T Nation

Help with Back Workout


So unfortunately, I feel as if my lats are one of my biggest lagging bodyparts. I've been hammering away at it for the last 7-8 months and even though it is quite improved and probably above average, I don't feel like it really fills out quite like it should for someone my size (5'11.5, 209 pounds ~14-15% body fat.)

Certain exercises I just have an extremely difficult time feeling, such as lat pulldowns. I've watched numerous videos on it, but for whatever reason I just cannot feel the lats engage whenever my elbows are beside my head. I don't seem to have a problem feeling the lats in "lower lat movements" such as any rowing variation or close grip pulldowns. I am also completely unable to do more then a single pullup. I've been doing assisted pullups, but these seem to change the strength curve on the exercise and don't give as good of a contraction as even a single pullup does.

If anyone has any advice on developing my back I would greatly appreciate it. More so then any other muscle group, I almost completely measure the progress I am making in the gym by my back.


i noticed a new thickness in my back after i started doing Meadows style one arm barbell rows and deadlifts from the floor. Deadlifts 3 working sets of 8, one arm barbell rows 3 working sets of 8-10.

if you have access to a pulldown machine, i suggest reverse shoulder width grip pulldowns with 1 second squeeze at finish and my favorite lat exercise straight arm pulldown. it will be more brutal if you superset these 2. pre-exhaust your lats with straight arm pulldowns then immediately do reverse grip pulldowns.


when i look at my brand new back photo, i see things that i havent seen before.

one arm barbell rows definitely rock.


pre-exhaust your lats with a really slow, controlled straight arm pulldown before you do your regular pulldowns. Really flex your lats at the top of the movement, and make sure the negative is really slow.

You'll feel your lats doing pulldowns after that.


Meadows rows are a must. Stretchers are great too. As far as lat pull downs go, it is very hard to feel the lat with those. The best thing you can do is use wrist wraps and barely hold the bar with your fingertips. Pull as if your elbows are what brings the bar down. or even focus on your wrist pulling through the strap. The more you can remove your grip/bicep from the movement, the more that you will feel it in the lat.

Underhand grip, shoulder width pull ups or cable pull downs are good. Rack dead lifts blow my lats up. Pull from dead stop every time. Before each pull, lock your shoulders down and at the top of the movement flex the shit out or your lat. Flare them. If you do bent over bb rows, try them in the smith. The smith blows for most things but it rocks for rows. Use a lighter weight than you can easily do for 8-10 reps. Because the bar path is static, you can mix up all kinds of grips, stance, hand placement, etc., until you find what really activates the lat/back.

Unfortunately alot of this stuff is trial and error. Everyone's mechanics and physiology is different so you have to find what works for you. Don't be afraid to think outside the box a little.


1) hold the contraction for a whole second
2) pretend there is a cast on your arms and you cannot bend them (until the last half of the rep)
3) When doing lat pull downs pull the bar down as far as you can without bending your arms. See for yourself just how much of the movement should come from your lats stretching at the top and how far you can pull down before your arm bends.

Works for me. Hope this helps.


What does your current routine look like, not just for back, but your whole week? (Days, exercises, sets, and reps).

Definitely x2 the stiff-arm pulldowns. I prefer using a rope handle and bending a bit at the waist to increase the stretch at the top. A great way to either pre-exhaust the lats or increase the mind-muscle connection (going a little lighter and slower to focus on the contraction).

You might also want to try one-arm pulldowns, using the free hand to touch the working side.

nother point to consider it, whatever exercises you're using, don't overfocus on "textbook technique" with full extension and full contraction. Focus on working the most effective ROM where you feel the muscle working, even if it means you end up "only" doing half-reps. Mighty Stu once pointed this out regarding neutral-grip pulldowns (to avoid bringing the handle below face-level) and it was a huge eye-opener.


My lats require much higher volume than other muscle groups to grow. You might experiment with adding 100 pull-ups, in as many sets as needed, to your back routine.


Post your entire routine, including what you have done for reps and sets and the load. Especially what you have done and load you have used for the last 7-8 months


Agreed. I found that I have needed to increase volume and intensity for my back. It just does not get sore without it.


This is a big red flag in my book. You're intelligent enough to realize that assisted pullups usually mess with the strength curve. If you can only do one, try doing many, many singles. Try to get the pullup volume in however you can. If you've got a training partner, you can get a bit of a spot on them, which is more natural than assisting them with implements.

I'd definitely work on your pullup strength, and I think the lats will come.


100 pull-ups is a great way to crush your abs too.


I know nothing about bodybuilding so can't comment on that. However, your comments re not being able to 'feel' your lats with arms overhead struck a chord with me.

I'm pretty good at pullups now, but struggled for ages. Even when I could do them, for a long time I was over-using my biceps and chest and under-using the lats. The main issue was scapular not tracking properly. This stopped that lats from engaging. I'd hazard a guess that you have shoulder imbalances and that your body is trying to use the wrong muscles to do the pullups.

I'd take a look through some of Eric Cressey's stuff on how the shoulders are supposed to move and make sure yours are tracking correctly.

Your case (if it is this at all) is likely to be very different from mine. But for what it's worth I had :

  • tight overactive pec minor, biceps, pec major, anterior deltoid, and upper traps.
  • weak inactive lower/mid traps, lats, shoulder external rotators,

And a whole bunch of other stuff out of balance - not least the muscles acting on the scapular. I can never remember all the names but Eric Cressey has lots of great resources that will help you with this.

I hope this helps!