You've been working your back for years, and it's strong. You're good for 15-or-20 pull-ups on your first of four sets and you can work with almost the whole stack on your lat pull-downs.
Despite this weekly back destruction, you still have the lat flare of SpongeBob SquarePants. You've been asking yourself: 'What's the problem? Why won't my lats grow? I should have developed the V-taper of a flying squirrel by now!'
The first problem is that you never established a good mind-muscle connection with your lats. Making that connection is difficult because your back is behind you.
Every time you look in the mirror (as I often do) you see your chest, your abs and you can see those rippling biceps and triceps.
Each time you work and flex those muscles, and then see them working, you further establish a mind-muscle connection.
Unless you have an elaborate series of mirrors (which I often dream about) you cannot see your back muscles working. Therein lies a problem.
The other problem is that, despite all your good effort, you probably haven't been isolating your lats and working your back using a full range of motion. And that's because you haven't been doing the lat shrug, also known as the scapular pull-up.
The lat shrug can be performed using a lat pull-down machine, but the best way to learn the technique is by using a pull-up station. You can use any grip, but I find I get the most range of motion from the neutral grip or palms facing toward each other.
Start in a fully stretched-out hang. Completely relax your back and hang down as low as possible. This position will help to flare your scapulas and eventually add to your V-taper. Your arms should remain straight and your elbows should not bend.
Now, think about flexing your lats and trying to bring your scapulas together to raise your body upward as high as you can. At first, you may raise only a few inches, but your range will increase with practice.
After you raise your body, relax all the way back down to your starting position.
To perfect the lat shrug, you need to practice it. I've performed this move for so long that I can raise my torso a good eight inches.
Adding the lat shrug to your muscle-building routine will also help develop a stronger mind-muscle connection with your lats.
Only after you pull your body up as high as you can with straight arms will you pull your elbows down and in to your sides and then complete the pull-up. When you reach the top of the pull-up, flex your lats and hold for a second. Control your descent back to a full hang. You may only get half the number of pull-ups that you normally would, but you receive twice the benefits.
I see so many guys doing those stupid half reps where they perform only the middle portion of the pull-up and move up and down about six inches. I also see guys doing those "kipping" pull-ups where they look like a dolphin dancing at Sea World.
Remember why you're in the gym. You're there to build muscle. Unless you and your buddy are having a pull-up contest, the number of reps is not your first priority. Muscle growth is.
I suggest you practice doing sets of lat shrugs until you get the feel of them and then incorporate the technique into your pull-ups and lat pull-downs. Do four sets of lat shrugs to failure and the next few days will feel like you have two pit bulls hanging by their teeth under your armpits.
You can change your grip with each set, but I like to use the same grip for all my sets. Then I use a different grip during my next workout. I find that a supinated grip (palms facing me) will also work my biceps and the pronated (palms away) and neutral grips really hit my brachioradialis (the muscle on the outside of the forearm that ties in the biceps).
I often perform pull-ups to failure, and then continue the set by doing lat shrugs until I can't pull my body up even an inch. You can use the same technique when performing any type of pull-downs.
Lat Shrug Variations
Another way to perform lat shrugs is by using a dip station. Bring yourself to the dip starting position: your arms should be straight and your elbows locked and to your sides. Allow your body to hang down so your shoulders are up by your ears.
Keep your arms straight, squeeze your lats and raise your body as high as you can. At the top of the movement, flex your lats hard for one second. Then relax and slowly lower your body down to the starting position. You can also do this move on the seated dip press-down machine.
You can also do lat shrugs at the double pulley station. Set both pulleys to the highest position and attach a single handle on each. Grab a handle in each hand and stand in the middle of the station.
Your arms should be straight and out at 45-degree angles, so that your body forms the letter Y. Flex your lats, pull your shoulders down and try to pinch your scapula together for a brief hold.
I also do a variation of the lat shrug during any type of seated row. Begin with your shoulders stretched forward and then pull your shoulders back, with your arms straight, and try to touch your scapulas together.
I've heard this exercise called the straight-arm seated row.
Finish the exercise by allowing your elbows to bend and pulling your elbows as far back as possible.
Incorporate the lat shrug into your back exercises and I guarantee you will take your back development to the next level!