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Pullups can help you strengthen your lats.
Serious bodybuilders don't just bulk up their pecs and biceps; they also develop their backs, including large muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, to achieve an all-around sculpted physique. Bulking up the lats, as they're commonly called, is particularly important if you want to develop the V-shaped torso that many bodybuilders seek.
The Latissimus Dorsi Muscles
The latissimus dorsi are large, triangular muscles on your upper back that attach to your upper arms, to the top of your pelvis and to several different ribs. The lats are involved in numerous shoulder and shoulder-blade movements, generally when your arms move backward, like when your arms move down as you're climbing a ladder, for example.
Targeting Your Lats With the Right Exercises
When seeking to bulk up your latissimus dorsi, it's hard to beat pullups or chin-ups. The exercises are similar, although you perform pullups with a wide, overhand grip and chin-ups with a shoulder-width, underhand grip. To really bulk up, add intensity by wearing a dip belt or ankle weights, or by securing a free weight between your feet. Lat pulldowns and underhand pulldowns replicate pullups and chin-ups, respectively, using a high-cable machine. Other exercises that work the lats include barbell or cable pullovers, inverted rows, barbell bent-over rows and seated cable or machine rows.
A Lat-Building Program
Begin every workout with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to warm up. Perform dynamic stretches next, such as 10 horizontal arm swings to target your upper back. Select two or three latissimus dorsi exercises and do them at least twice per week, with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions. Start with at least three sets of six to 12 reps of each exercise but try to work up to five. For weighted exercises, lift 75 to 85 percent of your one-repetition maximum -- the most weight you can handle if you only do the exercise one time. Begin adding weight to your pullups or chin-ups when you can perform 12 body-weight versions with the correct form. End your workouts with static lat stretches, such as the yoga Child's pose or a standing side reach. Hold static stretches for 30 seconds without bouncing.
Feed Your Lats
Eat a good diet containing plenty of lean protein to help support your muscle growth. It's particularly important to take in some protein immediately after your workout to help your lats recover from their effort. Drink a protein shake or eat a meal with a carb-to-protein ratio of 3- or 4-to-1 within 30 to 45 minutes after your back workout ends.