The Best Lat Exercises You Can Do: Bench, Deadlift and Squats

All I ever heard about when I initially started training were the “lats.”

They were constantly promoted as the key to enhancing the squat, bench press, and deadlift, and according to the world’s strongest lifters, once I understood how to use my lats, my strength would skyrocket. In an attempt to target this mysterious muscle area, I attempted every workout possible, including the finest lat exercises. My programmes were comprised of variations of pull downs, chin-ups, pull-ups, and pullovers as I gradually acquired size and strength.

Despite my unwavering concentration, I couldn’t feel my lats. My back strengthened and my strength increased marginally, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel my lats doing the work.

As a result, my method frequently broke down, and I found myself stuck at one point after another, making little progress. Then it happened during a memorable training session.  As I was pulling a maximum effort heavy deadlift, I began to experience the iconic “max effort shakes” as the bar passed my knees and struck every lifter’s favourite spot: the sticking point.

I recall driving through my heels and pushing the floor away from me as hard as I could, thinking I could feel blood vessels bursting around my eyelids. My workout buddy, Nick, exclaimed “chest up, shoulders down!” after what felt like hours of tugging (actually 3-4 seconds).

As if on autopilot, I pushed my chest up towards the ceiling, pushed my shoulders down towards my back pocket, and felt my lats pull the bar in towards my hips for the first time in my life. I blasted right past the stopping point, and the bar soon lay stationary in my hands as my hips and knees locked out to finish the lift. It was a historic occurrence that aided my development as a lifter and a coach. Years later, I understand not just how to use my lats in the squat, bench press, and deadlift… I’ve also created a technique that teaches other lifters how to “discover” their lats as quickly as possible by employing the best lat movements.

In this article, I’ll share my own approach with you, show you the greatest lat workouts, and show you how to use your lats in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Stop instructing your clients and don’t listen to anyone telling you to use your lats!

What irritates me the most? Every time I hear a coach cry at a client to “use your lats!” or “activate your lats!” or simply “LATS!”

First and foremost, most clients have no idea what a “lat” is. Second, and more significantly, if they do know what it is, they most likely have no idea how to utilise it.

As coaches, we must stop instructing our clients to activate their lats and instead employ simple cues that push them to recruit.  That’s why I’m writing this post. I realise it’s much easier stated than done. Later in the article, I’ll go over some of my favourite signals for teaching you how to use your lats for the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Part 1: The best lat exercises for your anatomy

Functional anatomy is a pain.  I understand. It’s laborious and monotonous, and most of us don’t care why; we simply want to know how. Don’t be concerned.

This part will be short and to the point. There’s no frills or gimmicks here.

Simply simple functional anatomy written with the sole purpose of giving you with the information you need to learn how to use your lats.

What Are the Lats Used For?

The lats are responsible for adducting, internally rotating, and extending the shoulder.  The lats are responsible for depressing the scapula. 

The lats are a poor scapular retractor. When you want to show off to your buddies that you can fly around the block, use your lats as wings. 

With our understanding of their functional anatomy, we may employ a range of coaching cues and tactics to swiftly and easily recruit the lats.  That’s all.  That’s all for functional anatomy.

Part 2 of the Best Lat Exercises: Three of the Best Lat Exercises to Feel Your Lats

The three drills listed below make use of our knowledge of functional anatomy to drive the lats to work in the ways that they were designed to work. 

Watch the videos, listen to the directions, and repeat each practise multiple times. You might not feel your lats the first (or even the tenth) time you try, but keep training and those suckers will eventually kick in.

Part 3 of The Best Lat Exercises: How to Feel Your Lats During the Squat 

This section contains several of my favourite coaching signals for teaching you how to feel and recruit your lats during the squat. 

Don’t be concerned if one of the cues does not work immediately away. Repeat the cue numerous times to see whether it eventually “clicks.” 

If not, select one of the additional cues listed below: 

  1. Pull the bar straight down into your back by pinching my pointer finger between your shoulder blades. 
  2. Fully retract your shoulder blades when the bar is lying on your back. Pull the bar firmly down into your back from here. If you can roll the bar around on your back, you’re either in the improper posture or you’re not pulling down firmly enough. 
  3. Make the lettering on your shirt visible to the wall in front of you and try to bend the bar around your front.
  4. Force your chest up as high as possible while aggressively attempting to bend the bar around your back, with the bar resting on your back. You aren’t using your lats properly if your chest falls forward and/or you aren’t actively attempting to bend the bar. 
  5. Push your chest against the wall in front of you, press my pointer finger between your shoulder blades, and pull the bar straight down into your back.
  6. With the bar on your back, raise your chest as high as you can, fully retract your shoulder blades, and draw the bar down directly into your back. 

Part 4 of The Best Lat Exercises: How to Feel Your Lats During the Bench Press 

This section contains several of my favourite coaching cues for teaching you how to feel and recruit your lats during the bench press.

Place your shoulders in your back pocket and bend the bar towards your feet. 

Holding the bar just above your chest, push your shoulders down/away from your ears and try to bend the bar. You should feel the pressure of the bar on the outsides of your palms.

Pull your shoulders down/back towards your heels and reach your chest up towards the bar. 

Rather than thinking about lowering the bar to your chest, consider pulling your chest to the bar. If you can accomplish this while maintaining your shoulder blades pushed down into your back pockets, you will immediately feel your lats relieve the strain on your shoulders. Raise your chest to the bar, bend it with your armpits, and glide your shoulder blades down your back towards your buttocks.

Holding the bar just over your chest, raise your chest as high as you can (without lifting your buttocks off the bench) and try to bend the bar using your armpits (not your hands) while actively depressing your shoulder blades. 

Part 5 of The Best Lat Exercises: How to Feel Your Lats During the Deadlift 

This section has several of my favourite coaching signals for teaching you how to feel and activate your lats throughout the deadlift.

As though you were clutching a large, juicy orange in each armpit. Make some orange juice now. 

Push your shoulders down/away from your ears and picture squeezing the oranges as hard as you can with your armpits. Dean Somerset deserves credit for one of my all-time favourite cues.

Throughout the lift, keep your arms as extended as possible and your shoulders down/away from your ears. 

Keep your arms totally straight and don’t allow your shoulders to slump up towards your ears. Keep your arms as long as possible.

Squeezing your armpits, hit the wall in front of you with your chest and bring the bar into your body. 

Get your chest as high up possible, your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible, and actively pull the bar into your legs by squeezing your armpits as hard as you can. If the bar moves away from your torso, you’re not working your lats.

The Best Lat Exercises, Part 6: Concluding 

If you just remember four things from this article, make them the following: 

1) It takes a lot of time and practise to learn how to use and feel your lats. Be patient and don’t give up if you don’t feel them straight away. Stick to the best lat exercises and keep trying – your efforts will be rewarded. 

2) There is no “correct” or “incorrect” cue. A cue that works for you could not work for a client or a buddy. Experiment with everything, be creative, and keep going till you feel those suckers operating.

3) A pair of well-developed lats are quite sexy. Even if you don’t care about lifting a shitload of weight, you should spend time working on your lats because they boost your attractiveness by 732 percent. 

4) Humans cannot yet fly, but I am confident that a pair of well-developed lats will be the spark for the first human flight. So, here’s what I’m saying: if you want to fly, you should start performing weighted chin-ups.

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Sarah@fitical.co.uk

07833 615405