Lats (latissimus dorsi) are two large, triangular shaped back muscles on the sides of the spine. Known as the largest muscles in the upper body, the lats go from right under your shoulder in the armpit area, all the way down to right above the hips.
Bodybuilders have a deep appreciation for strong, well developed lats. In men, they help achieve the enviable V shape that comes from having broad shoulders and a tight/small waist. In women, working the lats can also help you achieve an hourglass figure and sexy back that looks great in backless tops/dresses.
Aside from an aesthetic appearance, lats also play a big role in pulling activities, helping with breathing by enhancing the movements of the trunk (1), helping keep your arms in when you are stationary, keeping shoulders in place and helping with side-to-side bending.
So how do you improve the appearance and boost functionality of the lats? Read on to learn more about the best lat exercises, how to get a wide back, the upper-back stretches that reduce soreness, and much more.
How Can I Get Big Lats Fast?
You have to workout, there is no other way around it.
According to Medical News Today, to increase muscle size and mass, you need to continuously and consistently challenge your muscles through progressive overload, by increasing the resistance, volume, and weights. Doing this leads to muscle hypertrophy (8) – an increase in muscle mass, and can also help increase strength – as your muscles fibers continuously breakdown and repair themselves via workouts and rest, respectively.
Aside from working out, specifically through resistance/weight training, you must also meet your protein requirements (6). Protein is the main building block or muscles and thus an adequate intake is recommended for anyone looking to increase/accelerate muscle growth.
A study published in 2016 suggested a minimum daily protein intake of 1.0, 1.3, and 1.6 g per kilogram of body weight for people engaged in minimal, moderate, and intense physical activity, respectively (3).
An important fact women new to bodybuilding must remember is that men tend to put on muscle much faster than women do (10). This is not only because women generally have more estrogen and less testosterone than men.
This, however, does not mean that your muscles will not grow or that you are necessarily weaker.
One 10-week study done on both men and women found that after doing the same upper body resistance training workouts for the entire study period, while the men had slightly high muscle mass, both men and women had similar upper body strength response to the training (2).
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What Is The Most Effective Lats Exercise?
Contrary to what other sources all over the internet may say, there is no one exercise that you’ll just need to do to massively grow your lats. There are several reasons for this but the three main ones are:
To avoid plateauing
A plateau happens when your body adapts to a workout plan and stops showing intended results. In the fitness world, plateaus are often mentioned when talking about weight loss, but they can happen in muscle growth too.
When you do one movement for extended periods of time your body gets used to the movement and eventually, any progress will eventually come to a halt. You may try to fix this by adding more weights/resistance while doing the exercise or increasing your reps, and while this could get you out of the plateau, progress in muscle size and strength may continue to be limited.
To avoid boredom
We can admit that we are creatures of habit to a point. With that said, doing the same thing over and over every week for months on end is bound to get boring eventually.
Same thing happens with exercise, doing the same 1 or 2 exercises every week for multiple months will become boring. This raises your chance of quitting the workout and not achieving your goals.
More sets equal bigger muscles
In a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, researchers found that the more volume of exercise done per training session, the greater the muscle gain of the participants (9).
While you can do multiple sets of the same lat exercise, it will get very boring, very quickly. However, having multiple workouts all targeting the lats makes the training session more varied and interesting, which eliminates boredom, the risk of plateauing and leads to larger muscles.
Ps. While this last point works great for bigger muscles, it isn’t necessarily the only method for muscle strength. A study published in 2022 in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that both maintaining and varying the exercises for the same muscle group promoted similar adaptations in the maximum dynamic strength (4).
Which Are The Best Lat Exercises?
Here are some of the best exercises that target the lats and will help them grow
Wide Grip Pull-Ups
Pull ups in general are a go to exercise for anyone looking to grow their lats and sculpt their back. However, among all existing variations the wide grip pull up seems to be a fan favorite.
How to do it:
- Stand underneath a pullup bar, with your back and spine straight
- Reach up with both hands and grab the bar. Move both arms outward so that your hands are more than shoulder-width apart. To ensure that you are well positioned, examine your pose to see if you are forming a ‘Y’ shape.
- With your gaze straight ahead, slowly pull your body up towards the bar.
- Hold for two seconds before slowly straightening your arms and lowering yourself.
- Do this for the desired amount of sets and reps.
When it comes to the best lat exercises with dumbbells, the dumbbell row is king among such workouts. This exercise is especially great since it’s very easy to grasp, especially for beginners
How to do it:
- Start by standing in front of a bench or box with a dumbbell in one hand
- Hinge at the hips and place the empty hand on the bench/box for balance
- Keeping your core tight and torso steady, bend the elbow and use your back muscles to pull the dumbbell up toward your ribcage.
- Stop pulling on the dumbbell once the weight is just above your belly button.
- Hold the weight here for 2 seconds before slowing returning your arm to start position
- Do this for 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps, before switching hands and repeating the exercise.
The rowing motion is a great movement that works the arms, shoulders, core, back (including the lats), glutes and legs. The seated row is often done with a cable machine, however, if you do not have access to this machine, you can make do with resistance bands.
How to do band seated rows:
- Sit down on the floor with your legs stretched straight in front of you.
- Place the band securely around your feet and scoot back till you feel tension in the band.
- Brace your core and pull the band towards your belly button until your elbows are past your upper body.
- Hold this position and then slowly return to the starting position (resist against the pull of the band)
- Repeat for desired sets and reps.
This is one of the easiest to do lat exercises at home with dumbbells. It is a fantastic core and back workout that can help improve your upper body strength, balance and stability.
How to do it:
- Grab two dumbbells in each hand and get into an all-fours position on the mat. Keep your knees and toes flexed and in contact with the floor. Be sure that your hips are over your knees and the dumbbells in your hands are slightly shoulder-width apart.
- Straighten your legs to lift your knees off of the ground so you end up in a pushup/standard plank position. Move your feet slightly wider than your hips for greater stability.
- Engage your core, squeeze your quads and glutes, rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats and tuck your chin.
- Maintaining the above position, pull one dumbbell toward your hip by using your lat and bending your elbow. Your elbow should be 30–45 degrees away from your body.
- Pause here for 1 to 2 seconds. Remember to keep breathing.
- Slowly straighten your hand, returning the dumbbell to the starting position.
- Repeat the upward movement on the opposite side.
- This counts as one rep. Repeat this for 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Other lat exercises that work just as well as these include
- Incline bench row with barbell or dumbbell
- Barbell row
- Gorilla rows
- Straight arm pull-downs
- Barbell pullover
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How Do I Hit My Lats Better?
If you feel like your lat exercises at home (or in the gym) are not giving you your desired results, you might want to consider doing more isolation exercises.
As the name suggests, isolation exercises isolate the muscle, i.e they work one muscle group at a time. This is unlike compound exercises that work several muscles or muscle groups, i.e the lats plus one or two muscles around them.
According to VeryWellFit, compound exercises are often recommended for both athletes and casual gym goers. This is because they tend to burn more calories, offer a full body workout in less time and stimulate real-world movements which is great to build strength for everyday activities and movements.
However, for people whose goal is to increase the strength or size of a specific muscle group, isolation is the best way to go. Taking the time to specifically work on the lats – or any other muscle – increases the chances of it becoming bigger and stronger faster.
How Do You Hit All Three Parts Of Lats?
By doing any of the above listed best lat exercises, you will be hitting all 3 parts of your lats.
Here is the thing, while you can isolate the lat muscles while working out, you cannot isolate the upper, mid, or lower lats. According to VeryWellFit, the isolation of the upper, mid and lower lats with exercise is nothing but a myth.
The latissimus dorsi muscles on the sides of your back – from the mid to lower back – always work as a whole unit. This means that any movement you make involves all three parts of the lats and thus any exercise done targeting them works the muscle as a whole, not just one or two parts.
How To Get Rid Of Back Rolls?
How to get rid of back rolls? Back rolls result due to having excess body fat. Excess body fat is usually the result of eating more calories than you need and the body ends up turning the extra unused calories into fat.
To get rid of back rolls you need to do 2 main things
- Watch your diet
To break this down further:
Watching your diet
- Start by reducing your calorie intake – By going on a calorie deficit you deprive the body of extra calories that it will simply turn into stored fat. Eating less calories that your body needs on a day to day forces the body to turn to its stored fat to burn as energy which results in body weight and fat loss over time.
- Get rid of unhealthy foods from your diet – A diet rich in fast foods and high sugar foods/drinks can also contribute to the increase of back rolls. These foods and drinks are high in unhealthy fats and empty calories, which do nothing for the body and lead to excessive calorie intake.
- Add more lean protein, healthy fats, fruit and vegetables as well as complex carbs to your diet – Protein and fiber (from complex carbohydrates) take longer to digest which can also increase your metabolism slightly (aka calorie burning), and help with a calorie deficit diet.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber and antioxidants which are fantastic for your health.
Working out is the quickest way to boost your metabolism and burn calories, both which lead to weight loss and reduced back fat/rolls.
Please note that when we say exercise, we do not mean that you should only do exercises that target this area of the body. While back workout calisthenics – pr back targeted weight training exercises – will certainly help, we cannot spot reduce one body part – i.e back workouts will not lead to less back fat, same as core/ab workouts will not lead to a smaller waist.
To lose fat in your back, or any other part of the body, you must be prepared to lose fat all over the body. Make sure to do your cardio as well as an array for full body weighted workouts to help with full body fat loss and a trimmer, more fit figure.
Read more: Here’s How To Get Rid Of Back Rolls for Good
The Bottom Line
If you are looking to grow your lats, then these exercises must be in your weekly workouts. Remember that like with everything else, you have to remain patient and consistent to see any changes. Be sure to also increase your protein intake and take your rest days seriously.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Comparison of upper body strength gains between men and women after 10 weeks of resistance training (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary protein intake and human health (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Does Varying Resistance Exercises for the Same Muscle Group Promote Greater Strength Gains? (2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evidence of a double peak in muscle activation to enhance strike speed and force: an example with elite mixed martial arts fighters (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscle activation during maximal effort tasks: evidence of the selective forces that shaped the musculoskeletal system of humans (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscle Hypertrophy (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sex-Based Differences in Skeletal Muscle Kinetics and Fiber-Type Composition (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)