Don’t worry this isn’t going to be your typical article from a muscle magazine about how to get your “wings” so big that you can fly. What I’m going to outline will definitely grow your lats, however, this is a focus for the strength athlete to improve your lifts, and to decrease chance of injury. If you are a powerlifter, strong(wo)man, or crossfitter, the lats play a crucial role in virtually any lift. Learning how to engage them properly will drastically increase your strength. A quick anatomy lesson: the latissumus dorsi is a huge muscle that connects the spine to the humerus. The lats are responsible for extension, and adduction. The lats are also extremely important in stabilizing the scapulae. Weak and/or tight lats are a guaranteed shoulder injury waiting to happen.
When working with clients who are new to training, activating the lats can be very difficult. The first drill I use is having them put both hands between their legs as if they were in a sumo dead lift position. I will then push against their hands to resist, and they will automatically turn the lats on. When deadlifting, this is extremely important to do. In a previous article I outlined how to do this, as well as a video with the drill here.
A second drill I use is also a great exercise to build the lats. The straight arm lat pull down can be performed generally on a cable, but also a band if you don’t have access to one. If on a cable use a wide lat pulldown bar. Grab the outside of the bar with your arms locked out, and slightly hinge at the hips with your arms stretched out. Pull the bar into the crease of your hips, and as you do, try to rip the bar apart to further activate your lats. When the bar comes into contact with you continue to pull it in for a second. Bring the bar back up fully stretching the lats before pulling it back down.