T Nation

Training Stubborn Lats

Hi. I just want to share my experience in training my lats, probably the most stubborn muscle in my body. I know people out there have similar problems, so here I go…

Since I began my training, my lats seem to be the biggest problem. My numbers almost never went up for a long time, give or take a year. I did typical lat exercises like pulldowns and rows, and I was baffled at my progress.

Whenever I do lat exercises, I always feel my biceps more than my lats. In fact, I don’t feel my lats at all. Maybe this was the reason why I couldn’t make progress. If I did, it was due to my biceps.

I tried using intensity techniques like slow negatives and rest-pause with those exercises, and I progressed a lot. I was stuck doing 10 (narrow grip) pullups max for a long time, and using these techniques, I was able to do 20 after just 4 workouts. However, I still had the problem of not feeling my lats, and I know this was a limiting factor for me.

One day, I was browsing through T-Nation and saw CT’s HSS-100 routine. It was interesting because the principles behind it were geared towards getting the most out of a muscle group in one workout using different exercise that affect the muscles differently. I designed a back program using this routine, and it allowed me to finally train my lats to work the way they should.

My heavy exercise were bent-over rows cluster style with a 2 RM weight for 3 sets of 5. I chose this exercise for two reasons:

  1. Cluster sets require a lot of CNS action. It would improve my mind-muscle connection with my lats.

  2. According to an EMG study, bent-over barbell rows stimulate the lats more than any other exercise, even more than pullups.

Because of these, the exercise was the best I could think when it comes to giving my lats the most amount of stimulation possible.

When I first did this, I didn’t feel my lats and felt my traps and biceps carry the load. This made me determined to find more exercises that would stimulate my lats.

For my superset, I did straight-arm pulldowns (3x6) supersetted with BW wide-grip pullups (3xfailure). I chose these exercises because of the following:

  1. Straight-arm pulldowns provide the widest range of motion for my lats. With my torso bent forward, I start with my arms fully stretched up (like hanging from a bar) and end the movement trying to pull the bar through my hips (like the end position of a bent-over row). My torso had to be bent for the cable to have constant tension for the entire ROM.

  2. Pullups are a great compound exercise.

  3. Pre-fatiguing my lats would allow me to stimulate them in the compound movement like never before (thanks to CT for this tip). This improved my mind-muscle connection.

NOW I feel my lats, moreso than ever. My numbers in this exercise noticeably went up, too. I would add another 5 pounds for my pulldowns after every workout, while doing 1 more pullup after lifting that added weight.

Afterwards, after doing those supersets, I did my special exercise, namely iso-dynamic straight-arm pulldowns, 3x6 (thanks to CT for this type of exercise). I would hold the bar for 10 seconds at the bottom position, then 8, 6, 4, 2 and a regular rep at the end. I did this for the following reasons:

  1. Wide ROM.

  2. Isometric exercises activate 10% more muscle fibres than concentric exercises (thanks again to CT for this tip). This also improved my mind-muscle connection.

  3. By having a concentric-eccentric portion of the set, I’m able to take advantage of the wide ROM, even if it is mainly an isometric set.

I could also feel my lats for this one very well.

Finally, there was the set of 100 pulldowns. At first, I had to pause after the 40th, 60th, 80th and 90th rep because of the pain, but after 2 workouts, I was able to do 100 straight.

After 4 of these workouts within a 1-month period, here’s what happened:

Bent-over rows: I increased my 2 RM from 135 pounds to 165 (30 pounds, 22% improvement). I could also feel my lats a lot more when doing this. In fact, I feel them so much right now that whenever I do power rows, I feel them ripping my back, and it’s a great feeling.

Superset: I increased my straight-arm pulldown 6 RM from 50 pounds to 65 (15 pounds, 30% improvement), and my wide pullups performed right after this increased from 3 reps to 7 reps.

Iso-dynamic straight-arm pulldowns: I increased from 30 pounds to 40 (10 pounds, 33% improvement).

100-reps: I never increased my weight of 45 pounds, but I did improve from 40 reps to 100. I feel that I can do 150 if I wanted to.

OK, my numbers may seem pathetic to many of you, but what I’m emphasizing here are the results that I got. I improved a lot IMO, considering that I did all this without the help of supplements (even if CT says that supplements a must after any HSS-100 workout), using only large meals to meet my demands.

I also didn’t gain much weight and mass doing this, and this may be good news for some of you who don’t like gaining weight. For those who want hypertrophy, you may think this is bad, but the mind-muscle connection it gave me potentiated my lats to gain mass when I switched to EDT this month.

Some of you may think that what I’m preaching is bull, that my theorizing is even worse, but please take note that if all this is worthless, I wouldn’t improve at all. I’d be just like the way I was before I did this program, a guy who can’t feel his lats and whose numbers in lat exercises wouldn’t increase at all. This program worked for me, and I’m confident that it will work for people with similar lat problems.

I hope this helps you.

My lats were my weak body part in the begininng.
I did lots of heavy barbell rows and weighted chins.
So thats what I would suggest to anyone–rows and chins and lots of food.

Great post. Thanks for sharing man.

My back is more than likely my best muscle group(s) esp thickness. Nothing makes my lats more sore than ME deadlifts.

My bent over row is 165x10, I never do 1rep maxes for it as I still have a hurt lower back. If you do cardio, I would do it on a rowing machine. Haha fastest way to build up your back IMO.

Good progress and good advice!

One reason that the straight arm pulldowns are a good starting movement is that it takes out the arm muscles and allows you to develop a mind/muscle connection. That carries over to the subsequent sets and allows you to activate the target muscle better.

Another suggestion: Think of your hands as “hooks”. Don’t grip the bar tightly when doing pulldowns and chin-ups and you will find the arms stay relaxed and the back takes the full load.

Keep up the good work.

I will have to try this.
I would also like to know what Bruce Lee did for his lats. While he wasn’t a big guy, proportionately his lats were insane.

The best thing I ever did to make that “mind-muscle” connection with my lats is think of my hands as hooks like Kruiser said, but I also always use a thumbless grip when performing any back exercise. This takes the feeling right off my biceps.

In addition I try to do only overhand grip or neutral grip back work. My biceps take too much of the load whenever I use a palms facing grip.

Also helps to visualize the lats doing the work. Try doing all your back exercises from different angles as well.

Olesya

[quote]Kruiser wrote:
Good progress and good advice!

One reason that the straight arm pulldowns are a good starting movement is that it takes out the arm muscles and allows you to develop a mind/muscle connection. That carries over to the subsequent sets and allows you to activate the target muscle better.

Another suggestion: Think of your hands as “hooks”. Don’t grip the bar tightly when doing pulldowns and chin-ups and you will find the arms stay relaxed and the back takes the full load.

Keep up the good work.[/quote]

Thanks.

I agree with the hand-hook thing. CT also mentioned about arm muscle activation in back exercises depending on how hard you grip. It’s really interesting that I rep out quicker for pullups with a light grip than with a tight grip. I just grip the bar tight enough not to slip.

[quote]CrewPierce wrote:
My back is more than likely my best muscle group(s) esp thickness. Nothing makes my lats more sore than ME deadlifts.

My bent over row is 165x10, I never do 1rep maxes for it as I still have a hurt lower back. If you do cardio, I would do it on a rowing machine. Haha fastest way to build up your back IMO.[/quote]

This most likely has to do with the fact that youre a rower and a damned good one at that.

[quote]Airtruth wrote:
I will have to try this.
I would also like to know what Bruce Lee did for his lats. While he wasn’t a big guy, proportionately his lats were insane.[/quote]

Leanness creates the illusion of size and power.

It looks like you pretty much have a good idea what to do to train lats.

You might want to look into using Dumbbell Rows in your program when you think it’s time to switch out one exercise for another. If you go one arm at a time you can use weights pretty close to your barbell row weights and you can get a better range of motion for your lats than you can with a barbell or pull up bar.

Undeadlift I DO NOT think what you are preaching is bull. As the saying goes there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

One thing I do notice with most people who do pull ups/chin ups is that the grip is usually narrow which means the biceps play a larger role than you would want. I always do my pull ups/chin ups with a wider than shoulder width grip.

Also, when I pull up I pretend as if I’m driving my upper/mid pecs through the bar. I ALWAYS follow the 90 percent rule on pull ups/chin ups and always always use a myriad of different grips. I know this work for the simple fact that my workout partner (no not my dog) has stretch marks on his lats now.

Now going back again to your post. I think you did an excellent job especially in the way you detailed the regimen. I look at it as another arsenal to my game when I need to switch up…

Undeadlift,

Good post. Thanks for sharing.

My lats need lots of work.