The latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly known as lats, are two large muscles in the outer middle of the back. Several lat exercises can be performed to strengthen these muscles, which are often used in a great many movements requiring bending forward or to the side or shoulder extension. Some of these exercises require only the weight of the body, such as pull-ups. Other exercises allow one to add any amount of weight desired, such as deadlifts and rows. Still others use machines, like pull-downs.
Pull-ups and chin-ups are similar movements that differ only in the placement of the hands; pull-ups use an overhand grip on a bar, while chin-ups require an underhand grip. Generally, the hands are placed on a bar able to bear one’s body weight as the exerciser lifts his legs off the ground, putting full body weight on the arms. Utilizing the arm and back muscles, these lat exercises require one to lift the chin to the bar’s level, repeating as many times as possible.
Deadlifts use a barbell to which one may add free weights. To perform this lat exercise, one bends over and places the hands shoulder-width apart on the bar. He then lifts a barbell from the floor to the waist, chest, or above the head.
Rows may be performed in a variety of ways, yet all of these lat exercises can achieve positive results. In a bent-over row, a person can begin in a bent position much like the deadlift. If using a barbell, the hands are placed very wide, and the arms are extended and flexed to a 90-degree angle.
Dumbbells can also be used in this exercise, either by using two at once or focusing on one side at a time. If one chooses to work on one side at a time, the knee and hand on the unused side can be placed on a weight bench for stabilization. A rowing machine that fully mimics the movement of rowing a boat with a cable for resistance typically also provide solid lat exercises while also working large groups of leg and arm muscles.
A pull-down cable machine, found in most gyms, may work the lats as well. A person first sits on the seat provided and grabs a long, straight bar connected to weight by a cable. Using the arms, the bar is pulled down in front of the face toward the chest or behind the head toward the upper back.
When performing any of these lat exercises, it is important to stabilize the back by engaging the core muscles. Following this recommendation can help to prevent injury. Many fitness experts caution that form is critical when doing any isolation exercise and should be a priority before adding weight.