Tag Archives: back

How to Spread Your Wings: Building Bigger Lats

Conventional thinking will lead you to believe that to add mass to your back, you need to work with high-rep sets and more total volume.

However, when you take a closer look at the fiber composition in your back, you’ll see that your lats have about equal numbers of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. So to build bigger lats, you don’t necessarily have to drop the resistance and crank up the reps.

Working with a variety of rep and resistance ranges will induce hypertrophy while still allowing you to make strength gains and get stronger in your main compound lifts.

bigger lats

Knowing this, what exercises should you focus on to build bigger lats?

#1: Pull-ups and Recline Rows

I like bodyweight pulling variations for a number of reasons. First, they save wear and tear on your body from things like heavy row variations. They also allow you to work with higher rep-ranges and make great finishers and circuits.

On days where I’m trying to focus on my lats, I will follow heavy row variations with a pull-up and recline row circuit. For example:

1) Single Arm Dumbbell Rows x 6 reps (heavy)
2a) Pull-up Variations x Submaximal Reps (leave 1-2 good reps in the tank)
2b) Recline Rows x Submaximal Reps (1-2 good reps left in the tank)

So I’ll perform 2a and 2b back to back without rest as a way to add more volume into my training without using heavy lifts.

#2: Heavy Row Variations

As the lower rep, more resistance component of my lat training, I like using heavy row variations. Your rowing movements should be built around these variations:

  • Bent over single arm dumbbell rows
  • Bent over barbell rows
  • Kroc rows
  • Chest supported rows

Bent over barbell rows and dumbbell rows are my staples. I favor dumbbell rows braced over a bench because a) since they are single arm movements, you eliminate strong arm dominance, and b) going heavy on barbell rows can be difficult because you must fully engage your hamstrings and glutes, which could detract from the max resistance you can use.

For rows, I primarily work in the 5-8 rep range. Crank up the resistance here and focus on lifting heavy, not for a lot of reps. As I said before, your lats are made up of equal fast and slow twitch fibers, so lift heavy and then couple the heavy lifting with the bodyweight examples I gave you above.

#3: Cable Rows and Lat Pulldowns

I tend to stay away from machines, just because free weight movements engage more muscle, but cable machine movements are a good way to isolate your lats if you’ve done a lot of compound lifting in your training.

bigger lats

Another good thing about machines, since you have the mechanical assist and little risk for injury, you can do both high-and low reps with the entire range of intensities. They are also a good way to incorporate circuits or supersets.

One of my favorite lat blaster circuits, especially after a day of heavy overhead pressing or hang cleans, is to couple lat-pulldowns with seated cable pulley rows. This is a great way to pump a lot of blood and nutrients into the muscle. For example:

1a) Lat-pulldowns x 12
1b) Seated cable pulley rows x 12

Departing Caveats

  • The key to building bigger lats is to incorporate a variety of rep ranges.
  • I always emphasize #1 and #2.
    • The possibilities are endless with pull-ups, especially when you start incorporating resistance by adding plates to a weight belt.
    • Row variations, for the most part, should be done with heavy weight and low reps.
  • Machines are a good supplemental tactic but free weight movements should always be emphasized.

— Tank

Best Exercises You Aren’t Doing

best exercisesSome of these may seem obvious to you, but inevitably we all can neglect some of the best exercises for building size and strength.

Take a look back at your training logs and see how much time you are devoting to these. I bet you’d be surprised at what you find. I meticulously plan my workouts every single day, but when I look back on my records, I can always find at least one these best exercises that I’m neglecting.

Missing something from this list in your training? It’s time to make it a priority. Maybe that means scrapping something else from your current training plan to fit these in, and in that case, you are welcome for the intervention.

  1. Deadlifts – What? Everybody does deadlifts right? Wrong. The average gym rat doesn’t spend enough time making these a focus, or they commit one of the greatest gym sins of all by not deadlifting period. They are one of the greatest tests of overall body strength, and if you aren’t doing these with regularity, I can guarantee you that you aren’t meeting your full strength potential.
  2. Pushups – Amazing that such a classic can get overlooked, but it happens on a regular basis. Hall of Fame NFL running back Hershel Walker claims he built his body totally from push-ups. Not sure I buy it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. An easy way to make sure to get these in is by incorporating them into a warmup or a finisher.
  3. Pullups – Same as above. After you can do 15 perfect pull-ups, vary your grip and start working on some of the variations.
  4. Glute Ham Raises – Weak hamstrings are the single most pervasive muscle imbalance across the planet. Weak hammies will hinder you in the deadlift, squat, sprinting, and a myriad of other athletic performance activities. If you don’t have access to a glute ham machine, there a variety of different techniques to perform them, or you can substitute in Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts, hamstring curls and boxsquats. If this list was a top 15, all of these would be on there.
    best exercises
    If you don’t have a glute ham machine, there are a variety of alternatives.
  5. Farmer Carries – These are a must and one of my favorite exercises. They make a great training finisher and will work wonders for your upper back, grip strength, forearms, and mental toughness.
  6. Squats – Kinda goes hand in hand with #1. If you don’t want to look like a lightbulb, you gotta squat. Squat often, squat for a lot of reps, and squat heavy. As I mentioned with pull-ups, work in some of the squat variations like front squats, box squats, and single-leg squats. All of these will help improve your flexibility, technique, and strength.
  7. Hang Cleans – Performing these will do wonders for building mass on your entire upper body and for developing your explosiveness. Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research. They are also fairly easy to learn, making them a great addition to the classics like bench, squats, overhead pressing, and deadlifting.
    best exercises
    There are several starting positions for doing cleans. I like hang cleans because they require more upper body strength and force and the technique is much easier to learn than full cleans.
  8. Kettlebell Swings – These are the easiest of the kettlebell lifts to learn and one of the most effective. Benefits for your legs, shoulders, hips, mobility, explosiveness and power make this fat burning lift a must for your strength training routine.
  9. Hill Sprints – Get outside and run some hills for fat loss. I always feel sorry for the suckers I see on the stair stepper or treadmill for hours on end when they could be outside doing 20 minutes of hill sprints and get a far better training effect. Hill sprints are the single most efficient way to burn fat. No more elliptical, I’m begging you.
  10. Hanging Leg Raises – In my opinion, these are one of the best core exercises you could do. Not only do they strengthen your ab muscles, but they target your hip flexors as well. They offer a great range of motion and help improve your mobility.

— Tank