How To Flex Lats: All You Need To Know

Handsome young muscular Caucasian man of model appearance working out training pumping up back lats muscles in the gym gaining weight on machines posing fitness and bodybuilding concept

Key Points

  • Knowing how to flex your lats is crucial for competitive bodybuilding.

  • You need proper form and technique when performing exercises that develop lat muscles.

  • Exercises such as pull-ups, rows, and pulldowns effectively build and tone the latissimus dorsi.

Bodybuilding is an art that requires not only dedication and hard work but also a keen understanding of how to showcase your physique. Knowing how to flex your lats may be the difference between a winning score and a lackluster consolation prize during competition.

The lats are large muscles that run along each side of the back. Well-developed lats contribute to an aesthetically pleasing physique and play a critical role in creating the illusion of a small waist. Knowing how to flex your lats is a crucial focus for professional and amateur bodybuilders alike, but there's more to it than meets the eye.

What Are the Lats?

The latissimus dorsi is kind of a big deal when it comes to sculpting the perfect human form. Covering a vast surface area across your back, the muscle works to rotate and extend your shoulder joints. It also affects the movement of the trunk and shoulder girdle, providing strength and stability for upper arm movement and various daily activities.

Lats also play a secondary role in stabilizing the lower back and sacral area, which is especially important for sports performance and heavy lifting. Extensive fascial connections to the core provide spinal strength and stiffness by resisting flexion and tension, providing much-needed support during deadlifts and squats.

Whether you build these massive muscles for competition or to make hauling groceries easier each week, consider learning more about proper lifting and flexing techniques to maximize these glamorous muscles.

Form and Function

The latissimus dorsi extends across the back and is responsible for each arm's adduction, extension, and internal rotation at the shoulder joint. The muscles originate from the lower six thoracic vertebrae, the lumbar, iliac crest, and your first three or four ribs and inserts into the floor of the upper arm's intertubercular groove of the humerus bone.

Lats facilitate pulling, rotating, and bending of the arms as well as lifting and bending the chest from side to side. They're integral to your upper body mobility, so they need training and toning to handle daily physical activity.

Woman sits on row machine to work lats

Benefits of Lat Training

The benefits of training your lat muscles go beyond creating a pleasing aesthetic, and here are some reasons to consider working out these powerful back muscles.

Improved Upper Body Strength

Since the latissimus dorsi are large muscles that make upper body movement possible, strengthening them improves strength and coordination. That pull-up bar in the garage just got a little less intimidating with the thought of rock-hard lats helping to do the work.

Enhanced Posture

The latissimus dorsi muscles play a crucial role in supporting proper posture. By strengthening these muscles, you improve standing and sitting postures, reducing the likelihood of developing back pain and discomfort.

Better Athletic Performance

Many sports and athletic movements, such as rock climbing, swimming, rowing, and volleyball, involve heavy lat use. Lat strength yields the coordination that makes athletic prowess look and feel natural. You simply have more fun — and success — participating in these activities with properly trained, efficient muscles.

Improved Physique

Get that beautiful v-shaped physique you've been dreaming about with a little extra attention on the lat muscles. One of the most visible benefits of strong latissimus dorsi is that it creates that signature look, a desirable aesthetic for fitness enthusiasts.

Best Exercises for Training the Lats

Put together your own customized lat workout that'll make you the envy of other amateur bodybuilders in the gym. Beginners should choose one or two exercises and aim to perform 12-16 reps to start. You'll begin to build strength while sculpting the upper back and giving your body some new definition.

Intermediates and advanced fitness professionals should incorporate two to six different exercises, trying a variety of moves with different types of equipment to avoid stagnation.

As your muscles undergo stress, they must adapt to accommodate more strength and longer periods of exercise. The end result is a gorgeous, well-defined back.

One-Arm Row on One Leg

To add an extra challenge to your workout routine, try performing a dumbbell row exercise while balancing on one leg. This engages your core muscles and requires more balance, so starting with a lighter weight is best. Shift your weight to one leg and hinge at the hips to bring your torso parallel to the floor.

Lift your opposite leg straight up behind you, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heel. If you need help with balance, hold onto a wall or chair. Pull your elbow up, perform a row, then slowly lower your dumbbell. Aim for 12-16 reps on each side.

Man performs overhead pull down on lat machine in gym

Lat Pull With Resistance Bands

The banded lat pull is a smart variation of the lat machine found at your local gym. If you want to increase the intensity of this exercise, try attaching a door holder to the band and securing it in a doorway above you.

Hold the band overhead and engage your back muscles as you pull your elbows down and toward your rib cage. Try holding the band with your hands close together for even more of a challenge. Make 12-16 reps a target for your set, holding at the bottom for an extra isometric squeeze.

Barbell Rows

Dumbbells provide a clear advantage of working each side independently, but a barbell allows you to handle heavier weights than separate ones. Grip the bar with your palms facing your body and hinge forward at the hips until your torso reaches approximately a 45-degree angle. Avoid jerkily lowering your torso, as this can strain your back.

Maintain a slight bend in your knees to protect your back, extend the barbell straight out, and then contract your back muscles to pull the barbell toward your belly button. Aim for 15 repetitions for each set. This exercise is also effective with palms facing outward, similar to a biceps curl.

Dumbbell Pullovers

Pullovers are an excellent exercise because they target several muscle groups simultaneously, including the chest, lats, and triceps. They also engage the lower body and core muscles when performed on a stability ball.

Assume a bridge position, holding a dumbbell weight directly overhead. If you're new to the exercise, start with a lighter weight to build strength and stability. With your arms straight and elbows slightly bent, lower the weight behind you until it's parallel to your head. Contract your back muscles and gradually pull your dumbbell back into the starting position, repeating this movement for 12-16 reps.

Renegade Row

A renegade row is an efficient exercise that engages the core and lower body muscles, promoting coordination and flexibility. One of the more challenging exercises on this list, it's essential to slowly build up to a heavy load to reduce your risk of injury.

Assume a half or full plank position. Grip two dumbbells with your palms facing each other. If holding both weights is uncomfortable, try performing the exercise by moving the weight from hand to hand.

While maintaining a plank position, alternate a row lifting each weight up and down for your desired number of repetitions. If this particular variation is too challenging, modify it by performing on your knees; put your knees directly under your hips and position your hands under your shoulders.


Pull-ups are an essential exercise for any comprehensive back routine. They provide a significant challenge for most, requiring you to lift your entire body weight. Beginners, consider adding a support chair under your toes to focus on form and gradually build your strength until you're ready to perform a full pull-up.

Begin by placing a chair or sturdy stool beneath your pull-up bar. With your hand positioned wider than your shoulders, put one foot — or both, if necessary — on the chair to provide support as you pull your body upward. You can skip the chair and try looping a resistance band around one knee for added momentum on the way up.

Lower yourself back down and repeat this movement as often as you can. As you build strength, strive to rely less on your lower body and focus more on using upper body strength to complete your reps.

Woman performs a pull-down on a lat machine at gym

Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows are a classic upper-back exercise. Strive for intentional movement with contraction at the top to isolate those lats and build strength and fortitude that yield impressive results. Maintain a flat back and engage your abs as you hinge from the hips. Hold weights with your arms hanging down. Squeeze your back muscles to pull your elbows up to your torso.

Avoid forcefully jerking. Instead, mindfully focus on utilizing your back muscles to control each movement. Stop when your elbows reach just above the torso level, and lower the weights back down until your arms hang fully extended.

One-Arm Row

The one-arm row is an exercise that specifically targets the lats. Efficient form and gradual strength-building strategies make this an effective way to strengthen and tone the latissimus dorsi.

Stand next to a bench or sturdy platform with a dumbbell in one hand. Place the closest knee and hand on the bench, ensuring your back is parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the exercise.

With your arm holding the dumbbell fully extended and hanging down, start your movement by pulling the weight toward your core. Focus on squeezing your back at the top of the action.

Slowly lower the weight back down to a starting position. Repeat the exercise for your desired number of repetitions on one side before switching to the other side.

Seated Rows With Resistance Bands

Seated rows with resistance bands is an effective exercise for developing all the upper body muscles. Start by sitting on a chair or the ground with legs extended in front of you and your resistance band attached to a fixed point behind you.

Grab the ends of the resistance band with both hands, with palms facing each other. Sit up straight while your shoulders relax. Pull the band toward your midsection, leading with your elbows.

Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and isolating a hold with your latissimus dorsi as you pause at the full extension of the movement. Slowly release the tension in your band and return to a controlled starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

Woman sits on row machine at gym

Power Plank With Rows

This compound and efficient exercise provides a dual purpose, engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously. The plank position targets the abs, back, and lower body while incorporating a rowing motion that intensifies core activation and stimulates the lats.

Start by assuming a plank position on your hands and toes, keeping a wide stance with your feet. Modify the exercise by dropping to your knees if necessary. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and complete a row by pulling your elbow upward.

Lower the weight in a controlled manner and repeat for up to 20 repetitions while maintaining your strong plank. Take a short rest and then switch sides to work both sides equally.

Straight-Arm Pulls

The straight-arm pull focuses on strengthening the back and triceps. Incorporating a stability ball into your exercise also hits the lower back and hamstrings as they fight for stability.

Secure a resistance band to a stable point in front of you. Ensure you're at an appropriate distance from your anchor to create adequate tension on the band.

Start with your arms straight out in front of you. Keeping them straight, pull them down and backward, squeezing your back muscles in an isometric hold before releasing them in a controlled motion. Repeat this motion for your desired number of repetitions.

Showing Off Those Lats the Right Way!

You've done your work, you have killer lats, and now it's time to learn how to show them off! Whether you're a seasoned competitive bodybuilder or simply want to look good in photos, there are ways to flex the lats to make them pop.

The mechanics of getting a good flex are more than just tightening and clenching those fists. Practice proper form to train your body to assume the position that yields your impressive form.

Muscular man sits on gym bench looking away

Doing a Lat Spread

A lat spread is a classic pose used in competitive bodybuilding that emphasizes all the hard work you've put into those back muscles. Executing a good lat spread is simple, provided you've already trained and built those muscles for strength and size.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your body upright. Make sure your abdominal muscles remain engaged during your pose. Extend your arms to the side, parallel to the floor, with your palms facing forward.

Take a deep breath in. At the same time, push your chest forward while expanding your rib cage. As you exhale, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling them toward the floor.

Try to touch your elbows behind your back while maintaining tight tension in your back muscles. Visualize spreading your back as wide as possible and maximizing the width of your latissimus dorsi.

Hold this lat spread briefly, showcasing your upper body strength and symmetry. Practice proper breathing techniques during your pose, inhaling before you expand and exhaling during contraction.

Enhancing your lat spread is as simple as committing to an upper body workout involving:

  • Pull-ups

  • Pulldowns

  • Rows

  • Planks

  • Push-ups

Regular practice and pose sessions with a mirror or a bodybuilding coach refine your technique, allowing you to achieve more efficient muscle control and prepare you for photos, the stage, and beyond. Show off all of the hard work you've put in; you earned those bulges!

Flexing for the Ladies

While the ladies may not have as much mass to work with when showing off the latissimus dorsi, flexing still yields impressive results with the correct technique. Understanding the mechanics of lat activation is critical to getting the definition you desire when posing for pictures.

When preparing to flex, avoid rounding the shoulders and bringing the arms forward as you try to activate the back muscles. Instead, open the front of the body and rotate your shoulders back as you extend your arms straight to the sides.

Lift your chest to open up your top line, engaging the lat first, then the shoulder, with the arm extended outward to a 45-degree angle. As you move into your final pose, engage the lats and focus on pulling them wide while tightening them to reveal definition and muscle tone. Your upper body should take on a glorious, enviable, v-shaped aesthetic.

Bruce Lee's Killer Lats: Can You Get Them?

Why were Bruce Lee's lats so darned massive? His smooth, catlike movements inspire many to improve their physical fitness efforts, yet few achieve the impressive size and definition he did. What was his latissimus dorsi secret?

The Enter The Dragon star was way ahead of his time regarding diet and exercise protocols. He went where few have gone to demonstrate his commitment to perfecting his physical form. Rumor held that he used to blend and drink raw beef as a "protein shake" when he needed to add some extra bulk to his otherwise slender frame.

Lee participated in different types of training such as martial arts, weight training, skipping rope, and running to incite muscle confusion and inspire growth, sometimes participating in several daily workouts to get in excellent physical condition. He would run five miles daily, followed by strength training, flexibility training, and kickboxing to get the job done.

When the going got tough, Lee helped his sore muscles recover with a technique known as electro-stimulation. He had discovered a way to use the technology to enhance his impressive muscle tone and definition.

Don't worry if your physique doesn't match "Little Dragon." As Lee imparts, "A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at."

Woman performs overhead pull-downs on a lat machine in gym

Strong Lats and Punching: Is There a Connection?

If drinking hamburger shakes isn't on your list of things to do today, consider strengthening the lats in anticipation of developing upper body strength and coordination. Strong lats contribute to more punching power in the following ways.

Greater Core Stability

The lats connect with the core muscles, including your abdominals and lower back muscles. A strong, stable core provides a solid foundation for transferring power from your lower body through the torso and arms. Added stability creates more efficient balance and generates greater force while punching.

Efficient Rotation

Lats contribute to more efficient rotation, crucial to generating adequate punching power. As you rotate your torso and hips to transfer energy into your punches, your latissimus dorsi engages, giving you this added power boost.

Transfer of Force

Your well-defined lats assist in the transfer of force generated from the lower body and core to your upper body muscles. This is where the real power comes from in punching; it's a whole-body activity! When you connect to this power, the results may even shock you.

Strong and Sculpted!

Developing strong and well-defined lats is essential for competition, overall upper body function, and aesthetic appeal. As you incorporate specific exercises and training techniques into your routine — sans the hamburger shakes — you'll enjoy more muscle tone, strength, and size.

Learning to properly flex and show off those lats during competitions and photo shoots enhances your presentation and creates impressive visual impact. With time, consistency, and attention to detail, you'll sculpt a powerful upper-body physique that makes a significant impression on all who see you.

Embrace that training challenge, commit to proper form, and unleash your full potential and a muscular, sexy physique. For more expert tips on health and wellness, subscribe to FitnessCorner. Happy training!

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