs and instructional videos, nutrition tracking, daily education, and more!
If you have any questions, or you’re not sure where to start, just reach out to us! Our staff of Certified Personal Trainers (NASM-CPT) and Certified Nutrition Coaches (NASM-CNC) are happy to help with any bumps along the ride.