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The 12 Best Lat Exercises for Strength and Muscle Growth

Use these exercises to grow your lats.

These are the best lat exercises to build your back, whether you have access to machines, free weights, or want to grow your lats simply using your bodyweight.

Where are the lats muscles and what do they do?

The latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the lats muscles, are the large V-shaped muscles that connect your vertebral column to your arms.

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 and covering the width of your middle and lower back. Together, they look like the wings of a butterfly.

Their primary function is to stabilize the spine while providing strength to the shoulders and arms.

The lats muscles are used mostly in pulling motions, and they help us perform things like pull-ups, swimming, and even breathing. They also help extend, move, and rotate the shoulder joint, help keep the spine straight, and assist in sideways bending.

Source: wikipedia

Best lat exercises with dumbbells and barbells

  • Dumbbell Row
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Landmine Row
  • Bent Over Row
  • Pendlay Row

Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row primarily hits muscles on your back, but also improves core stability, while engaging muscles on your shoulder, biceps, and triceps.

How to do it:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Remember to keep your back straight at all times – this will engage your core throughout the exercise.
  4. Row the dumbbell to your side by pulling your elbows back towards the hips and upwards. The elbow should barely pass your torso line.
  5. Lower the dumbbell until the arm is fully extended. That is one rep.

Read more: Dumbbell Row: Who Should Do It, Benefits, & Mistakes to Avoid (Plus 5 Workouts)

Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is another great lat exercise. It is a classic bodybuilding exercise that works your chest and back at the same time; when done right, the dumbbell pullover hits everything from the bottom of your pecs to your abs, lats and triceps.

How to do it:

To perform a dumbbell pullover you’ll need a bench and a dumbbell. It’s recommended you grab a lighter dumbbell to begin with to learn the movement and test your range of motion (think upper-body version of an air squat).

  1. Place a dumbbell standing up on a flat bench and ensure it stays securely place while you get into position.
  2. Start lying perpendicular on a bench with only your upper back/shoulders across the bench.
  3. Place your feet firmly on the floor and place your hips just slightly below the bench. Your head should be off the bench too.
  4. Grab the upper head of the dumbbell with both hands and hold it straight over your chest, with your arms extended but keeping a small bend on the shoulders.
  5. Both palms should be pressing against the underside of one of the sides of the dumbbell.
  6. While keeping your arms straight, lower the weight slowly in an arc behind your head. Make sure your core is engaged and you’re paying attention to your chest and back muscles.
  7. Lower the dumbbell until the head you’re holding reaches around the same height as your head.
  8. Bring the dumbbell back to the starting position keeping your arms extended and your midline engaged.
  9. Hold the weight on the initial position for a second and repeat the motion for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Read more: Dumbbell Pullover: How to Do It, Muscles Worked, Benefits and Workouts

Landmine Row

The landmine row is a barbell pulling exercise that builds significant upper body strength and muscle. As a heavy row, the exercise is incredibly effective for strengthening the lats muscles and shoulders, but also works the core and chest muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Set up the barbell.
  2. Stand over the barbell with one foot on either side. Face towards the end which is loaded with weight.
  3. Bend down and grip the barbell with both hands, bending your knees slightly and keeping your back straight.
  4. Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip, then pull the barbell up towards your chest.
  5. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top, pause for a second and tense your back and shoulder blades as tightly as you can.
  6. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Exhale at the bottom of the range of motion.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Read more: Landmine Row – Powerful Benefits, Technique Tips and Muscles Worked

Bent Over Row

The bent over row is a popular exercise which improves strength in the upper and lower back, with a special emphasis on the lats and shoulders, and secondary recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings.

It is important to keep a proper stance throughout this lat exercise to avoid placing too much pressure on the lower back.

How to do it:

  1. Load the barbell or place a pair of dumbbells in front of you.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly and lean forward, hinging from the hip.
  3. Keeping your back straight and your neck neutral, grab the weights. Your hands should be slightly wider that shoulder width-apart.
  4. Bend your elbows and row the weight upwards towards your chest. Make sure you keep your core engaged throughout the exercise.
  5. Pause at the top for a second and bring the weight back down until your arms are extended. Slow, controlled movements are key to an efficient and safe exercise.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay Row is a barbell back exercise originally named after American weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. It is a rowing variation popular with strength athletes for its ability to develop the lats, upper and lower back muscles.

How to do it:

  1. With a barbell on the ground in front of you, bend down until your upper body is parallel with the ground.
  2. The bar should be about a fist from your shins, your knees are slightly bent.
  3. Taking a slightly wider grip on the bar, ensure you contract your lower back and engage your midline.
  4. Explosively pull the bar up between your upper stomach and lower chest area, tightening your upper back but keeping the same hip angle from the start of the exercise.
  5. Maintaining an engaged core, bring the barbell back down all the way to the floor. Make sure this part of the exercise is controlled – you should still be working your back muscles taking the barbell down to the initial position.
  6. Ensure your posture is right and amend the position of your back, hips and feet if necessary and repeat.

Read more: Develop a Huge Back with The Pendlay Row


Best lat exercises with machines

  • Lat Pulldown
  • Cable Row
  • T Bar Row

Lat Pulldown

Lat pulldowns are similar to pull-ups, but instead of pulling your body upwards, you perform this exercise seated and pull an external weight down in a similar motion.

lat pulldown exercise

How to do it:

  1. Start by facing the machine and finding a comfortable seat, with your back straight, core engaged and feet grounded on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar, this should be at a comfortable distance that requires you to almost fully stretch your arms. For a classic lat pulldown, grab the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
  3. Pull the bar down until it passes under your chin and your hands are about shoulder height. Make sure you keep your core tight and engage your back muscles throughout this movement. Your elbows should stay relatively close to your sides and your torso should remain in position.
  4. Pause for a second and squeeze your lats. 
  5. Bring the bar back up in a controlled manner, ensuring this motion is slow and you engage your core and back muscles throughout. The rep is completed when your arms are extended overhead again.

Read more: The Lat Pulldown: One Sure-Fire Way to Grow a Bigger Back

Cable Row

The cable row was specifically created to increase upper body strength and build your back muscles. While muscles like the erector spinea, the rhomboids, and the lower trapezius are targeted, the latissimus dorsi gets an incredible workout with the cable row too.

athlete trains with indoor rower at homeSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the cable row machine and place your feet solidly on the platform.
  2. Bend your legs slightly and reach for the handles, keeping your back tall.
  3. Your shoulders should be directly over your hips, your lower back extended, and your lats engaged.
  4. Bend your elbows and bring your hands towards your chest, keeping your back tall and engaging the lats throughout.
  5. Pause for a second, then extend the arms again making sure you don’t round your back.
  6. Return to the initial position, that is one rep.

T Bar Row

Primarily the T Bar Row is a back exercise and is an excellent fitness tool to help you build a powerful, strong, and muscular back and significant pulling strength. The primary muscles that are worked with this exercise are the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and the posterior deltoid.

How to do it:

  1. If using a barbell, load it with the desired weight. If using a machine start with step two.
  2. Place your feet shoulder width apart behind the machine, then rest your chest against the pad (if you are using a machine).
  3. Reach down and grab the handles of the T Bar machine.
  4. Inhale and brace your core, glutes, and grip, and pull the weight towards you.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, pausing and holding for a second.
  6. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position and exhale at the bottom of the movement.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Read more: T Bar Row – Muscles Worked, Benefits, Technique and Variations


Best bodyweight lat exercises

  • Wide Grip Pull-Ups
  • Negative Pull-Ups
  • Push-Ups
  • Rowing

Wide grip pull-ups

Widening your grip during the pull-up will place a greater workload on the lats muscles; the wider the grip, the less help the lats get from other muscles. However, be careful not to exaggerate this, as a high volume of wide grip pull-ups can place unwanted stress on the shoulders.

Negative pull-ups

Negative pull-ups are performed in the same way as a regular pull-up, except you take 3-5 seconds to lower yourself. The motion should be done slowly and under control. You then jump back to the top position.

Push-ups

Push-ups can be done anywhere and are effective, as they activate many muscles at the same time. The push-up is not only a triceps, chest, and shoulder exercise, but works your back as well.

Concentrate on quality more than quantity when doing this bodyweight exercise. Make sure you also pay attention to your hip and legs positioning.

Rowing

Not necessarily an exercise, but rowing is a great way to improve your conditioning while also working a vast number of muscles in your body, including your lats.

What are the most important lats exercises?

The best lat exercise will depend on your goals and what you enjoy doing, as you’re most likely to stick to what you like. If you want to isolate the lats muscles, then perform the lat pulldown, cable row, or the dumbbell row.

If you want to grow a bigger back overall, use wide grip pull-ups or bent over rows.

If you want to pack as much muscle as possible, then the T Bar row and Pendlay row are your friends.  

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