T Nation

Looking for Help with Lats


#1

I've been into lifting for almost a year now, primarily focusing on overall strength. I'm finally getting to a point where I'm focusing on an area for each work out: I go every other day and do a rotation of legs, shoulders/arms, chest, and back.

I've identified lats as a weakness for me and I'm having trouble getting good contractions in that area. My current back day includes deadlifts, wide-grip pull ups, low rows, lat pulldowns (I've recently included one-arm lat pulldowns, which seem to be effective for me), bent-over rows and back extensions. I don't always do each exercise but these are the ones I'm familiar with.

Based on some info I've picked up here, I believe I'm lifting too heavy to see quick size gains. I typically start light and ascend to about a 5-6 rep max, and then back down.

Any tips for a novice? I just find these muscles hard to isolate.


#2

ya, lots of people struggle with feeling the lats.

The best way, in my opinion, is to pre-exhaust with straight arm pulldowns before you do any chins, pulldowns, etc.

So start your lat training sessions with 3-5 sets of straight arm pulldowns. Make sure you pause and squeeze at the top of each rep, and control the negative. You’re not going for mega weight here, just a good, forceful contraction.

After a few sets of that your lats should light up, and you’ll feel them working harder than hell on your subsequent exercises.

Finally, in my experience (and lats have always been a nightmare for me, too) lats - and really all the back musculature in general - do better with higher rep sets. I’d stick to working in the 8-15 rep range.


#3

[quote]Lontar wrote:
lat pulldowns (I’ve recently included one-arm lat pulldowns, which seem to be effective for me)[/quote]

When doing this (and other) one-armed lat exercises, place your free hand on the lat you’re working, and feel the muscle contracting from the ‘outside.’ This really helped me nail down the MMC with my lats.


#4

[quote]Yogi wrote:
ya, lots of people struggle with feeling the lats.

The best way, in my opinion, is to pre-exhaust with straight arm pulldowns before you do any chins, pulldowns, etc.

So start your lat training sessions with 3-5 sets of straight arm pulldowns. Make sure you pause and squeeze at the top of each rep, and control the negative. You’re not going for mega weight here, just a good, forceful contraction.

After a few sets of that your lats should light up, and you’ll feel them working harder than hell on your subsequent exercises.

Finally, in my experience (and lats have always been a nightmare for me, too) lats - and really all the back musculature in general - do better with higher rep sets. I’d stick to working in the 8-15 rep range.[/quote]

Thanks! I just looked up a straight arm pulldown and I’ve never done that exercise. Definitely excited for back day next week.


#5

Practice lat spreads between sets and at home or wherever, pull with your elbows, not your hands if that makes sense.


#6

for me, one arm barbell row is the best lat exercise.


#7

I’ll agree with ED and Yogi.

Some tweaks I’ve found helpful is doing single arm pulldowns with the cable station set high and your arm out to the side. I do these with an open hand through a single cable handle and apply a bit more pressure with the pinkie side of my hand. I also face 90 degrees to the cable stack so I’m abducting/adducting the shoulder rather than flexing and extending it. For me, it’s the best way to feel my lats.

Also, single arm cable rows from a low attachment point work well also. You might really have to sit into the weight so you don’t get pulled over.

And the pullover machine if you have one available. I’d take all these exercises over pullups and lat pulldowns (blasphemous, I know).

But yeah, definitely use your free hand to feel the movement in your lat.


#8

Feeling the lats is all about movement of scapulas, you should protract the scapula to stretch the lats and retract and depress the scapula when lats contracts. After that, my advices are:

  • unilateral cable pull-dow (do it with the pulley of a double pulley, you should seat on the ground)
  • isometric hold + eccentric 3’’
  • 12-15 reps / set

#9

Doing meadows rows with like a T-bar setup has really helped me in that department


#10

Keep in the heavy /5RM stuff for the first 2 excercises, then do MMC higher rep work others have mentioned


#11

You are doing the vertical pulling motion with the latest pulldowns but you also need a horizontal one as well, like a bent row or some variation .


#12

While MMC is huge in my opinion (while obviously trying to move heavy weights), I think the talk about movement of the scapula is over emphasized when people discuss targeting the lats vs the rest of the back muscles.

The best results I got to my lats were when I learned to keep my elbows in front of my torso, keep my body upright during the movement (none of that leaning crap), abreviated the ROM to about the top 2/3 (stopping and holding for a moment right in front of my chin), and let my total sets creep up while keeping my rep range fairly low.

S


#13

If your not feeling the lats work, you might be using too much weight and other muscles(arms )might be dominating. Also don’t let your arms straighten out fully in the stretched position, this will help keep tension on back rather than arms(I’m pretty sure that was in a recent daily feature, works great).
Pre exhausting with pullovers is a top idea too.


#14

Post up a vid of your form on some of the staple back movements.

Do you pull the weight all the way to your chest as quickly as possible, or are you holding the contraction for a slight pause and only going the point in the range of motion where your back is fully contracted? For most, that means not bringing the bar all the way to your sternum on lat pulldowns, or bent rows. There’s a point beyond which bis take over. Are you bis getting sore after back day?

And for the hell of it, here’s a few movements that really helped me feel my lats and bring out some detail during my contest prep:


The first one was always good to start back workouts with. You can really go pretty heavy on these. I just ramped explosive sets of 6-8 until I felt slightly challenged and ready. I believe they are advantageous over straight arm pulldowns in that regard, because they prime MMC the way straight arm pulldowns do AND prime the lats, core, hips, etc. for moving heavier weights forcefully. You’ll surely feel your lats after you do straight arm pulldowns, but feeling them and getting them pumped doesn’t necessarily translate over to feeling them on db rows…which has a different plane of motion.

The second video is better towards the end of a back workout, as they will fatigue you. It’s hard to do these and not use your lats. They are tougher than they look, so except to use baby weight :slight_smile:


#15

Any tips for working lats when you have no access to cables? At the moment all I am doing is weighted pull ups.


#16

[quote]xXSeraphimXx wrote:
Any tips for working lats when you have no access to cables? At the moment all I am doing is weighted pull ups.[/quote]

Do dumbbell rows after pullups…


#17

Thanks for all the knowledge everyone! Unfortunately my gym frowns on taking video so I’d rather not. Thankfully I just had a back day with a (much) more experienced lifter than myself and we killed it. One very surprising exercise was doing standard bent over barbell rows and then immediately switching to a narrow underhand grip and doing another set. Man did I feel my lats on that second set!

There’s no substitute for being shown moves in person. Something I’ve been stubborn about but am coming to terms with! Very excited to hit some of these cables moves next week. Thanks again!


#18

There are three main mechanisms believed to cause hypertrophy: Mechanical Tension, Muscular Damage and Metabolic Stress.

Your current scheme is emphasizing mechanical tension and while that’s a good thing since it tends to promote sarcomere hypertrophy, there are some things you should think about.

  1. To keep increasing sarcomere hypertrophy you need to keep increasing the tension by raising the weight, both in absolute terms (raising your 1RM) and in relative terms (as a percentage of your 1RM) Beginners can make great gains at as little as 50% of 1RM while advanced trainees may need to go as high as 90% of 1RM to see any progress. (most of us are somewhere in between)

  2. By using the same protocol all the time you’re leaving out gains you could be getting from sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. In order to take advantage of that you need to focus on metabolic stress, essentially a combination of lactic acid, reduced oxygen and cellular swelling. In other words, training with increased volume. Consider alternating your more strength based workouts with a more volume based protocol like say 4x10s. For exercises where the end position is difficult to maintain, bent rows for example, you could accentuate the effect by holding the weight at full contraction for a bit before lowering it. (not necessary, but an interesting variant)

  3. Muscle damage tends to be greatest in the eccentric phase of the lift so some options to work on that include adjusting your lifting tempo on the down stroke or lowering weights that are greater than your max. (make sure you’ve got a spotter if you’re going to do that of course) This protocol is pretty hard on recovery so use it sparingly.

Of course some other issues could be that you just need to do some pre-exhaust work to take the other muscles out of the picture or change your grip/posture/form to emphasize your lats more.


#19

Arch your back during back exercises. Dorian Yates style. Do underhand exercises, forces you to use your lats rather than upper back.


#20

Also, do pullovers at the beginning of the workout.