Guide to Your Muscles: Lats


If you’re looking for a toned back, you’ll want to target your latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the lats. In today’s Guide to Your Muscles, we’ll look at the anatomy of the lats and some good ways to keep them in shape.

Anatomy & Function

Your lats are an important group of muscles found in your back. Flat and triangular-shaped, the lats are some of the widest muscles in your body.

The lats originate in a long line from the iliac crest of the pelvis up through the lower ribs and the lower thoracic vertebrae. From there your lats sweep upward to attach at the rear of your humerus, the long bone in your upper arm.

You use your lats every time you pull your arm down toward your midline and pelvis, or toward your back. For example, rowing, swinging the arms while walking, and pulling a heavy object off a shelf from over your head all use the lats.



If you have a barbell and a bench, the bent-arm barbell pullover is a great weight-lifting exercise for the lats. One caution: start with a lighter weight, even if you are accustomed to barbells.

Begin by holding the barbell directly over your chest while bending your arms. Now, bring the weight down behind your head, while keeping your arms bent.

When you feel a stretching sensation in your chest, bring the barbell back and exhale.

Dumbbell rows are another great exercise. There are two forms of this exercise, one-armed and two-armed.

In the one-armed form of the exercise, start by placing your opposite foot on a platform, and resting the non-lifting arm on your thigh. In the two-armed form, bend over until your torso is parallel with the floor or at a 45-degree angle, slightly bending your knees.

For both forms, keep your lifting arm or arms straight down. Pull the weights up by bending your elbows in a rowing motion, bringing the elbows to the level of the torso.

Return to the starting position, and then repeat as desired. In the case of the one-armed form, try one or a few reps and then switch the weight to the other hand.

Exercises—Without Weights:

Pullups and chinups are similar exercises, and both are great for the lats. Grip the bar, either overhanded (for pullups) or underhanded (for chinups), and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.

With pullups in particular, try to lead with the elbows for the best workout of the lats.

A number of the best lat exercises involve resistance bands. For resistance band pull backs, begin by anchoring your resistance band, and then stand or kneel with your back straight.

Hold your arms straight, and keep the palms facing each other. The band should be about chest height.

Now, pull your arms backward in a rowing motion, making sure you squeeze the shoulder blades. Return to the starting position, and repeat as desired.

Both weight-lifting and other exercises are great ways to get toned lats. With your lats in good condition, you will enjoy the benefits of having more strength in your back. As ever, stay safe and have fun!


Photo credit: roonb

Photo credit: Mikael Häggström

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