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Lats Muscle: Building A Powerful Foundation for Upper-Body Strength

The latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the lats muscles, are the large v-shaped muscles that connect your vertebral column to your arms. Their primary function is to stabilize the spine while providing strength to the shoulders and arms. 

The development of your lat muscles are important for cultivating strength in the upper-body. They provide the foundation for a lot of functional movements, supporting good posture and range of motion. 

Paying attention to your lat muscles form an essential part of your upper body training, so it’s good to understand what they are, why we need them and how to keep them strong.

What are the Lats Muscles?

The latissimus dorsi are two large, flat muscles that extend from the lower back, stretching to the sides, behind the arm, and are partly covered by the trapezius. They are some of the biggest muscles in your back, spanning from the top of your hip bone all the way up to your arms.

Latissimus dorsi are the large flat muscles in your back

The lat muscles are used for extension, hyperextension and internal rotation of the shoulder blades, as well as stabilization of the spine. The latissimus dorsi also assists in breathing as they are attached to the ribcage.

What are the Lat Muscles Used For?

Simply put, the lat muscles pull things and abduct things — to lift your arms up and then down, the downward movement is abduction.

The lats are essential for a number of reasons. Throughout your day-to-day, the lats are responsible for good posture and provide the strength you need to lift heavy objects. So many daily movements engage the lats muscles; from opening doors and lifting weights; so it’s important to keep these muscles strong and healthy. 

Tight lat muscles can contribute to bad posture and can cause you to adopt a rounded shoulder position, which isn’t good for working out with proper form. 

That said, lats aren’t commonly injured, however strains can be caused by lifting too much weight or having an improper technique. Overtraining can also put stress on the muscle. It’s important to stretch your lats, as well as strengthening, to increase range of motion and avoid injury

What Exercises are Good for the Lat Muscles?

Many exercises you do as part of a CrossFit or functional fitness workout need strong and flexible lats. All that lifting, pulling and rowing put a huge amount of strain on these muscles, so it’s good to pay attention to them.

Exercises which help build strong lat muscles are:

  1. Pull-Ups

Pull-ups / chin-ups are great for the upper-body in general. The movement takes the lats through a full range of motion — both contracting the muscle and extending it as you move up and down.

CrossFit workouts

To do a pull-up, place your arms wider than your shoulders on the pull-up bar above you, engaging your arms and shoulders to lift your body weight until your chin reaches the level of the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down in a controlled manner and repeat.

  1. Pulldowns

If you struggle to do pull-ups, pulldowns are equally good for conditioning your lats, perfectly targeting the muscle when done correctly. 

Using a pulldown machine, grasp the bar with a wide grip. Sit down below the bar, looking forward with your torso upright. Retract your shoulder blades and pull the bar down in front of you. When the bar reaches your chest, return to your starting position. Add more weight as it feels comfortable without straining the muscles.

Grip machine lat pulldown. Exercising for bodybuilding Target muscles are marked in red. 3D illustration

There are several variations of the pulldown including the underhand lat pulldown, unilateral lat pulldown and straight arm pulldown.

  1. Dumbbell Row

A box favourite, dumbbell rows are an excellent single arm movement for the latissimus dorsi

On a bench parallel to you, place a hand and knee of the same side on it, while the other foot is touching the ground. A dumbbell should be on the ground next to the bench and close to your foot. Reach down with your free hand and grab the dumbbell with palms facing you. Remember to keep your back straight at all times.

  1. Barbell Row

Barbell rows offer a lot of the same benefits of a dumbbell row for this muscle group, but focus on both sides at the same time.

barbell row muscles worked by the exercises
Engage your lats and strengthen your back

With feet facing towards the barbell, hinge your hips forward, placing your hands on the barbell using an overhand, shoulder width grip. Tighten your core and keep your shoulder blades squeezed. Bring the barbell up to your chest and then lower back down. Repeat the movement for the required number of reps. 

  1. Deadlift

Another foundational movement, deadlifts are beneficial for the entire posterior chain. Strong lats are hugely important for lifting increasingly heavy weights, so it’s sometimes good to deload from time to time to protect these muscles from injury.

Starting with the barbell on the floor, grab with an overhand grip. Knees bent to begin, tighten your core and keep strength in your body throughout. Pull the barbell up towards your hips along your shins. Stand tall and pull the hips back to your standing position.

Killer Workouts for the Lat Muscles

If you want to blast your upper body and sculpt those impressive muscles, here are three workouts which will help build strength in your lats.

1 “Edward White”

EMOM for 23 minutes:

  • 3 Deadlifts (230/160 lb)
  • 5 Strict Pull-Ups

2 “Chelsea”

EMOM for 30 minutes:

  • 5 Pull-Ups
  • 10 Push-Ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Every minute on the minute (EMOM) for 30 minutes, perform 5 Pull-Ups, 10 Push-Ups, and 15 Air Squats. If there is any time left in each minute, rest until the next minute starts.

Score is the number of rounds finished in 30 minutes, with the best possible score being 30 rounds. For the rounds to count, they must be performed every minute on the minute.

3 “Swole-Tel”

Four parts in 12 minutes

EMOM for 3 minutes:

  • 15 Dumbbell Rows (2×30 lb)
  • 10 Push-Ups

EMOM for 3 minutes:

  • 10 Dumbbell Rows (2×40 lb)
  • 10 Push-Ups

EMOM for 3 minutes:

  • 5 Dumbbell Rows (2×45 lb)
  • 10 Push-Ups

Then, AMRAP in 3 minutes:

  • Dumbbell Rows (2×30 lb)

Perform the entire workout with a running clock. No rest between sections. Score is the total number of dumbbell rows completed in the final 3-minute AMRAP section of the workout.

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