lat exercise

Best Lat Exercises for Your Back Days

by Evelyn Valdez

Your back is composed of several major muscle groups, such as your trapezoids, your rhomboids, and your rear deltoids, as well as this huge muscle group that you should never neglect on your upper-body days: the latissimus dorsi, better known as the lats.

Since they make up a huge part of your back, training your lats is key if your goal is to have a stronger and more toned back. And this isn’t just to look better in the mirror! Your back is an important element in many upper and even lower-body movements, so the stronger it is, the more effective your strength training workouts will be. Plus, a strong back helps improve your posture and proper form during any exercise!

We’ve put together a list of some of the best lat exercises that you can do at the gym, and even at home if you have the equipment necessary – sometimes you’ll just need a pair of dumbbells! So take a pen and paper and write your favorite exercises down so you can later add them to your fitness routine.

Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns

We're starting off this list with a classic – lat pulldowns! However, this slight change in grip helps place a greater focus on the outer and lower part of the lats more than the traditional close-grip variation. It also reduces the work on the biceps and forearms, so that the main focus is your lats!

How to do it:

  1. Place your knees under the provided pads. Position the pads so that your thighs are not able to raise up off the bench.
  2. Grasp the lat bar with a wide overhand grip, wider than shoulder-width. Slightly lean your torso back, this is the starting position.
  3. Begin the exercise by pulling the bar down to your upper chest. Focus on using your lats to pull the bar down and not your arms.
  4. Slowly reverse the movement back to starting position.

Seated cable rows

When talking about lat exercises, seated cable rows are a must in your strength training routine. This exercise involves pulling the weight toward your chest while seated upright, giving your back muscles a good burn. This rowing movement targets almost your entire back, as well as your arm muscles while pulling.

How to do it:

  1. Find a seated cable row machine and sit on it with your torso pressed against the cushioned support. Firmly place your feet on the floor or the machine pads and grasp the handle of the rope attachment with both hands.
  2. Keeping your back straight, begin the movement by pulling the handle toward your body in a controlled motion. Drive your shoulders down and back while you pull, and make sure not to arch your back.
  3. When the handle is almost touching your torso, squeeze your shoulder blades, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Straight arm pulldown

This is a killer variation of the classic lat pulldown, with the difference that this movement is performed standing and with your arms completely straight, without bending your elbows throughout the range of motion. It mainly targets your lats, but it’s also a great exercise to work your other main back muscles as well as your biceps and triceps.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a bar handle to a high pulley in a cable machine and stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms to reach for the handle and lower it to face height without flexing your elbows.
  2. Slightly bending your hips and knees for stability, begin pulling the bar down until it’s almost touching your thighs. Don’t forget to engage your back muscles during the pulling movement, bracing your core for stability.
  3. Keeping your back and arms straight and your shoulders down, hold the position for a moment, then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat the lat pull.

Meadows row

The Meadows row is the coined name for a single-arm lateral row, a highly effective unilateral movement that targets your middle back. This includes your lats, traps, and rear delts, with some shoulder and arm activation. It’s performed with a landmine, and the angle makes it easier for your to load heavier weights to the bar.

How to do it:

  1. Load the end of a barbell and lock the opposite end against a squat rack or a corner, making sure it’s secured so it doesn’t slip. Stand next to the landmine so that the bar is facing completely to your right side, pointing at you, and grab the and with your right hand with an overhand grip.
  2. Take a staggered stance, with your left leg slightly in front of you for stability, and hinge at the hips and knees so that your torso is at about 45 degrees. You can rest your left hand or forearm on your left thigh for additional stability.
  3. Begin the movement by bracing your core and row the bar up and toward you until it’s near your chest and your right arm is almost parallel to the floor.
  4. At the top of the movement, make sure to squeeze your arm and back muscles, then slowly lower the bar and repeat. Finish your reps and switch to the other side.

Inverted bodyweight row

This movement not only works your back muscles but also your arms and core, making for a great upper-body strengthening exercise. At its core, it’s like doing chin-ups, except you’re lifting your weight at an angle and without lifting your heels off the floor, helping with the lifting motion. If you switch to an overhand grip and place the bar a little bit higher, you can use this movement to practice your deadlift!

How to do it:

  1. Find a rack and place a bar on the lower level so that’s it’s near the ground. Lay under it, making sure that the bar is low enough so that you can grab it with your arms extended without reaching too far up but low enough so that you don’t have to bend your elbows.
  2. Place your hands on the bar with an underhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping the rest of your body in a straight line, make sure that your feet are close together for balance.
  3. Begin the movement by flexing your elbows and pulling your body weight up and toward the bar. Be careful not to arch your back or let your hips sink to the ground.
  4. When your chest reaches the bar, hold the position for a moment, then slowly lower yourself and repeat.

T-bar row

This bent-over barbell row variation is a highly effective exercise for your back because you lift the weight with a neutral grip, allowing you to handle more weight at once, although some T-bar row machines might require an overhand grip instead. It targets your lats as well as other back muscles such as your traps and rear delts, plus some help from your biceps and shoulder muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Find a T-bar row machine, or attach a barbell to a squat rack if you don’t have access to a T-bar row machine. Step on the platform and bend at the hips and knees to get into position, grabbing the handles with both hands in a neutral grip.
  2. With your torso at around 45 degrees, begin pulling the bar up to your chest while you drive your elbows back and your shoulder blades together.
  3. Without arching your back at the top of the movement, squeeze your back muscles, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position and repeat.

Dumbbell pullovers

This dumbbell exercise targets a bunch of major group muscles, such as your lats, pecs, and triceps, making it a killer upper body muscle that hits every major area. It even targets your serratus muscles, which are located under your armpits and around your ribcage, a muscle that’s often forgotten during upper-body strength training days!

How to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell and lay down on a bench while facing up. Extend your arms over your head and grasp the dumbbell with both hands, either by the handle or by the weight instead, it’s up to you and what you find more comfortable.
  2. With your feet firmly planted on the floor, begin lowering the dumbbell down and back, flexing your elbows, and rotating your shoulders. The motion should be arched, drive the dumbbell as far down as your can, ideally until your arms are in line with your body.
  3. Hold this position for a moment while your squeeze all the targeted muscles, then slowly pull the weight back to the starting position and repeat.

Power plank with row

This movement is performed with a pair of dumbbells, but you could also do it with two kettlebells! It targets major muscle areas, such as your back, core, arms, chest, and even shoulders. That’s because, on top of a regular plank, you’ll be alternating rowing a weight with each arm, adding a challenge to an already difficult position.

How to do it:

  1. First, find a couple of dumbbells. With a weight in each hand, get down on the floor and into a full plank position so that your arms are extended and your body forms a line from your head to your feet.
  2. Keeping both dumbbells on the floor supporting your weight, begin by shifting your body weight to the left side and rowing your right arm back, pulling your elbow up until the dumbbell is next to your chest.
  3. Squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly lower the dumbbell down. Shift your weight to the right side and repeat the row with your left arm, alternating on each rep.

Yates row

This rowing exercise is a variation of the classic bent-over row, except that you perform it with an underhand grip instead of overhand, helping emphasize your back muscles. Specifically, the Yates row targets your lats muscles, traps, rhomboids, delts, and even your biceps, plus the erector spinae for stability. Rows in general are known for being killer exercises for your back, and this one is definitely one of the most effective!

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a loaded bar with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend down to grab the bar with an underhand grip. Make sure that your hands are separated at a comfortable distance, and lift the weight off the floor until your upper body is between 45 degrees and parallel to the floor.
  2. Keeping your back straight and your knees slightly bent, begin the movement by rowing the weight toward your ribcage, driving your elbows and your shoulder blades back without lifting your torso.
  3. At the top of the movement, the bar should be almost touching your torso and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Pause for a moment, then lower the weight and repeat.

Your back is a big part of your body, so it needs enough love and attention for it to grow. Adding a few lat exercises to your upper body routine and mixing it up with exercises that target other muscles is the perfect recipe for muscle growth, so don’t be afraid to try some of the best exercises for lats next time you step into the gym!

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