Big lats serve two primary purposes: They support your spine during squats, deadlifts, and bench presses and make you look big in sweaters. However, many lifters have trouble engaging their lats because we don’t use them much in daily activities — it requires a conscious effort. The lower lats specifically often lack strength and development, mainly because many people cut the range of motion of their upper-body pulling movements short, leaving gains on the table.
Below are five of the best lower lat exercises for overall back development, strength, and aesthetics. Besides outlining tried-and-true movements like lat pulldowns, we also provide more advanced variations to try, like underhanded bent over rows.
Best Lower Lat Exercises
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- Dumbbell Row To Hips
- Seated Banded Row
- Straight Arm Pulldown
- Underhanded Bent Over Row
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The wide grip lat pulldown focuses on the outer and lower part of the lats more than the traditional close-grip version. The wider grip variation reduces the work of the biceps and forearms as there is less elbow flexio, which therefore requires more of your lats to pull the weight down. Also, the wide grip allows you to alter your arm angle so that your elbows are pulled from high and out to close and in, which will elicit a contraction from your low lats.
Benefits of the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- The reduced workload on the biceps and forearms means increased muscular tension on then lats for bigger strength and hypertrophy gains.
- Increases the width of your back and shoulders.
How to Do the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
Face the lat pulldown machine and snuggly fit the thighs underneath the pad. Take a wide overhand grip of the bar, grip tight and slightly lean your torso back and take a deep breath in. Pull the bar towards the nipple line of your chest while keeping your core tight and exhale. Pause for a second and slowly return to the starting position, and repeat.
Single-arm rows are great at ironing out strength imbalances between sides and are a great upper back builder. But with a little tweak, it’s a great lower lat builder. When you start the exercise, instead of rowing up, think about pulling back — as this will result in an arc-like range of motion, where the weight starts below your shoulder and finishes at your hip. This helps you really feel the lower lats contract and work.
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Benefits of the Dumbbell Row to Hips
- The larger range of motion put more muscular tension on the lower lats.
- Rowing towards the hips reduces the technique flaw of shrugging the upper traps while doing single-arm rows.
- Helps to reduce strength imbalances between sides.
How to Do the Dumbbell Row to Hips
Support your non-working hand on a bench or dumbbell rack and take a big step back with the opposite leg. With a firm grip of the dumbbell on the inside of your front foot, row the dumbbell to the outside of your hip while keeping your shoulders down and chest up. Pause for a second and slowly lower down to the starting position and repeat for reps.
Performing seated rows with bands help place the lats under constant tension and to place your body in an ideal position without restrictions (think bar path) that dumbbells and barbells might lock you into. The key with seated band rows is keeping your shoulders externally rotated, and with slight scapular depression, and to focus on using your lats and not your traps. Also, because you’re not lifting weights, your joints won’t be as prone to injury.
Benefits of Seated Band Rows
- Place constant tension on your lower lats without adding stress to your joints.
- The ascending resistance of the band strengthens your lockout strength.
How to Do the Seated Band Row
Sit down on the floor with your legs extended. Loop a resistance band around the middle of your feet, holding an end in each hand. Keep your back straight, fully extend your arms, and then row your elbows until they pass your torso. To better target the lower lats, keep your elbows tucked in at your sides.
This exercise can be performed with either a cable machine or a resistance band, but the premise is the same. You’ll grab either implement with your arms straight (as the name imples), and thenflex your lats to pull your arms down to your sides. The straight arm lat pulldown is a great exercise if you have trouble ’feeling’ your lats during any pulling movement and is a great deadlift accessory exercise too.
Benefits of the Straight Arm Lat Pulldown
- If you have trouble feeling your lats, this exercise will cure you of this problem.
- Places constant tension on the lats due to minimal involvement of the biceps.
- Joint-friendly if you have shoulder or elbow pain.
How to Do the Straight Arm Lat Pulldown
Choose your equipment (bands or cable machine) and attachment of choice, either straight bar, handles, or rope. Grip the attachment, take a step back and lean your torso forward slightly, keeping your hand above shoulder height. Then pull, keeping your arms straight until you reach your hips and pause for a second. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Most pulling exercises train the lats to a certain degre. To better target the lower lats, you need a little tweak in the technique here or there to focus on them. For example, the switch in hand position to underhanded for the bent over row trains more scapular depression, which helps train the lower lats. Plus, it focuses more on the biceps too. Like you needed an excuse.
Benefits of the Underhanded Bent Over Row
- Adds strength and mass to your upper back, lower lats, biceps, and erector spinae
- Reinforces good hip hinge mechanics, which will have a direct carryover to your deadlift.
- Helps improve your posture through a stronger muscular support system.
How to Do the Underhanded Bent Over Row
Hinge at your hips and grab a loaded barbell with an underhanded grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row the barbell until it’s touching your stomach. You want your elbows to be angled at about 45 degrees throughout the movement. Hold the top position of the row for a beat and then slowly lower the weight back down.
All About the Lats
The lats are the widest muscle in the human body and are relatively thin and cover almost all back muscles of the posterior torso, except the trapezius muscles. The lats originate from the scapula and spinous processes of the vertebrae of the thoracic spine (T7) all the way down to the lumbar spine (L5) which makes up the lower lats or the thoracolumbar fascia. They insert into the humerus (upper arm bone) which drives a lot of shoulder and arm movements. The lats connect at five different points which includes the spine, pelvis, ribs, scapula, and the humerus.
As one of the largest muscle in the upper body, your lats are involved in lots of upper body movements. These movements include
- Vertical pulling exercises — chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns.
- Horizontal pulling exercises — row variations like the bent over row.
- Shoulder extension exercise — straight-arm pulldowns and pullovers.
These exercises all involve shoulder adduction, shoulder extension, and shoulder internal rotation, which the lats all play a major role in. Because the lats attach to your humerus (arm) and spine, they play a good posture.
Weak and stretched lats result in rounded shoulders from either sitting too much or overdeveloping the chest muscles. Balancing your training with more pulling exercises will build stronger lats, which helps pull your shoulders down and back into better posture.
The Benefits of Training Your Lats
Visually, the V-shaped torso and broad shoulders are desired by almost all lifters who graces the gym. And to get this look, you need to train the lats hard and heavy combined with a good diet for a smaller waistline.
The lats play a vital role in the big three (the bench press, squat, and deadift), even if they are not trained directly. While squatting, the lats are engaged (by pulling the barbell down into your upper back) and keeps you in an upright posture, so your squat does not turn into a good morning.
For deadlifts, strong and engaged lats keep you in a neutral spine while in the hinge position and keep the bar close to you as you pull. The further the bar is away from during the pull the more prone to rounding your spine you are.
During the bench press, engaged lats provide a stable base to press from and assist in an efficient pressing path. Plus, the lats play a role in transferring force from your leg drive to your chest.
How to Warm-up Your Lats Before Training
The lats are a larger muscle and require blood flow and activation before any upper or lower body training. Lats are often sore or stretched due to sitting with rounded shoulders or standing with military posture. Both will affect the mobility of the shoulder joint.
Foam rolling the upper and lower back drives blood flow to this area to reduce soreness, stiffness, and helps to impove mobility. Doing 10-15 slow rolls over this area, stopping, and concentrating on sore spots is a great way to warm up this area.
[Related: What You Need to Know About How to Build Muscle]
For activation purposes performing light work sets of 12-15 reps of the five-exercises listed works well. And/or, you can add in two sets of six reps of the deadbug with pullover, which is a great move to activate your lats and tax your core muscles.
A Sample Back Routine
This is a basic but also very effective program for back training.
Day 1 & 3 (after bench press)
- Seated Band Row: 3-4 sets of 20-30 reps
- Straight Arm Lat Pulldown; 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Day 2 (after deadlift)
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Row to Hips: 1 set of 15-20 reps, followed by one heavier set of 8-12 reps
Now, you obviously do not have to rely on the exercises listed here to build a big, strong back. But if you are struggling to get your lats in gear, give them a try.
More Lower Lat Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best lower lat exercises to strengthen your back, you can also check out these other helpful core training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- 7 Barbell Back Exercises That Are Not the Deadlift
- The 6 Best Lower Back Exercises for Stability and Strength
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