When it comes to building wings of muscle, you must divide and conquer
Normally I do pull-downs for my lats, but I've heard from afew sources that you need to train this muscle with several different movements to achieve complete development. It's my understanding that, unlike quads or delts, the lats have only one head. Why, then, do I need to train different parts of the muscle with different actions?
True, the latissimus dorsi is not composed of several heads like other significant muscles (deltoids, quadriceps, triceps, biceps). However, it is a sizable triangle-- shaped muscle spanning each side of your tower and middle back with extensive and complex origins. As you'll soon see, anatomy and muscle mechanics dictate that using a selection of exercises to maximally stress this muscle group from a variety of directions is crucial for complete development. In addition, using various exercises in your routine ensures you'll hit all the muscles of your back, including the teres major and minor, infraspinatus, rhomboids and the erector spinae.
Each lat originates along the hip and lower spine, and gradually narrows until its insertion point near the end of the humerus (the upper arm bone) closest to your shoulder joint. Due to the expansive origin of this muscle, the fibers run in different directions; the upper fibers run almost horizontally, the middle fibers tend to be angled upward and the lower fibers run vertically upward. So, although it is a single muscle mass, dividing the lat into upper and lower regions based on this fiber distribution simplifies the training process by making it easier to associate exercises with each region.
The upper portion of the lat is the "wing" that fills the gap between the waist and shoulder, completing the V-taper appearance. The lower segment runs down the side and across the middle back, providing the "meat" of the lower back. Good lats drastically increase back width and girth, which are both essential for bodybuilders at any level.
The primary movements controlled by the lats include shoulder extension (backward movement of the arm in a vertical plane), shoulder adduction (downward movement of the arm, toward the body, in a lateral plane), medial rotation of the arm at the shoulder (turning the arm inward), and depression of the humerus (downward movement of the upper arm and shoulder).
Shoulder extension works the lower lats most directly; shoulder adduction predominantly hits the upper lats. If you can't remember which movements work which lat region, think of elbow position. Exercises for upper lats begin with the elbows up and out to your sides. The starting position for lower-lat exercises is with elbows in front of the body, shoulder-width apart. Regardless of which area you're targeting, finish each lat movement by pulling your elbows down and back to depress the shoulder blades.
Popular exercises for the upper lats include pull-ups and pull-downs with a wide and/or pronated (palms facing outward) grip. These same exercises can be modified to stress the lower lats by assuming a narrow, neutral (palms facing each other) or supinated (palms toward face) grip. Additionally, the pull-down's emphasis is shifted from upper to lower lat as you lean backward and pull farther down the torso, such as to the abdomen instead of the upper chest.
Rowing movements, whether seated or bent-over barbell/dumbbell exercises, are the bread and butter of lower-- lat growth. Hand placement and grip width change the emphasis of the row slightly, but not to the extent that they do with the pull-down. The pull-over is another good exercise for lower-lat development.
As you can see, a handful of basic lat exercises can be turned into a virtually unlimited number of movements with simple modifications to hand position and grip width. Such minor es might seem trivial, yet each change, no matter how small, stresses the muscle differently. This, in turn, emphasizes different areas, incorporates different muscle fibers and ultimately leads to more complete development.
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