Exercises that target the latissimus dorsi are staples of any good bodybuilding routine. Moves like the pulldown, the pullup, and the row—and their many variations—and are essential for any guy trying to build back muscle. (That, ostensibly, means you.)
Surprisingly enough, though, lots of guys simply get lat exercises wrong—or, if they do them correctly, they’re simply not getting as much out of them as they could be. Here’s how to make the most out of your lat exercises.
1. When doing pulldowns, keep your torso upright and pull the bar as low on your torso as possible. Pretend you’re pulling the bar toward your belt, not your chest. Too many times people lean way back as they do this movement. Don’t bother—you’re just working your glutes, not your lats.
2. It’s not about moving the weight, it’s about making the muscles work, so make sure you don’t swing. As you swing backwards, you’re using momentum to help move the weight. The other issue with leaning backward is the tendency to pull the bar right to your chest, which then engages more of your rear deltoids, resulting in less isolation on your lats.
3. In the simplest terms, one of the functions of your lats is to help pull your arms down toward your sides. To get a good visual for the plane of movement is to imagine a jumping jack. With that in mind, put your focus on the path of your elbows, not your hands. A mental trick is to imagine your hands and forearms only as hooks that hold the bar. As the bar goes up, your elbows are going to move away from your body, and as the bar comes down they will go toward your body. The lower you pull the bar, the closer your elbows get to your sides. The more range of motion, the greater the muscle activation, the more muscle development.
4. When doing a row, make sure to keep your elbows tight to your body to get that proper arm extension. If you bring your elbows out, you’re going to engage more of your rear deltoids. Like the pulldown, bring the bar to your belt, not your chest. Careful using a reverse grip, since it allows your biceps to assist in the motion, putting less focus on the lats.
5. Another great lat exercise is the bar row or dumbbell row, and this tip applies to both: Besides pulling your arms toward your sides, your lats also pull your arms down and back. A good way to visualize the movement: using both hands to close the trunk of your car. This definitely over-simplifies the motion, but it should give you a picture, and emphasize why you should not swing backward to complete even heavy reps.