The musculus latissimus dorsi (engl. broad back muscle) is the visually most prominent muscle in the back view and the largest muscle in the human body in terms of surface area. It arises largely from the thoracolumbial fascia and indirectly from the ilium, pelvis, spinous processes of the lumbar spine and lower thoracic spine. The latissimus begins on the inside of the upper arm. Together with the M. pectoralis major ( large pectoral muscle ) it forms the armpit.
When the lats are well developed, you get a "broad lower back" and, coupled with a narrow waist, the V-torso coveted by bodybuilders and fitness models.
Tasks in everyday life and in sports
The lats can adduct (pull towards the body), internally rotate and shoulder extend the arm, i.e. pull the arm back. In hang and support he braces the arms against the torso together with the pectoralis. This property is very important, for example, in gymnastics and sprinting.
Furthermore, the latissimus plays a sport-specific role, especially in sprints and in striking (hitting in martial arts). This is related to its role as the main anti-rotator and rotator of the trunk. When sprinting, the latissimus, in addition to its function as a shoulder extensor, also acts as an anti-rotator to counteract the twisting generated by the lower body, thus stabilizing the trunk during the movement. This ensures better sprint mechanics and thus faster sprints.
When striking, the lats act as a core rotator and shoulder extensor. If you look at top strikers with KO power like Mike Tyson or Badr Hari from behind, you can see where their power comes from. Crucial for a hard punch is not, as one might assume, the chest muscles or the triceps, but in addition to the hip muscles also the latissimus, which stretches the arm and the upper body as it were before the shot. If you don't have the strength to draw the bow, you won't shoot far - no matter how strong the bow itself is. So-called "arm punchers" don't have the knockout power of martial artists who put their entire body into the punch, allowing their punches to travel longer and multiply forces from large muscle groups.
Training the lats
From its name, the lat pulldown machine (not a load-pull, even if you're pulling a load) is the first exercise you might associate with training the lats. On the lat pulldown, a bar and the weight attached to it with a cable are pulled towards the breastbone with the arms. Different grip variations are possible, all of which train the latissimus or the elbow flexors to a greater or lesser extent. Arm adduction and shoulder extension occur during lat pulldowns. However, the lower body is fixed to the seat with a thigh pad. This means that the stabilizing component of the trunk muscles and thus the training of these trunk-stabilizing muscles is lost compared to a pull-up, where the body is pulled freely hanging with the sternum to the bar.
The punctum fixum, which is the Latin name for the point that is not moved when a muscle contracts, but is fixed, is the hands on the pull-up bar when doing a pull-up. With a lat pulldown, it's the lower body. The hands with the lat pull bar are the so-called punctum mobile, i.e. the point that is moved when a muscle contracts. In short: when doing a pull-up, you pull your body around the bar; when doing a lat pull-down, you pull the bar around your body. That's a huge difference. Not only because of the influence of body weight, but above all for neural reasons, the pull-up is the much more effective and superior exercise when it comes to strength training in general or training the latissimus in particular. You can pull a lot of weight on a lat pulldown, but you can't pull up a pullup, but if you're good at chinups, the lat pulldown isn't much of a challenge.
The pull up
In order to get the best out of your pull-ups, regardless of the grip variant, here are the top 3 tips for the optimal pull-up. Even if you can't do a single pull-up and start with the release from the bar, i.e. an eccentric pull-up, the first two points are crucial.
1. Slow eccentric movement
The weaker you are at the pull-up, the longer the eccentric phase should last. At the beginning this can be up to 30 seconds. The eccentric phase of the movement contributes more to building strength and muscle than the concentric phase of the movement. If you can't do a full pullup, you're just going through an eccentric phase that you need to make the most of. Even with complete pull-ups, the eccentric phase should usually last at least 4 seconds.
2. Deflate completely
At the bottom of the movement, let yourself unhook completely. The arms must be fully extended and the shoulder blades rotated upwards. This is the only way to perform a full-range pull-up and also train the muscles critical to starting a pull-up quickly, namely the scapular depressors and retractors and the elbow flexors.
3. Pull all the way up
Pull yourself all the way up on each rep, that is, shoulders touching the bar with a neutral or supinated grip, and sternum on the bar with a pronated grip, or at least chin level with two single grips the handles. This is critical for peak contraction of the upper back, elbow flexors, and lats, allowing for better and full development of these muscles.
If you do pull-ups twice a week and follow these tips, you will quickly make progress that will be noticeable in your pulling and holding power as well as visually in a broader back. However, women do not have to be afraid of getting too wide a back from doing pull-ups, as they have different muscle build-up and hormonal balance than men. Even as a woman, you should be able to do at least one pull-up with your body weight.
If you are not yet able to do a pull-up, you can learn how to do it here.
You should change the pull-up variant every sixth workout in order to set new stimuli in the training and to avoid excessive strain on a single movement pattern. You can find the three KZ variants that we frequently use in the YPSI, as well as their advantages, right here.
Good luck with your lat training!
Image: YPSI customer Dr. Sebastian J. can now do an eccentric, one-arm pull-up – which is visually noticeable….