The Key To Building Great Lats

The Key To Building Great Lats
by Jim Vaglica

So you’ve been doing pull ups and pull downs for years and you’ve got the lat flare of Sponge Bob Square Pants. You’re good for fifteen or twenty pull ups, on your first set of four, and you can work with almost the whole stack on your Lat pull downs. But you still are asking yourself “What’s the problem? Why won’t my lats grow?” You should have developed the V taper of a flying squirrel by now.

About Jim Vaglica

About Jim Vaglica

The first problem, I can almost guarantee, is that you’ve never established a good mind/muscle connection with your lats. Why is this such a difficult thing to do? 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 bi’s and tri’s flexing from every angle. Each time you work and flex those muscles you further establish that mind/muscle connection. Unless you have an elaborate series of mirrors (which I often dream about) you cannot see your back muscles working and therein lies the problem. The solution is fourth coming.

Another problem is, despite all your good effort, you probably really haven’t been isolating your lats and working your back using a full range of motion. Now finally here’s the key to building great lats:

Master the Lat Shrug

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 in. The starting position is from a fully stretched out hang. I mean you need to completely relax your back and hang down a low as possible. This position will help to flare out your scapulas and eventually add to your V taper. Here’s where it gets difficult for me to explain. Your arms should remain straight and your elbows should not bend. Now think about flexing your lats and trying to bring your scapulas together so as to raise your body upward as high as you can. At first you may only raise up a few inches but your range will increase with practice. Now relax all the way back down to your starting position. This move needs to be practiced to be perfected. I’ve performed this move for so long I can now raise my body a good eight inches. This move will also help to develop that mind/muscle connection I spoke of earlier.

I perform the lat shrug as the first portion of any pull up or pull down so let’s continue and finish the full exercise.

Only after you’ve pulled your body as high up as you can (with your arms straight) will you think about pulling your elbows down and in tight to your sides as your head raises high above the bars. Fully flex your lats and hold for a second. Now control your descent slowly back to your full hang.

You may only get half the number of pull ups that you normally would be able to perform but your receiving twice the benefit.

I see so many guys doing those stupid half reps where you perform only the middle portion of the pull up and you move up and down about six inches. I also see the 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.

I suggest you practice doing sets of just lat shrugs until you get the feel of it and then incorporate the technique into your pull ups and pull downs. Do four sets of lat shrugs (to failure) and the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) will feel like two pit bulls are hanging by their teeth under your armpits.

How I Incorporate The Lat Shrug In My Back Workouts

I will generally perform pull ups, to failure, and then continue the set performing lat shrugs until I can’t pull my body up even an inch. You can use the same exact technique when performing any type of pull downs.

You can change up your grip with each set but I like to use the same grip for all my sets and then use a different grip during my next workout. I find that a supinated grip (palms facing you) will also work my biceps and the pronated (palms away) and neutral grips really hit my brachioradialis (muscle on the outside of your forearm that ties in your biceps.

Another way to perform lat shrugs is by using a dip station. Some may find this easier to master. You would bring yourself up to a starting position for a dip. Your arms are straight and your elbows locked and tight to your sides. Allow your body to hang down low so your shoulders are up by your ears. Now keeping your arms straight squeeze your lats and raise your body up, as high as you can, flexing your lats hard for a one second hold at the top. Then relax and slowly lower your body down to the starting position. This move can also be done using the seated dip press down machine.

Yet another way to perform the lat shrug is by utilizing the double pulley station. Set both pullies 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. Your body forms the letter Y. Now flex your lats and pull your shoulders down and try to pinch your scapula together for a brief hold.

I also do a variation of the lat shrug when performing any type of seated row. You just start 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.’ You would then finish the exercise by allowing your elbows to bend and thinking about pulling your elbows as far back as possible.

Incorporate the lat shrug into all your back exercises and I guarantee you will take your back development to the next level.


About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com

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