People who are into physique training like to talk about achieving the V-shaped torso, and if that’s on your to-do list you’re going to want to dedicate some time to working your latissimus dorsi – AKA your lats – because bulking them up will leave you with a broad, powerful-looking back. Even if this is the first time you’ve heard the phrase V-shaped torso, what we’re about to tell you next should still make you want to keep reading. The lats are responsible for a huge range of movements and a strong set of lats promote good posture – and who doesn’t want to improve their posture?
Unsure where to start? We’ve got your back. Here are a few of our favourite lats exercises.
Nothing works your lats quite as well as a proper pull-up and, unlike with some moves on this list, you don’t have to pay as much attention to keeping your back straight because gravity will take care of that for you. Just don’t beat yourself up if you struggle when you’re starting out – pull-ups are hard.
Hang from a pull-up bar with your arms extended, hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away from you. Brace your core and slowly pull yourself up (keeping your back straight, of course) until your neck is above the bar. Pause, then lower in an equally controlled manner until your arms are straight again.
Remember when we said pull-ups are hard? This pull-up-like exercise can help you build up to them. There are no prizes for guessing which muscles the lat pull-down works, but there are definitely rewards for those who do it.
Sit in the lat pull-down machine with your legs beneath the padding. Grasp the bar with both arms extended, keeping your back straight. Slowly pull the bar down towards your chest, pause, then allow the bar to rise again under control – the release is just as important as the pulling phase.
This mean medicine ball exercise is ideal if you want to both work on your lats and release some pent-up anger.
Place a medicine ball – 12kg is our recommendation, but go lighter if you need to on the ground in front of you. Squat down to pick it up, making sure you keep your back straight. Lift the ball above your head with your arms extended. Once there, slam the ball down onto the ground as hard as you can.
If the hanging and the slamming weren’t taking your fancy, rowing might be the exercise for you. Stand in front of a barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees. Making sure your back is straight throughout, bend forwards – hinging at the hips – until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground. Grasp the barbell with an underhand grip, palms facing away from you, and hold it around shin height. Pull the barbell in towards your stomach, keeping your elbows tight to your body, until the bar touches your sternum, then lower slowly.
If after all the pulling, slamming and rowing you feel like you need a little lie-down, finish your session with this move. Take care when selecting a weight and if in doubt go lighter. You’re going to be holding that weight above that gorgeous mug of yours.
Lie with your head and back flat on a bench, and your feet flat on the ground, holding one dumbbell in both hands with your arms extended above your chest. Keeping your arms extended, lower the dumbbell behind your head until it’s roughly level with your head, then bring it back up to above your chest. If you start to feel discomfort in your shoulders, don’t lower the weight any further; instead, go and work on your shoulder mobility and/or pick a lighter dumbbell.
Another great row to add to your repertoire, the landmine allows you to put the squeeze on your lats by attacking them from an angle the barbell or dumbbell row can’t manage. Take the weight plates off one end of a barbell and secure it by wedging it in a corner (or a dedicated landmine holder, if your gym has one). Load up the other end of the bar and straddle it, holding the weight in both hands in front of you. Lean forward so your torso is at a 45° angle to the floor and row the bar up to your chest by drawing your elbows back and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower it slowly.
While the deadlift is primarily known for strengthening the hamstrings and glutes, it’s also a move that will work the lats. Set up with a barbell on the floor just in front of your shins. Bend down and grasp the bar using an overhand grip with your hands just outside your legs. Keeping a flat back, lift the bar by driving your hips forwards and come up to standing. Lower the bar slowly and carefully – make sure you don’t start rounding your back here.