3 Best Exercises for a Lats Workout

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 12, 2022
5 min read

Leg day, arm day, ab day—but what about lat day? Lats are the largest muscles in your upper body and the core of any workout routine.

Do you know, though, which exercises are the best for strengthening your lats?

Most people use the term lats, but the scientific name for the lat muscle is your latissimus dorsi. These muscles are mainly in your back and help you move your shoulders and arms.

The latissimus dorsi connects to your spine at the lower six vertebrae under your shoulders. They also connect to parts of your upper hips (posterior iliac crest), lower ribs, and shoulder blades (scapula).

Your lats help move your arms and support your shoulders because of a connection to the humerus. Lats extend to the midpoint of your upper arm bone (humerus), making the lat muscle one of the largest in the human body.

Lat muscles play a role when you move your arm and use your arm to move your body upward. For example, climbing a rock wall or a vertical rope engages your lats.

Your lats also engage when you deeply inhale. When you're sick, your lat muscles support intense respiratory processes like coughing or sneezing.

The stronger your lats are, the less strain is placed on your other back, shoulder, and arm muscles. 

Meanwhile, exercising your lats also often work secondary muscles like your biceps, shoulders, and lower back. 

There isn't a perfect exercise for everybody. Some lat exercises may benefit beginners, while others may work better for someone with an injury. 

Try out new exercises to figure out which one works best for you!

Even though there isn't a perfect lat exercise, the lat pulldown tends to be the most famous. Lat pulldowns engage many muscles and tend to be a key component of many workout programs.

What you need. Lat pulldowns are best done with a pulldown machine. You could also do lat pulldowns with resistance bands, though, if you don't have a machine available, are new to lat pulldowns, or prefer to do lat workouts at home.

How to do a lat pulldown with a machine. Sit on the pulldown machine bench with your feet flat on the floor and your knees snug under the kneepad. For a standard lat pulldown, grab the bar overhand with your hands about shoulder-width apart.

Lean back around 20 to 30 degrees. Keep your spine neutral and supported by your abdominal muscles to prevent arching your lower back. 

Inhale and pull the bar to your chest by engaging your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pull the bar until you feel a stretch across your chest muscles (pectorals).

Exhale as you return to the starting position. Slowly extend your elbows and open your shoulder blades up and away from your spine.

Special considerations. Beginners should always start with the lightest weight possible and concentrate on form. The exercise should focus on retracting your shoulder blades while keeping the spine steady, without moving your head and with controlled movements.

Lat pulldowns aren't positively impacted by how fast you do your reps. Yanking the bar down or releasing it too quickly are the most common mistakes.

Many people have a terrible memory of doing pull-ups in school, but they're one of the most effective lats workouts. This classic exercise has many variations to support many needs. 

Pull-ups engage your entire upper body. They mainly utilize the climbing motion, though, which directly engages your lats.

What you need. You need an overhead bar. You can find a pull-up bar at most gyms and outdoor fitness parks. You can also buy them to install so you can do lat workouts at home.

How to do a pull-up. Start by grabbing the pull-up bar with your hands slightly farther than shoulder-width apart. This wider grip tends to be more difficult, but it's most effective for your lats. 

You can adjust the difficulty and engage different muscles by changing your grip. A wider grip targets your lats, but a closer underhand grip targets your biceps and is easier for beginners. 

Keep your trunk vertical and your legs somewhat relaxed and hanging. Pull yourself up in a straight line by squeezing your shoulder blades together and downward. 

With controlled and smooth motions, pull yourself so that your chin reaches your pull bar. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat.

Special considerations. Pull-ups are challenging. Resistance band pull-ups and Australian pull-ups are easier variations perfect for beginners:

Kicking and swinging your legs are common mistakes. Remember to keep your chest high, pull your elbows toward your hips, and squeeze your shoulder blades.

Rowing and its variations are powerful exercises for strengthening your lats. The beginner-friendly variation that most people do is the seated cable row. 

What you need. Most lat pulldown machines double as rowing machines. You can also use a standalone rowing machine or a resistance band around a stationary object.

How to do a seated cable row. Sit on the rowing bench with your feet on the rests. Your knees should have a slight bend to them.

Grab the rowing handle and keep your arms fully extended with your back straight. Pull the handle to touch your abdomen.

When you pull, focus on getting your shoulder blades to touch and rotate downward. Pause as the handle touches your abdomen, then slowly return to the starting position.

Special considerations. There are a few alternatives to seated cable rows: 

  • Inverted rows are great for beginners. 
  • Bent-over rows are effective for strengthening your lats but can be difficult for people with lower back pain.
  • Standing single-arm cable row targets your lats but may be hard for people with pelvis or spine problems. 

A common mistake is to use your upper body's momentum to pull the row handle. Keep your trunk stationary, though, and pull while focusing on your shoulder blades.

Even though they may not be as showy as big biceps or chiseled abs, strong lat muscles are vital to building up your body's other muscles. Lats, for instance, give your shoulders the strength to move and build up other muscles.

There are many good lat workouts out there. Find which ones work for you and add them to your workout routine!