5 New Ways to Isolate and Build Your Lats

Back Builders for a Superhero Physique

To build your lats, you’ll need to actually FEEL them working. These lifts will do just that.


If you want to build an X physique, prioritize your shoulders and lats. We covered shoulders already, now let’s build the lats.

A lot of lifters struggle to get a good mind-muscle connection with their lats. If you can’t feel them working during compound exercises, like pulldowns and pull-ups, do specific isolation lifts. Here are the five best lat-builders that few people know about, but everyone should try.

1. J-Lat Pulldown

This is a great alternative to the cable straight-arm pulldown. You can do it standing, but kneeling feels even more effective.

Think of it like a straight-arm lat pulldown at the top of the movement but, as your arms move down, gradually bend them a little to allow the rope to travel in somewhat of a “J” pattern. This works your lats and also your rhomboids.

2. Modified Dante Row

You can do this one using a seated row bench, or with a standard cable stack. Just drag over a bench.

Set the cable height to just above the height of the bench. This position forces strict technique and changes the loading angle to be somewhere between a cable or machine pullover and an underhand lat pulldown.

3. Side-On Straight-Arm Lat Pulldown

In the video, IFBB Pro Figure athlete Shelace Shoemaker performs this unique exercise. Not only does this target your lats, but a forgotten muscle for back width: the teres major.

You can do the version here, which works on the bottom portion of the motion, or you can set the cable up high and take your arm more overhead like you would while doing a snow angel. The version Shelace is doing builds a good mind-muscle connection with the lats and upper back.

The bonus for physique athletes? Being able to feel and tap into this muscle transfers to the competition poses.

4. Gripless Machine Pullover

If you have access to a pullover machine, then don’t skip this!

In the video, IFBB Figure Pro Sandee Lark performs a gripless variation. The advantage of this machine is that you can (and should) press your elbows straight down to engage your lats without using your grip, forearms, and biceps.

However, what many do instead is hold onto the machine with dear life and pull the handles down. This doesn’t maximize how effective this machine can really be. Something else you can try: hold onto some Fat Gripz (on Amazon). You’ll feel yourself pressing down with your elbows alone. You don’t need to hold onto anything really, but floating hands and arms never feel right.

Get a good stretch to really target those lower lat fibers, right where they tie into your waistline.

5. Banded Dumbbell Pullover

Unlike the standard variation, your lats don’t get to rest at the top because of the band. Regular pullovers work great for loading the stretch portion of the movement, but the overhead position can be troublesome for lifters. With the band, you get a more evened-out load throughout the movement. The band adds no extra resistance at the bottom, but as you lift the dumbbell over your chest you feel the loading kicking in as the band stretches.

This is a good one for your lats, but also targets the long head of your triceps and lower pec fibers.

Sets, Reps, and Options

Your sets and reps will vary, but one thing’s for sure: there’s no need to try to hit a one-rep personal best or even a 6-rep max. Generally speaking, do sets of 10-20.

Since these are isolation exercises, program them as such. Here are a few options:

  1. Use them at the start of your workouts to pre-fatigue and build awareness.
  2. Try pre-fatigue supersets. Perform your isolation exercise first followed by your compound movement in a superset fashion. For example, J-lat pulldown followed 10-30 seconds later by underhand-grip pulldowns.
  3. Try post-fatigue supersets. Start with a compound exercise then superset with an isolation exercise. You’ll get better performance from your first exercise and a chance to finish off your lats in the second. Think chin-ups followed by dumbbell pullovers.
  4. Try them as finishers, or just save all your isolation exercises for the end of your workout. This is traditionally how a lot of people train; however, it’s not always best if you’re looking to target and build a muscle you have a hard time feeling.

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Gonna try these during my next back workout…

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