How to Build Big, Wide, Thick Lats

Back 3 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen
I talk to people all the time that can’t build a big back. They simply can’t understand why their lats won’t grow despite all of the wide-grip pull-ups they do. Sure, their biceps are growing, but they want a V-Taper.

I mean, the muscle magazine said the best way to build lats is with wide-grip pull-ups.

What gives?

I’m going to share some knowledge I learned while training clients at the Tallahassee Gold’s. This tip changed the way I approach all back exercises.

This article is going to tell you how to build wings.

two parts: shoulders & arms

The most important thing a novice weightlifter can learn is the necessity of setting their shoulders. Some people call it packing the shoulder. Others call it “proud chest”. Whatever you call it, this is an important skill in every single exercise you do.

Setting the shoulder is simply fully engaging the lat muscle to provide stability and strength to the shoulder joint. This can(and should) be done from any arm positioning.

Watch the video below to learn this skill, and practice it.

The second part of pulling exercises is the arms.

If you’re reading this you probably already do this part well, and that’s why your lats wont grow. If you only set the shoulders on the initial pull you are neglecting the portion of the lift required for maximal lat growth.

Set the Shoulders, Grow the Lats

This setting of the shoulders is what actually builds big, strong lats

Every rep of pulling exercises should begin with the lats going from relaxed to engaged and end with the lats relaxing between each rep.

In every other exercise your lats should stay engaged throughout the entire movement. This goes for squats, deadlifts, bench presses, tricep pushdowns, romanian deadlifts, etc.

Back exercises are your chance to build the muscles responsible for setting the shoulder (namely the lats).

Isolate Your Lats

Once you know how to set your shoulders under no load, because you’ve watched the video above and practiced it many times, it is time to learn how to strengthen this motion.

If you’ve been training for a while without setting your lats on each rep of your pulling exercises you will need to catch them up.

This is best done with the reverse shrug, a lat isolation exercise.

Relearn to Pull

Now that you know what setting the shoulder is, and you’ve strengthened the pattern, it is time to incorporate it into your pulling exercises.

The first exercise we teach clients learning vertical pulling movements is the neutral grip pulldown.

If you’re looking for even more exercises, read The 6 Best Vertical Pulling Exercises.

My Favorite Lat Builder

The BEST lat builder I know of is the one arm cable row. It allows you to put the lat through an enormous range of motion, while still using a heavy load. Check it out:

If you need more mid-back work, read The 6 Best Horizontal Pulling Exercises.

Now go GRow

That’s it. There’s the secret. You might have to lower the weights while reprogramming your pulls, but I promise it’s worth it.

Your lats will thank you.

Your deadlifts will thank you.

Check out The Seriously Strong Beginner Program and The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program we’ve created the best program for your skill level.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program


Download The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.