Upper Lats Vs Lower Lats: What are They; Differences; Best Exercises for Each & Training Tips
The lats make for one of the most difficult muscles to grow, and one that is often easily skipped, but one of the most important back muscles.
Nothing quite beats a well-built back. It not only gives you that intimidating bulky look, but it also makes you as fierce as you look when you hit the ground for some serious workout. But lats take things a notch higher in both aesthetics and power.
Heck, they even look like a pair of wings when well-toned. How cool is that?!
But before you can walk around the beach looking like a Greek god, you have to put in the work first and build yourself a solid back. That means every muscle group from the traps, erector spinae, and of course, the lats.
In this post, I will be taking you through what I have learned, seen, heard, and tried in my bid to grow badass, robust lats that have transformed my back for the better.
What are Lats and Why are they so Important?
Lats is just a short form, the muscle group is called latissimus dorsi – a Latin name that means side back muscles. And that’s as true as it gets, this muscle group crosses your back (just below the shoulders) and helps with controlling your shoulder joint – in three ways.
Lats is the muscle you use when pulling the upper arms backward. This happens in everyday life, but you also do this for moves during workouts like the low row, rear delt row, and underhand dumbbell row among others.
Adduction is simply a move that involves pulling a limb toward the body. Lats come in very handy when you pull your upper arm inwards to the side of the body. The contraction of this muscle cannot go unnoticed especially during such workouts like pull-ups or wide grip pulldowns to mention a few.
Shoulder Medial Rotation
This move is pretty much similar to the shoulder extension, just slightly different…but still, equally essential. Shoulder medial rotation is vital for most workouts that target the chest, shoulders, and other upper body exercises alike.
Are There Upper and Lower Lats?
You might have heard avid gym rats referring to this muscle group simply as the ‘lats’ and probably wondered what makes up the muscle group. Your curiosity is quite spot on – lats don’t mean just a single muscle, there are upper and lower lats.
The Upper lats, as the name suggests, are at the top of the muscle group. These run from the midsection of your back and almost into your armpit at the very top. These often have the highest peak during arm extension – like in lat pull down, seated row, or straight arm pulldowns, and during horizontal arm movements like in the case of t-bar row or cable row and other rowing motions.
The lower lats are a group of muscle fibers inserting into your lower third and lower fourth ribs adjacent to the external oblique muscles. The lower lats occupy a large chunk of your lower posterior thorax. They stretch to the side of your body under the upper arms. Then they extend back toward the midline area. But do note, the trap muscles partially cover the lats around the midline section.
And although lats can prove a bit hard to hit and easy to skip, it doesn’t essentially take rocket science to understand how to work this area and grow these muscles.
Which One Should you Focus on?
Often, isolating the upper and lower lats when working out can be hard, since all the muscle fibers in this group have similar insertion points. That is to say, when doing lat workouts, all your lat muscles are smack bang in the thick of the action.
Granted, you still can tweak things around some to hit the lower lats better if you modify your training technique. Then again, you don't want to target one section of this muscle group and push the other on the back burner.
After all, both the upper and lower lats are crucial for supporting your spine during intense workouts – mostly the big three; these include presses like chest press and bench press, deadlifts (the likes of smith machine deadlifts), and most squats - including shrimp squats, Bulgarian split squats, sumo squats and goblet squats among others.
As much as you would want to isolate one muscle, I'd say go all out and train this muscle group in its entirety, thank me later.
Top Lower Lat Exercises
Now that you know what lats are, and why you need to hit them hard and heavy, let’s get down and dirty with some of the best lat exercises that will see you build a bulky, stronger back.
The Lat pull-in is not only great for building your lower lats, but it’s also a unilateral exercise (workouts that help a great deal with ironing out muscle imbalances, as well as establishing better mind-muscle connection.) It’s a variant of the lat pull-down that you just got to trust in when you decide to hit your lower lats.
How to perform Lat Pull-In
- Have a bench set up in front of your cable pulley machine, and set the pulley at the highest setting.
- Grabbing the handle in your right hand, sit on the bench so that you have your right side to the machine.
- Now pull the cable downwards and inwards towards the hip section
- Keep going until your elbow touches your hip bone.
- Squeeze your lower lat at the end of the move. Then slowly return to the start of the move to extend your lats to the fullest
- Do several reps then switch to the left hand
Underhand Bent-Over Barbell Row
You can do this standard row variation with the hand in a reversed position. This way you can depress your scapula and manage to keep the shoulders down for better activation of your lower lats.
How to Perform Underhand Bent-Over Barbell Row
- Start by placing a loaded bar on the floor
- Standing with the feet at hip-width apart, reach down and grab the bar at the shoulder-wide underhand grip
- Row the barbell up towards your rib section while depressing your shoulders and contracting the shoulder blades.
- Hold the bar at the top of the move momentarily as you contract your lower lats
- Now lower the bar slowly to extend your arms to their max
- That’s 1 rep! Repeat for the desired number of reps
This exercise proves excellent for fully extending your lats at the start and then contracting them fully at the lowest position. Just make sure to squeeze your lats while momentarily holding the position at the bottom for a few seconds for the best activation of your lower lats.
How to Perform Straight-Arm LatPulldown
- Set your lat pull-down machine at the highest settings with a short handlebar attached to the machine’s cable
- Use both hands to grab the handle in an overhand grip
- Step back so that your arms are at a 45-degree angle with the floor
- Leaning forward (slightly so) with your upper body, maintain your arms in a straight position, and keep the shoulders down with the scapula section depressed
- Pull the handle down towards your hips, and hold at the bottom position for a couple of seconds while contracting the lower lats
- Return to the start position slowly in a controlled motion.
- That’s one rep! Repeat for the desired number of reps
Seated Band Row
If you have a rowing machine (you don't have to splurge on the likes of Concept 2, Skierg or other heavy duty rowing machine, there are some cool budget rowers out there too) you can use it for this to make the most of the higher resistance. If not, then resistance bands work just fine.
This variant of the cable seated row ensures that your lower lats stay engaged and under constant tension through the move.
The seated band row is cool in that you don’t have to follow a particular path set by the machine. You can do this exercise after other lat workouts if you start feeling your lats become gassed out (during other workouts) since the band doesn’t offer too much resistance.
With the seated band row, however, you could easily find yourself engaging the traps instead of the lats. So make sure you’re engaging the lats by externally rotating your shoulder while slightly depressing the scapula and holding your chest up.
How to Perform the Seated Band Row
- Start by sitting on the floor, and extend your legs out.
- Have a resistance band looped around the mid-feet section and hold the other end of the band with both hands – maintaining a neutral grip.
- Keep your torso in an upright position and make sure your spine is as neutral as it gets
- With the elbows tucked to your sides, row the arms backward to have the hands reach your hip level. Hold it right there for a short while as you squeeze your lats
- Now, return to the starting position
- That’s one rep! Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Lower Lat Dumbbell Exercises
To work your lower lats, you can use a myriad of exercise equipment as you have seen, from cable pulley machines to resistance bands. But if all you have is a pair of the good ol’ dumbbells, you still can put them to good use working your lower lats.
In case you don't have these weights already, don't worry. There are so many reliable places you can buy a pair of dumbbells, there are even dumbbell models for women.
There are several workouts for this, but here’s the one truly tried and tested dumbbell row to hips.
The Dumbbell Row to Hips
This is a variant of the single-arm row that proves to be very efficient for hitting the lower lats. But instead of rowing up your dumbbell, you do more of a pull-back motion.
How to Perform the Dumbbell Row to Hips
- Holding a dumbbell in one hand, stand on the side of your bench as you place the other hand on your bench.
- Stand by the side of a bench, holding a dumbbell in the right hand.
- Place the left hand on the other hand and step back with the left leg to assume a staggered stance – your torso at a 45-degree angle
- Have the dumbbell hanging below your shoulder, then row it up and back towards your hip section.
- Hold the shoulders low and keep your chest held up as you lift.
- At the apex of the move, hold and contract momentarily
- Return slowly to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps
Upper Lats Exercises
While there is a long list of workouts that help target the lower lats, the upper lats are quite harder to isolate and target. But that isn’t to say you can’t work a way around working them. You can still work this part of the muscle with several upper back workouts like the seal row, the bent-over barbell row as well as the ring row and its alternative exercises.
Lat Exercises at Home
All the exercises I have shared with you above don’t require you to go to the gym. Even for a total beginner, with the simplest home gym setup that has the space saving gyn equipment like a short barbell, a set of budget dumbbells, and/or some quality resistance bands, you're all set.
These are not the only exercises you can do for lats though, in my search for the best options to go on, I came across one Reddit thread with quite the galore of handy ideas and suggestions.
How to Target Lower Lats Reddit
There are several exercises that Redditors swear by as far as working the lats goes. Of course, some of the ones I have shared with you above are the most tried, tested and trusted ones. But as you can see in this thread, others like reverse grip lat pulldowns, weighted pull-ups (be sure how many pull-ups you can do safely before throwing in the weights though), and tricep kickbacks using a Bosu ball are also highly rated.
What you should be thinking about right now is what you can do to make the most of your lats workouts.
Important Training Tips for Lat Workout
When the time to get down to action and get those lats looking like eagle wings, you need to do several things right. Here are a handful of tidbits that will come in handy to give you the desired results, safer and faster.
- Varying the grip
- Maintaining the right mind-muscle connection
- Have a well-outlined lat workout routine and stick to it
- Have the right equipment, right from barbells to wrist wraps
- Make the most of drop sets to maximize gains
That’s it peeps! Whether you were on the prowl for the best tips to build your lats, or you were just out to quench your curiosity trying to understand these rather elusive muscles, there you have the answers to your questions. If you still have more burning questions about upper and lower lats, feel free to drop them in the comment section below and I will be in touch to offer more insights.
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Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now.
My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future.
I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics.
My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics.
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