In part 1 we covered the biceps. Today it is the turn of lats.
But first a quick recap on how these articles can add value to your training.
We all have muscle groups we’d like to grow more. Perhaps it is a stubborn body part or perhaps you just want to develop freaky size in one particular area.
Not all muscles are created equal! As a result, training all muscles in the same manner doesn’t make sense. That is where muscle specific training comes in.
The aim of this series is to examine each muscle group in detail. To highlight what training approaches are optimal and where you may be missing out on progress.
By manipulating body position, biomechanics, rep ranges, rep speeds, rest periods, volume load, training frequency and more I hope to leave you with the knowledge to build any bodypart to the size you desire.
Part 2 sees us getting our Red Bull on and giving you wings…
The latissimus dorsi (lats) originate along the length of the lower thoracic, lowest 3 ribs and the iliac crest. It inserts at the bicipital groove of the humerus.
The primary function of the lats is as a shoulder adductor (moving arms in towards the side – e.g., a lat pulldown where the elbows move back towards the body). It is helped in this function by the smaller muscle above it the Teres Major.
The lats are also shoulder extensors (e.g., straight arm pulldown). A neutral position is strongest for shoulder extension.
The lats have 3 main regions (superior, middle & inferior fibres).
Shoulder adduction is mostly performed by the lower fibres of the lats. While the superior (upper) fibres of the lats contribute mostly to shoulder extension.
Shoulder adduction peak contraction is slightly more complex than simply saying it targets the lower fibres though. High levels of activation are found in both the upper and lower fibres (middle fibres activation is relatively low) when the arm is just below horizontal. So this indicates that to fully stimulate the lats in adduction exercises with a peak contraction points at just below horizontal are most favourable.
Utilise shoulder extension AND adduction to fully stimulate lats.
Shoulder orientation can affect the muscle’s biomechanical efficiency and, therefore, the training stimulus. In shoulder adduction the lats are strongest with a slight external rotation of the shoulder. Indeed, studies have shown that a pronated grip during vertical pulling can create greater muscle activity. In contrast many studies have found no difference between grip width or using an underhand, overhand or neutral grip during pulldowns. My advice…rotate through these variations during training cycles.
Mind muscle connection counts…it’s science bro!
Although grip width/orientation has not caused different lat activation in numerous studies it has been found that refining technique through verbal and tactile cueing does produce greater muscle activity with a pronated grip. So build that mind muscle connection baby!
Often pull-ups, chins and pulldowns are turned from great back exercises to crappy biceps ones because of poor form. Don’t let this happen to you! Put these practical technique tips into action to improve your form and increase your lat growth:
- View the hands as hooks and focus on initiating the movement with the lats.
- Don’t pull with the biceps. Instead think of moving the shoulder blades first, while driving the elbows into the sides.
- Practice the above tips with a very light weight on pulldowns to perfect it before transitioning to heavier weights and/or pull-ups and chins.
- Focus on a full stretch of the lats at the top. The more a muscle is stretched the harder it will contract.
- When you hit peak contraction squeeze the weight hard with your lats for a 2-count.
- If you don’t feel it in the lats you aren’t doing it right.
Get a Grip!
Wide grip lat pulldowns with an overhand grip will effectively recruit the lats in shoulder adduction. When doing straight arm pulldowns, however, a semi-supinated grip with a rope or using a slightly V-shaped bar will recruit the lats more effectively than a straight bar.
When using horizontal row variations to train the lats the key appears to be to AVOID exercises which require stabilization of the lower back. Good choices, therefore, are chest supported rows or seated rowing variations. Furthermore, using a supinated grip rather than a pronated grip appears superior for hitting the lats.
The lats are comprised of a greater proportion of type II to type I muscle fibres. As a result, heavy loads and higher speeds would be beneficial for this muscle. From a practical standpoint I have found the lats respond well to a variety of rep ranges at a moderate overall volume
A training frequency for the lats of 2-4 times a week is a good range. Depending on your ability to recover up to 30 total sets per week might be doable. For most the sweet spot is nearer to 20 (+/-3-5) sets per week. Start at the lower end of this frequency and volume and gradually increase it over time to allow you to continue to grow your lats.
EMG studies have shown that Wide Grip Pull-Ups, Wide Grip Chins and Rack Pulls are amongst the best when it comes to Mean and Peak activation levels.
If I had to pick just one exercise to train the lats I would go with wide grip pull-ups.
Get good at these with textbook form and you will be well on the way to building a bran door back.
Aim to do 12 dead-hang pull-ups with full ROM and initiating with the lats.