How to get bigger lats?
That's the million dollar question.
And today, you'll discover how to achieve it.
I walk you through everything you need to know to build a fantastic back:
- Why the lats are vital for developing a powerful physique
- The two overlooked reasons your back isn't growing right now
- My favorite exercises for wider lats
- And how to get bigger lats without weights if you're training at home
But first, let's talk about why building thick, juicy lats matters.
Why you should build bigger lats to perfect your physique
From Henry Cavill in Superman...
To Chris Hemsworth in Avengers...
And Michael B. Jordan in Creed...
All hallmarks of a super fit body.
But what puts the icing on the cake?
A wide, muscular back that tapers down to a slim waist (aka V-taper) to finish off the proverbial alpha male look that strikes fear in the hearts of other men and drives women wild with lust.
The key to that coveted V-taper?
Outstanding lat development.
Lat Anatomy 101
Before we grab a weight and get to work on building bigger lats, we must understand some basic anatomy.
How the lats function...
And what their purpose is for generating movement...
So we can pick the best exercises for lat growth.
Don't worry. I'll keep this as short and unboring as possible.
The latissimus dorsi (marked red in the picture) is the largest muscle in the upper body.
You have two of them (one on each side of your body), which is why bodybuilders and fitness trainers call them "lats".
Their main functions include:
- Shoulder internal rotation (twisting your arm until your elbow is facing the ceiling)
- Shoulder adduction (moving your upper arm toward the midline of your body)
- Shoulder extension (pulling your upper arm back and behind you)
The lats also play a major role in physical activities such as swimming, climbing, and rowing.
Stronger lats benefit gym performance because they help with spine stabilization during deadlifts, squats, and heavy carries.
Besides improving performance on the field and on the platform, a well-developed pair of lats reveals you have spent considerable time sculpting your physique in the weight room.
What Exercises Work The Lats?
Many online fitness articles will list the barbell deadlift as one of the best lat developers.
In a deadlift, the latissimus dorsi work isometrically. Think of them as the "static glue" that keeps your upper back from collapsing under a heavy load.
Since isometrics suck for muscle growth, relying on deadlifts alone to build bigger lats will lead to severe disappointment.
Look at the upper back development of climbers.
You think these guys built a rippling back by doing heavy deadlifts?
It's a result of doing tons of chin-ups in the gym.
And pulling their body up the side of a huge rock thousands of times over the years.
Hell, I've seen 110-pound female climbers who have never touched a barbell with better back development than dudes who, after three years of training, wonder why their paltry 315-pound deadlift hasn't translated into a muscular back!
Don't get me wrong...
You should keep the deadlift in your program.
And if you built up to a 600-pound deadlift, you'd have dense, wide lats...
Although they'd still be underdeveloped compared to your traps and spinal erectors.
But are deadlifts the optimal way to get bigger lats?
There are many better movements for targeted lat growth.
(Which I'll discuss in a minute.)
Another exercise touted as a great back builder by clueless fitness bloggers?
Since it's difficult to maintain a stable push-up position with one hand on the ground as the other pulls a dumbbell up to your chest...
You top out somewhere around 50-60 pounds before losing the all-important mind-muscle connection in your lats.
What happens when most of your effort goes into stabilizing your torso as you're moving a dumbbell through space without feeling the lats contract?
You can kiss muscle growth goodbye!
If deadlifts and renegade rows don't build that mile-wide back, then what does?
All effective lat exercises check these four boxes:
- Eccentric and concentric muscle actions (lowering and raising of resistance)
- Long ranges of motion
- Strong muscle contraction
You must pull up, pull down, and row your way to a massive back.
Some of my favorite lat exercises include:
- Rack Pull-Up
- Seated Cable Row
- V-Handle Lat Pulldown
- V-Handle Landmine Row
- Meadows Row
- 1 Arm Dumbbell Row
- Hammer Strength Row
Adding these movements into your routine and consistently getting stronger will produce a rippling back you can be proud of when you take your shirt off during the summer holidays.
Why Your Lats Aren't Growing
Despite going to the gym for years, few guys ever develop an impressive back.
I touched on this earlier, but now is a good time to dig deeper into why your lats have stopped growing and what to do about it.
Two main reasons:
1. You're not doing enough volume/frequency
Most men don't hit the upper back with enough volume to build muscle.
They perform three half-hearted sets of ten reps on cable rows and pulldowns at the end of their workout once or twice a week, then call it a day.
The upper back muscles tolerate high volumes and frequencies.
You should dedicate less time to bench pressing and a lot more time to chin-ups and rows!
In terms of frequency, aim for at least two weekly sessions where you prioritize the back.
With athletes who display notable muscular imbalances between the front and back side of their body (that's 100% of the clients I work with, by the way!), I prescribe a 2:1 or 3:1 pull:push ratio to kick-start growth in the mid-upper back, rear delts and lats.
Performing double or triple the amount of pulling compared to pushing volume, it takes 3-4 weeks to add new back mass and balance out your Quasimodo physique.
After about 8-10 weeks, you'll notice a beefed up back in the mirror and will walk around with much better posture.
Now you can return to a normal 1:1 ratio between pulling and pushing.
What if you have added some decent size already and want to polish your physique even further?
Hit the lats 4x/week in a back specialization phase lasting 6-8 weeks for a quick growth spurt.
2. You don't feel the right muscles working
Most dudes forget a simple bodybuilding truth that has worked forever:
You must stretch and contract the intended muscle for it to grow!
Sure, you won't get a huge pump when doing 4x2 in the weighted chin-up. That's not the point of this set/rep scheme.
Heavy doubles are hard globally, not locally. Meaning that it takes a major toll on your nervous system, but won't produce massive muscle burn.
Contrast that with training in moderate to high rep ranges...
Let's say you're performing 4x12 in the V-handle landmine row.
You SHOULD feel the lats and upper back contract HARD!
After your last rep, your back should be on fire.
Feel it mostly in the biceps and forearms?
Using sloppy form and momentum to heave the weight up?
Then you're not hitting the right muscles.
You could do thousands of chin-ups, pulldowns, and cable rows over the next three years...
But if your execution sucks?
Your lats won't grow!
My Top 3 Lat Exercises
If I could choose only three lifts to build bigger lats from here to eternity, these would make the list...
#1. Weighted Chin-Up
For complete back development, we want to train in a wide rep range.
The lats, just like other upper back muscles, respond well to sets of 10-15 reps (or higher).
But doing nothing but high-rep pump work won't maximize your gains.
Weighted chin-ups are the best upper body pulls you can do for low reps.
Here's one of my 18-year-old junior hockey players hitting a smooth single with 52.5 kg (115 pounds) strapped to his waist.
Perform 1-5 reps in a strength phase. And 6-10 reps during a higher volume cycle.
#2. 1 Arm DB Row
The average guy rows a 20-25 kg dumbbell, thinking it will translate into a ripped physique.
The 1 arm DB row is one of the few pulling movements where I prefer heavy loads and low(ish) reps most of the time. Sets of 5-8 reps work like gangbusters for piling on the weights and strengthening the latissimus dorsi.
That said, for MAXIMAL lat growth, the sweet spot lies in combining high loads with high reps.
Powerlifter Matt Kroczaleski popularized the high-rep dumbbell row (also known as the Kroc row) where you pick up a massive DB and row that sucker for lots of repetitions.
A solid goal to shoot for?
20+ reps with the biggest dumbbell at your gym.
That will keep you busy for a while.
I hit 26 reps with 50 kg (110 pounds) the other week.
#3. Hammer Strength Row
A true classic, the Hammer Strength Row is one of the most versatile back builders you can find.
By varying the angle of pull, you can target different parts of the back.
Check out this interesting variation by John Meadows that destroys the lower lats.
One major drawback is that few smaller gyms stock this piece of training equipment.
Out of the last three facilities I've trained at, none of them had a Hammer Strength Row machine.
But if you have access to one, consider yourself lucky.
Sets of 10-12 reps work well here, although you should go up to 15-20 or include set extenders (drop sets and isometric holds) now and then.
Sample Back Building Workout
Let's put all the nuts and bolts we have covered so far in their place for a complete pull workout.
This full-body session strengthens the entire posterior chain from the upper back all the way down to the glutes and hamstrings.
1) Deadlift 3x5 240-300s.
(Conventional, sumo or trap bar – pick your favorite)
2a) Chin-Up 3x5 120s.
2b) Hip Thrust Machine 3x6-8 2011 120s.
3a) Hammer Strength Row 3x10-12 2011 60s.
3b) 45 Degree Back Extension 3x10-12 3011 60s.
3c) DB Hammer Curl 3x10-12 3010 60s.
How To Get A Bigger back at home
But what if, instead of a commercial facility, you train at a bare-bones home gym?
And you're wondering how to get bigger lats without weights...
The good news:
Like we talked about before...
Weighted chin-ups are the #1 exercise for overall back development.
So the first thing you need is a sturdy chin-up bar.
Next, buy a pair of quality calisthenics rings.
These two pieces of equipment will let you perform chin-ups and inverted rows, the two most important bodyweight back builders.
You're all set to build bigger lats at home!
Getting bigger lats takes time, patience, and concentrated effort.
Pull up, pull down and row.
Focus on squeezing the lats for a sick pump.
Hammer them with plenty of volume and frequency.
That's how you develop wings that expand out from underneath your armpits.
Now go out there and build that jacked back hot chicks swoon over.