Your latissimus dorsi, also called lats, is the muscle that is responsible for width in the upper back. Your rhomboids, situated on each side of your spine, are responsible for thickness and shape of the mid-back. One of the visual benefits of having a wide muscular upper back is the illusion of a smaller waist. If you are stocky or built with a narrow frame, develop your lats for a V-shape or hourglass figure.
Lat pulldowns are the best exercise to target the lats. Start on the cable machine using a straight lat bar. Grab the bar wider than shoulder width, lean back slightly and pull the bar down to the top of your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause for a moment, and then slowly raise the bar back to the starting position. Lee Hayward on the Total Fitness Body Building website suggests to vary your grip from overhand to underhand and to do the same exercise with different bar attachments, so you target all angles of the lats.
Pullups are similar to lat pulldowns, except you use the weight of your body instead of moving a weight stack. If you are unable to do pullups, start on an assisted machine and chose a weight that allows you to complete eight repetitions with good form. Each week, try to decrease the weight a little until you can complete pullups unassisted. For optimal lat development, do wider-grip pullups. For a greater challenge, try using a weight belt with 10 pounds of added weight. Each week, slowly add more weight.
Seated rows on the cable machine target both the lats and the rhomboids. Focus on the lats by doing wide-grip seated rows with both an overhand grip and a neutral grip. Pull the bar to your abdomen, keeping a straight or slightly arched back, and pause for about two seconds before releasing. Also do barbell bent-over rows with a wide-underhand grip. According to bodybuilding.com, bent-over rows are one of the hardest exercises to complete with good form, so start with a light weight so you properly brace your abs and spine, then progress to a heavier weight.
The shoulders are not necessarily part of the lats, but developing the deltoids will make the lats appear fuller and more complete. Most shoulder exercises involve the lats as either a stabilizer muscle, or an antagonist, which helps control the downward motion of the weight. Target the middle deltoids by doing dumbbell or barbell shoulder presses. Emphasize the rear delts by doing reverse dumbbell flyes and single arm rows.
The best way to build muscle is by lifting heavy. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends lifting a weight that will fatigue your muscles in about eight to 10 repetitions maximum. Do three to four sets of each exercise. To save time, superset your workouts by doing a lat pulldown exercise, followed by a rowing exercise with little to no rest in between. For optimal results, target these muscles twice per week on nonconsecutive days.
- Lee Hayward’s Total Fitness Body Building: Back Exercises
- Bodybuilding.com: How to Get Wide Lats
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechel, and Roger W. Earle
Riana Rohmann has been working for the Marine Corps doing physical training and writing fitness articles since 2008. She holds personal trainer and advanced health and fitness specialist certifications from the American Council on Exercise and a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology from California State University-San Marcos.