Like a lot of guys, my back development used to be a major weak point in my physique. I was much more interested in the muscles I could see in the mirror, so my back training lagged. Eventually, I sat down with my dad, Lee Labrada, and devised a training program to really pack the mass onto my back, especially my lats.
Since then, I've been working on building my back to bigger and better proportions. It's taken a lot of intense and consistent effort, but it's definitely paid off.
Today, you'll be going through a back workout with me and my dad. However, before you head straight to the lat pull-down machine, remind yourself to move the weight by squeezing your lats instead of pulling with your arms or using momentum. If you just pull with your arms, you'll go through an entire workout of glorified biceps curls. That won't get you anywhere.
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Hunting For Bigger Lats
1. Straight-Arm Lat Pull-Down
This exercise really captures the function of the lat muscle. The lat brings the humerus (upper arm bone) down and back, which is exactly what you're doing throughout this movement.
Keep a light bend in your elbows, but don't change your torso angle. The motion should come from the shoulder joint. At the top of the movement, you should feel an intense stretch in your lats; at the bottom, push your chest through. Don't use anything but your lats to move the weight.
We're pairing this movement with the low-cable row in a superset to pre-exhaust the lats and get a lot of blood into the muscles. The more blood in the muscle, the harder that squeeze will be, because the muscle is so full.
I'm a really big proponent of stretching between sets. So, between your supersets, grab whatever you can and pull on those lats. You're going to get super tight doing this superset.
2. Seated Low-Cable Row
Get a full stretch in the extended position of this exercise by allowing your lats to stretch forward. On the way back, your back should rarely go beyond a 90-degree angle. Pull hard with your elbows, not your lower back.
Keep your chest high during all of your back movements. If you let it drop, you're more likely to start pulling with your biceps.
3. Reverse-Grip Lat Pull-Down
Stay fairly upright and pull the bar all the way to your chest. Doing this movement with a reverse grip allows you to pull the elbows down easier because you're in a really natural angle. Pulling your elbows down hard will provide a deep, full contraction. At the top of the rep, put your head through your arms. That allows you to fully stretch and elongate your lats.
Your grip width on this exercise comes down to personal preference. I like to have my hands in line with my shoulders. That way it's a straight pull and puts less strain on my wrists. No matter where your hands are, though, the important thing is to get your elbows down and back, and to keep your chest high.
4. Reverse-Grip Barbell Row
Much for the same reason we do reverse-grip pull-downs, reverse-grip rows allow the most natural position and the biggest, deepest pull and contraction. When you do a row with an overhand grip, sometimes your elbows can "chicken wing" out and away from the body.
A lot of people want to move their torso up high as they row. That's unnecessary. If you're coming high, it's because the weight is too heavy. Stay over the bar. Your back angle should never change.
Keep your head in a neutral position, aligned with your spine. Don't crank your neck up so you're looking at the ceiling. Your head position will keep your spine at a nice, flat angle.
The bar should stay close to your thighs. Drag the bar up your legs and pull it into your belly button.
This is one of those exercises that people can get too excited about and add too much weight. A lot of the time it's not the size of the tool, but how you use it. Use enough weight to really feel that contraction in your back, but not so much that you have to use other muscle groups to move it.
5. Close-Grip Lat Pull-Down
This movement differs from a regular lat pull-down because you're going to sit facing away from the weight stack. Instead of putting your knees under the pads, wedge your butt beneath them and keep your lower back flat against them.
That position should take out all of the extra motion and keep your lats totally isolated. Really focus on the stretch, and then pull the bar all the way to your chest.
The best exercises work even better when you know how to use them. Our guide 10 Best Back Exercises for Building Muscle goes in-depth on the moves you need to be doing, complete with 3 workouts to put them into action!