Week 2 of the “Gain Muscle not Fat” Program features burnouts and exercise challenges to increase intensity of the workouts.
In the last post, I explained the Hip Thrust Challenge, designed to burnout your glutes and build strength. I hope you had some sore muscles the next day!
Today, we will target another very important area that is often forgotten: Latissimus dorsi. This muscle inserts at your arm pits and runs down across your entire back. Whenever you pull something to your body, your lats get activated. If you are looking for an exercise to improve posture, help prevent shoulder pain and arthritis and create the illusion of a tiny waist, you need to build your lats.
Exercise Challenge to burn your back
Most rowing movements that target the upper back, specifically the rhomboids, will activate the latissimus dorsi as well. However, to build a wider back (and a small waist), you need to establish a mind-muscle connection with your lats.
The easiest way to activate your latissimus dorsi is to remember the following cues:
- Pretend as if you had a purse in your armpit that could fall down any second.
- Keep your arms and elbows as close to your sides as possible during rowing movements.
- Use an underhand grip instead of overhand.
- When holding the barbell or the exercise bands, always pretend as if you want to push your hands out while still keeping your arms close to your sides.
The following exercises are best to target this muscle and can be easily done at home too. You will need to get a little bit creative and need an exercise band though.
Beginner activation move
This exercise is best for beginners struggling to activate their lats. You will need some kind of a broomstick for this but it can be performed with an exercise band as well.
- Hold the broomstick above your hand, elbows slightly bended. Contract your core, tuck your pelvis and squeeze your glutes. Your knees should be slightly bent. Breathe in.
- Breathing out, try to push the broomstick apart with your hands. This exercise is isometric. This means that there will be no visible movement but still maximal contraction of your muscles. This is great to build strength and increase mind-muscle connection.
- Hold the contraction for at least 5 seconds, then let it go and repeat.
This exercise is the most basic exercise to build your latissimus dorsi. You can use different grips to target the muscle from all angles. However, cues for proper form are the same for all variations of lats pulldowns.
Tips for execution:
- Grab the exercise bands or the handles of the lats pulldown machine above your head. Don’t fully lock out your elbows, keep them slightly bended. If you are using exercise bands, you can either bend over, so your body is 90° to the ground and extend your arms forward, or you can kneel down on the floor and pull down the bands from above your head.
- Contract your core, and keep your upper body stiff. Now, before initiating the movement, push your hands apart, just like in the activation move above. There should be no visual movement here, just muscle contraction.
- Before pulling down the bands or handles, activate your back by pushing your shoulder blades down and keeping your arms close to your body (as much as is possible with arms extended).
- Now, breathing out, pull down the bands or handles towards your body and feel the entire side of your upper body, as well as your upper back activate. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and contract your abs.
- Breathing in, slowly release the contraction but don’t let it fully relax. Don’t let your arms fully extend and pull the bands/ handles down immediately.
I don’ recommend starting with a heavy weight here. Repetitions in the range of 15- 20 are appropriate for beginners and will quickly build up strength.
If you follow these cues, it should only take 2-3 sessions to fully activate your lats muscles. As it is such a big muscle that is active on a daily basis, it does not take long to establish a strong mind-muscle connection.
Wide Grip Pulldown
This is the variations of the Lats Pulldown using a wider grip. This will hit more the sides of your upper body.
Close Grip Pulldown
Using a closer grip will activate your upper back muscles to a higher extend. I recommend using both variations, to hit the muscles from all different angles.
Home variations of the Pulldown
You can either kneel down as shown in the picture, or bend over in a standing position. Whatever leads to the highest muscle activation is best.
Underhand Grip Row
This is a variation of the traditional Bentover Barbell or Dumbbell Row. The underhand grip activates the latissimus dorsi to a higher extend but hits your upper back muscles just as well.
It is very important to contract your glutes and abdominal muscles the whole time while you are in a bentover position. If you cannot feel the exercise in your glutes, don’t bend over as much and stay in a more upright position.
Again, keep your elbows close to your sides and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you row the weights towards your body. Keep your neck in alignment with your body. You should never hyperextend your neck (looking up at the ceiling while in a bentover position).
You can use heavy weights with this exercise but make sure to practice proper form first and then decrease repetition and increase the weights.
In addition to that, this exercise can be performed with exercise bands or using just one dumbbell to hit one side only.
The exercise challenge
In this weeks Upper Body Workout #1, we will complete this exercise for as many repetitions as we can (AMRAP).
Pick one of the versions explained above and try to push yourself as hard as you can. You should still use good form and feel the right muscles work. This should leave you very sore the next day.
I hope you enjoyed this weeks exercise challenges.
Please take a minute and leave me a comment or shoot me an email with your feedback, so I can plan evil changes for next week!