T Nation

Cant Feel My Lats


Hi CT,

What are your tips for someone who can't feel his Lats while doing pullups.

I can do at the max 3 pullups in a row. I think before my back gives up my biceps have already given up so I can't do any more body weight pullups. My best is usually 3-4 body weight pullups. I weigh 205lbs.

I have tried the following tricks already :
1. Pre fatiguing biceps : Extremely poor results.
2. Doing Pullups often.. something like 20 every day. They could be spread through the day and do them everyday. This makes me better at pullups but still I don't feel them in the back or lats.
3. Try to slap my lats before I pullup so that I can try to engange them.

None of these works well for me. After doing 10 or so pullups I am reduced to doing only singles. I can try to do as many as I want and usually that is not a problem. I have done 30 pullups in a workout doing mostly singles.

It seems I don't just know which Back muscles to use and how to use them.

Please help.
Thanks in advance.


I'm not CT, but here are a few things that helped me about 6 months ago when I was really trying to learn how to stimulate my lats:

  1. Daily Flexing: Practice makes perfect. Learn to flare them, lock them down, etc. The standard bodybuilding poses should do.

  2. Pre-Fatiguing the LATS, not the biceps: Do movements where the lat is involved WITHOUT the biceps first in your routine. Something like Straight Arm Pulldowns (I prefer a rope to a bar).

  3. Switch to a Lat Pulldown for a few weeks: The Lat Pulldown allowed me to lighten the load and learn how to really drive my elbows down into my hip flexors.

  4. Isometric Holds at the Peak: These were HUGE when it came to learning how they felt! Roll your chest up, look up, and flare those lats like you would during a pose (see #1 above...).

  5. Use straps: The more relaxed your hands are, the more likely you'll be using your back. Tense your hand right now and look at what happens to your biceps.

  6. Sled Pulls - AWESOME exercise to really fatigue those lats.

I hope this helps! Utilizing these 6 things has made my lats one of my best bodyparts. They easily overpower my traps. I actually have to stop myself from flexing them at times because they stretch my shirt. I have to think "Chest out" instead of "Lats out". It's a nice problem I suppose. :slightly_smiling:


To activate or better feel your lats -

I really like front levers. Try doing them on a bar first focusing on perfect position. You could also do snatch rows (basically hold the bar with a snatch grip arms hanging down, standing straight up, push your hips back until the bar gets to the tops of your knees, then row the bar up your thighs). Personally I've found that if you lack overhead mobility activating the lats is harder. I like shoulder dislocations. You could also do Thib lat pulldowns.

I've found it useful to focus on pulling my elbows down while doing pull ups or chin ups.


Basically would echo the above posts. I found that doing slow light weight bent over rows and focusing on the top contraction helped lots, as well as just doing tons of pullups. For a few weeks I did a set of 5 4-6 times a day. The grip variation makes a huge difference. I don't feel my lats very much with a straight bar chins or pulls, but if the bar is like an upside down V then I feel it big time in my lats. I haven't tried neutral grip but I would like to.


Last two posts are right on the money. A lot of good advice guys!

I agree that if you can't flex your lats just standing there with no resistance, you wont be able to involve them optimally in a lifting exercise. You can easily flex your pecs, biceps, triceps, quads, hams, calves, etc. Why not lats?

That was actually a big thing for me. At one point I was so traps/mid-back dominant that I could flex my lats at all. And I had nutin' back there. I worked on improving my capacity to flex them when I read something by Dave Tate saying that you can't isolate a muscle with an exercise if you can't flex it.

Now I am so good at flexing my lats that I actually get cramps if I do it! And recently one of my clients told me that my lats where my standout bodypart!!!

Working on the front lever really helped me a ton.

Pre-fatiguing the lats with straigth-arms pulldown too.

I wouldn't focus on the pull-ups to feel the lats though. Until you become so good that your bodyweight is a light load (e.g. when you can do 10-12 strict pull-ups) you wont be able to focus on recruiting the lats during pull-ups.


Thank You very much folks. I am set to try all these.


Well, I built myself a neutral grip pullup station and I just wanted to chime in here and say for me it made a HUGE difference. The entire movement feels way more back oriented than either chinups or pullups.

I could do 5 pullups with 2second pauses at top and flex my lats beforehand, however it never felt right doing pullups or chinups with regards to the lats. It always felt too twisted either way, too much forearm tension. With neutral grip I can feel my lats working from the shoulder down to my obliques, and they are actually FUN.

Just my experience.


Yes, neutral is better. Rings are even better.


Yes I have been toying around with the idea of buying some rings


The Cross-Fit games rings from Rogue fitness are awesome! I bought the woods ones. They are very easy to set up too.


@CT @Clypher

I find your views on neutral grip pullup interesting. The truth is I can do many more neutral grip pullups when compared to the normal pullup. I can do 7-8 netral grip puulups. However I never wanted to get very good at this exercise because I thought normal grip pullup is a superior version and is more back dominant.

What is the difference in terms of back development when comparing these two types of pullups.

Comments ??


Well, take my view with a grain of salt as I'm simply a hobbyist.

But, in my opinion it varies from person to person. Some people say they feel it more with chinups, some more with pullups, etc. If you can do 7-8 neutral grip pullups but only 3 regular pullups for example, you'll likely get more back development with the neutral grip pullups for the time being. Most important is to puff your chest out , lean back a bit (don't overextend your lumbar region though), and look up. Progress through those, start adding weight to them. Try out regular grip pullups every once in a while again and see if they improve.

I know "they say" regular pullups are the best, but for me it doesn't work that way. Partially because of a rotator cuff injury (well, maybe entirely because of that). I feel it all in my arms, specifically elbows (which would be exactly what you don't want) with regular pullups.

Imagine something is in front of you and you want to pull it through your torso, or something you need to grab onto and pull by dragging, what grip do you imagine yourself grabbing with and yanking? Or try putting your elbows at 90 degrees, facing your hands forwards, and pull your elbows behind you (like the top position of a bent over row). While in this position you should easily feel your shoulder blades pressed together. While holding it, rotates your wrists from underhand, to neutral, to overhand. Feel the differences there?

The back is going to move the elbows back regardless of how the wrist is rotated, the trick is to find the wrist position that your back feels comfortable to pull from, otherwise you'll end up focusing too much on closing your elbows instead of closing your armpits.