One of the most sought after looks in the bodybuilding and fitness world is a developed V-shape latissimus dorsi. The back is a large muscle group consisting of different muscles layered upon each other. While it is important to train the entire back and all of its different areas, I would like to zero in on the lats and the best exercises for superb development. Throughout my career, people have always inquired as to how I developed my back, and specifically may lats. While I attribute much of my back development to performing Deadlifts, my lat development can be specifically attributed to basic movements such as pull-ups, chin-ups, and wide-grip angled pull-ups. When I was 11 years old, I had an early morning routine at the park in which I incorporated pull-ups and chin-ups. These two movements helped me to create both width and length of my latissimus dorsi. Pull-ups, performed with a wide, overhand grip develop the width of the latissimus dorsi, while Chin-ups, performed with a shoulder-width, under-hand grip develop the length of the lats from origin to insertion. Another variety of Chin-ups can be performed with a close grip.
The Wide-grip Angled Pull-up can be performed as a pull-up exercise where the hands are positioned with a wide, parallel grip. Or, as a variation, you may use the wide-grip angled bar designed for universal or cable pull downs as a weighted pull-down exercise. If you’re not able to locate a high parallel bar pull-up bar, most parks have apparatuses that contain different bars that are spaced in such a way that this exercise may be performed. I have provided a visual image below of Clubber Lang performing this movement using ropes around a wooden beam. The image displays the width and hand position of this particular exercise. Over the years, it has become one of my favorite back exercises, and I find that it targets the lats in a precise way that differs greatly from Pull-ups and Chin-ups due to the positioning of the hands.
Any of the exercises that I have described should be done with controlled form. I advise you to focus on a slow, controlled upward and downward motion, bringing your lats to a fully stretched position. Let your lats expand and contract from origin to insertion, and from positive-to static-to negative. You won’t get as many repetitions this way, but excellent form produces excellent lats. You’ll witness many trying to increase repetitions with sloppy form, muscling themselves up with a violent motion. But when you use controlled form, you will feel and see the difference in your lats. Think through the exercise, feeling the attachments of the lats stretching and expanding. You’ll find that good form is much more important than repetitions for these specific exercises.
Incorporate these three basic, yet proven and time-tested exercises into your weekly back routine for a couple of months, and witness the astounding change in your latissimus dorsi development. In both width and length, the superb V-shape back will emerge as one of your best body parts!
Below, left: Bruce Lee displays his well-developed lats and fantastic conditioning. (Photo: Raymond Chow Productions, Media Asia Distribution-Twentieth Century Fox, The Chinese Connection, 1972)
Below, right: Mr. T. as Clubber Lang, in ROCKY III, performs Wide-grip Angled Pull-ups using ropes around a wooden beam. (Photo: United Artists, MGM, ROCKY III, 1982)