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Police Your Lats: Assign Width To Your Back With Lat Shrugs

If pull-ups and lat pull-downs aren’t getting you the V-taper of your dreams, it’s time to perform the lat shrug. Police Sergeant Jim Vaglica shows you how it’s done!

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.

STEP 1 /// Spread 'Em

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.

STEP 2 /// Pull To Get Full

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!



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About The Author

Jim Vaglica is a full-time police sergeant and on call 24/7 with a regional SWAT team.

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brywh

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brywh

In my opinion, scapular push ups also work well and are easier to concentrate and hold than the pull up version.

Aug 24, 2012 7:14pm | report
 
karate357

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karate357

Hi, the push up version really helps in thickening the pecs, but the back muscles are basically pulling muscles and the chest are basically pushing muscles with a few exceptions.

Aug 30, 2012 8:30am | report
jumpmanlover

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jumpmanlover

I love pull-ups in all forms of it weither wide, close-grip, or just straight pull-ups. But, my questions are: what is the best combination and additional work-out to get a wide back and build muscle. I want the "V" shape Back!!!

Aug 24, 2012 7:29pm | report
 
vsniperviperv

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vsniperviperv

Straight Lat pulldown anyone? Ps. That girl on the pulldown machine would actually eat me for breakfast, holy break my yokes, serious; She's more ripped than my school notes of last year.

Aug 24, 2012 11:42pm | report
 
Chunkhead

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Chunkhead

she eats small babys

Aug 26, 2012 8:32am | report
ehsansaid

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ehsansaid

One tip is to pull with your elbows not your arms. Just imagine yourself elbowing someone behind you when you doing your rowing movements. you might have to lessen the weights. People focus on how much weight they lift instead of focusing on applying intensity to the muscle group.

Aug 25, 2012 1:50pm | report
 
QLaidig

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QLaidig

I completely agree. I focus much more on isolating and proper form over weight any day.

Aug 27, 2012 7:44am | report
ROY1LUMI

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ROY1LUMI

i do this excercise and its a great one too i must say not saying the the others didnt work but i the Lat Shrug i know for sure do work

Aug 25, 2012 6:54pm | report
 
jwethall

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jwethall

Wide grip pullups and pulldowns fanned my back out terrifically. You have to focus your mind on your lats, pull from the elbows not the hands, get a full stretch and a good squeeze on the contraction. Don't load up the weight until you can do all this in a controlled manner. when you can, stack the hell out of it and watch your lats grow.

Obvious addition: You have to eat right to grow. Even if your training is in the right place, your muscles won't get bigger unless you feed them the right macros.

Aug 27, 2012 7:44am | report
 
08022011

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08022011

thanks! i am going to add this in and give it a try : )

Aug 27, 2012 11:09am | report
 
Ricky_Rick

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Ricky_Rick

Since I can't do pull ups or lat shrugs like a pro, and I am a beginner, do you think its bad to use assisted pull ups? Its kind of cheating but if i can't complete 4reps then i got a problem right?

Aug 27, 2012 12:39pm | report
 
Holly444

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Holly444

Assisted pull ups are a great alternative! You've gotta work with what you've got! :)

Aug 27, 2012 5:27pm | report
whaaaaat

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whaaaaat

Better than assisted pullups> Get a small stepping stool/box. Grip the pull up bar however way you want. Jump up and hold and focus on the negative motion decending slowly 4 secs. When you get to the bottom repeat the same motion.

Do this a couple times a week, and you'll be able to bust out a couple pull-ups no prob. well this worked for me.

Aug 30, 2012 4:27am | report
karate357

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karate357

Hello, Whaaat
The answer to your question is no!, the assisted pull up is a great starting point if you have one available, proper form is the key to real growth and power especially for growing and developing proportioned and pleasing muscle groups.

Aug 30, 2012 8:38am | report
IronPumper777

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IronPumper777

Interesting read - just what the Doctor ordered. Thanks

Aug 27, 2012 3:46pm | report
 
Holly444

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Holly444

Brooke Ericson looks amazing in that photo! *Inspired*

Aug 27, 2012 5:24pm | report
 
Virucyde

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Virucyde

Awesome to see this article, the major problem with most mainstream Lat exercises is that isolating the Lats without receiving help from the Biceps is incredibly difficult, similar to isolating the Pecs from the Front Deltoid.

The primary purpose of lats is to pull the elbows downward and back, and to unshrug the shoulders. Downward motion tends to emphasize width while backward motion tends to emphasize thickness.

For those reasons, the Lat Shrug really should be praised as one of best Lat isolation exercise available, and unlike the Row, it focuses on Lat width, rather than thickness.

Try doing it with Ab Straps on a Lat Pulldown machine, so you can pull your elbows down without any fear of receiving help from the biceps, that'll give you the best isolation.

Aug 27, 2012 7:25pm | report
 
AJacks92

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AJacks92

This article is amazing! I work my back out just as much as my other muscle groups, but the author is right. I apparently don't establish a better mind-muscle connection, but I feel doing these exercises will help strengthen that connection. Even just imagining them right now and practicing the motions, I already feel my lats activated. Amazing!

Aug 28, 2012 12:22am | report
 
Kurain

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Kurain

This is a fine exercise and one I perform often, however there are several major problems with this article.

First, calling this exercise a "lat shrug" is quite misleading. In fact, this exercise, which I call a "reverse shrug," doesn't target the lats at all! In fact it targets and effectively isolates the lower and middle traps and the rhomboids.

The movement being performed is scapular depression and retraction, movements which are performed by the lower and middle traps and the rhomboids. I suppose the technical name for the exercise could be "hanging scapular depressions"

Conversely, the lats are responsible for extension and adduction of the humerus, actions which occur in various pull up variations and in pull overs and pull downs, etc.

In this "reverse shrug" little to no movement of the humerus occurs! The lats are simply passively stretched in the hanging position and are not responsible for the movement in any way.

Second, because this exercise doesn't in fact target the lats at all, as I've explained, it doesn't contribute to "back width" or enhance your "V-taper". Conversely, isolating the middle and lower traps and rhomboids, as this exercise does wonderfully, may contribute "thickness" and "detail" to your upper back, but not width.

Also, this exercise is great for developing and maintaining correct posture of the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle, as strong middle and lower traps and rhomboids can help prevent excessive thoracic kyphosis and scapular protraction, a problem we see all too often in the gym.

To sum up, I'm happy that this article introduces a great exercise to many readers, but it would be nice if more attention was paid to proper description of the anatomy involved. The back contains many important muscles, not only the lats. People who train with weights would do well to understand this.

Aug 28, 2012 8:00pm | report
 
rw6271986

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rw6271986

Thanks for the info, Kurain....you may have actually just answered the question I recently posted.

Aug 29, 2012 6:49am | report
Muscle Mania Matt

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Muscle Mania Matt

dead on

Aug 30, 2012 8:59am | report
droyce

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droyce

Lol, broman kurain has been working out for 6months now and knows everything, grats dude.....Your personality matches your undersized everything.

Aug 30, 2012 11:11am | report
rw6271986

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rw6271986

Question about the Lat Shrugs....I tried these yesterday at the end of my back workout because I thought they sounded like they would be really good, but I don't think I did them right.....I hung down on the pull-up bar, then when I lifted myself up slightly and tried to "flex my lats," and "squeeze my scapulas together," I felt it hit my shoulders more than my lats (It was more of a pain in my shoulders than anything.) Any advice on something I might be doing wrong?

Aug 29, 2012 6:15am | report
 
Kurain

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Kurain

Yes. You are probably not doing it wrong. You should be feeling it in your lower and middle traps and rhomboids in between your shoulder blades. If you have pain in your shoulder you may want to try with less weight on a pull down station.

Aug 29, 2012 3:02pm | report
rw6271986

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rw6271986

Thanks man, I'm going to try it again next back day.

Aug 29, 2012 3:24pm | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 33 Comments

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