The 10 Best Lat Exercises for Muscle & Strength

Your lat muscles are among the largest muscles of your back, responsible for pulling your arms closer to your body, like in a row or a pull-up.

Strong lat muscles increase your pulling strength and create that wide, v-shaped back that exudes power and capability through your shirt everywhere you go.

In this article, we’ll review ten of the best lat exercises you can do in or out of the gym. We’ll cover both horizontal and vertical pulling exercises to work all regions of your lats for maximum strength and muscle growth.

Let’s get into it!

Lat Muscle Anatomy

In order to pick the right lat exercises to include in your workout routine, you must first understand the lat muscles.

Your lats, or latissimus dorsi, are wide, fan-shaped muscles that run along the entire sides of your back.

They originate in your lower back and insert on the inside of your upper arm bones.

The lats are fairly thin muscles, but they are stretched out over a large area, which means that they can still make a strong visual impression when well-developed.

Lats muscles
Lat muscles

The primary function of your lats is to pull your arms closer to your body.

Because the lats have such a wide, fan-shaped origin, different muscle fibers pull your arms closer from different directions.

That is why you must incorporate both vertical pulling exercises (from an overhead arm position) and horizontal pulling exercises (from a position with your arms in front of you) to work all muscle fibers of your lats.

Now, let’s get into our top ten exercises for bigger, stronger lats.

1. Lat Pulldown

First on our list is the lat pulldown. If you only were to pick a single lat exercise, the lat pulldown would be a great choice.

Vertical pulls like the pulldown work a majority of the lats’ muscle fibers, and with just a slight lean backward, you will target even more. In addition to your lats, the pulldown also works your biceps.1

A great benefit of the lat pulldown compared to the classic pull-up, is that you can easily adjust the resistance level so that you are able to perform the lat pulldown with good form and focus on the muscles worked.

Being able to start from a low resistance makes the lat pulldown an excellent lat exercise, even for beginner bodybuilders.

How to Do Lat Pulldowns with Proper Form

  1. Adjust the thigh pad to fit snugly against your thighs to prevent your body from lifting off the seat.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Sit with your thighs under the thigh pad, keep your chest up, and look at the bar.
  4. Pull the bar down towards your chest, leading with your elbows. Pull until the bar is below your chin or touches your upper chest.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  6. Exhale and slowly release the bar back up to the starting position.

2. Pull-Up

Another vertical pulling exercise for your lats is the pull-up.

This exercise has a much higher barrier to entry as it requires plenty of upper body strength, and that your body weight is not too high. For many beginner lifters, getting their first pull-up is a huge milestone.

If you can do pull-ups, however, you have access to a great lat and bicep exercise that you can do virtually anywhere; the only equipment you need is something to hang from.

In addition, being able to lift your body weight in a pull-up feels powerful and can be a great confidence boost.

How to Do Pull-Ups with Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with palms facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

3. Chin-Up

For some variation in your pull-up game, you could try the chin-up.

The chin-up is similar to the pull-up but with an underhand grip. This can enable you to focus more on working your biceps, but it is also entirely possible to let your lats do most of the pulling.

Experiment with these two pull-up variations and see which one you get the best contact with your lat muscles in.

Of course, you could also do lat pulldowns with an underhand grip.

How to Do Chin-Ups with Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing you), about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

4. Barbell Row

The barbell row, or bent-over row, is one of the most classic back exercises with a barbell and is great for working not only your lats, but also your trapezius, rhomboids, and rear deltoids.

The key to making the barbell row a good lat exercise is to avoid using momentum from your hips and legs, and instead do all the pulling with your upper back and arms.

By adjusting the angle of your torso, you can shift which muscles do the brunt of the work. But, in order to work your lats optimally, you should be leaning forward as much as possible.

How to Do Barbell Rows With Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar as high as you can so that it touches your abs or chest, if possible.
  5. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

5. Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is another classic rowing exercise for your upper back muscles, including your lats.

A benefit of the seated cable row is that you are able to lean forward quite a bit in this exercise and get a better stretch in your lat muscles compared to many other rowing exercises.

Still, it is key that you use weights light enough for you to maintain proper form and work your lats, not your hips or legs.

You could also try doing cable rows with a wide grip and see which you prefer. However, the close-grip row seems to be preferred in general.

How to Do Cable Close Grip Seated Rows with Proper Form

  1. Attach a narrow handle to the cable row, and assume the starting position.
  2. Maintain an upright posture with your chest out, shoulders back, and core engaged. Lean forward slightly and let your scapulae move freely by letting them slide forward to the starting position.
  3. Inhale, retract your shoulder blades and pull the handle towards your lower abdomen while leaning back slightly.
  4. Exhale and slowly return to the starting position by extending your arms and leaning forward.

6. Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is a great one-sided (or unilateral) exercise for getting a long range of motion in your lat muscles, while simultaneously working your biceps and other upper back muscles.

Being one-sided, it gives you the opportunity to develop both sides of your back in tandem, making sure that one side doesn’t fall behind in size or strength.

The drawback, of course, is that you’ll have to perform twice as many sets.

How to Do Dumbbell Rows with Proper Form

  1. Start by placing a dumbbell on the floor beside a bench or chair. Stand facing the bench or chair and place your left hand and left knee on top of it.
  2. Keep your back flat and parallel to the ground, with a slight bend in the standing leg. Grip the dumbbell with your right hand.
  3. Inhale and pull the dumbbell by driving the elbow toward the ceiling.
  4. With control, lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while exhaling.
  5. Complete desired reps on one side, then switch to the opposite arm and leg.

7. T-Bar Row

The T-bar row is similar to the standard barbell row, but you use a special T-bar implement.

This offers a little more stability than the free-weight barbell row, which might make it easier for you to focus on the back muscles working. Plus, it’s a pretty cool old-school bodybuilding exercise!

Like with the bent-over barbell row, avoid using your legs and hips to create momentum when your goal is to work your lats. The momentum will only take away from the lats’ work.

How to Do T-Bar Rows with Proper Form

  1. Stand on the plate, lean forward, and grasp the bar with an overhand grip in straight arms.
  2. Inhale and pull the bar towards you as high as possible.
  3. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

8. Machine Row

Let’s move further into machine territory.

The machine row is an exercise in which you can completely focus on working your upper back muscles, without worrying very much about technique or balance since the machine takes care of that for you.

That makes the machine row a great exercise both for those with reduced balance and coordination, and for the bodybuilder that wants to focus fully on their pulling muscles.

How to Do Seated Machine Rows with Proper Form

  1. Adjust the machine to the correct settings and sit down in the starting position.
  2. Inhale and pull the handles towards you as far as possible.
  3. Exhale and slowly return the handles to the starting position again.

9. Straight-Arm Lat Pulldown

As far as lat isolation exercises go, the straight-arm lat pulldown is one of the best.

Perform this exercise by pulling down with a straight handle from a cable pulley placed in a high position. Keep your arms straight, or only slightly bent for comfort, and really focus on squeezing your lat muscles all the way down.

Like with most isolation exercises, this is an exercise where you should focus on form before weight.

How to Do Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns with Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. With straight arms, push the bar down in front of you by contracting your lats.
  3. Slowly return the bar to the starting position.

10. Dumbbell Pullover

The last lat exercise on our list is another isolation exercise.

The dumbbell lat pullover mimics the straight arm lat pulldown but is performed by lying down on a bench and lowering a dumbbell over your head. Lift the dumbbell up again by squeezing your lats and chest muscles.

This is another old-school bodybuilding exercise that was rumored to “expand your chest”. While I’m doubtful about that, this could still be a useful finishing lat exercise to squeeze the last bit out of your muscles towards the end of your workout.

How to Do Dumbbell Pullovers with Proper Form

  1. Lie down on a bench and lift a dumbbell up to almost straight arms above you.
  2. Lower the dumbbell down behind your head, while keeping your arms almost completely straight, just with a slight bend in the elbows.
  3. Reverse the motion and return the dumbbell to the starting position.

How Many Lat Exercises Should You Do?

For optimal lat muscle growth, you should combine:

Doing at least one exercise from each group ensures that you work your lats from different angles and thus target different muscle fibers.

If you were to only choose one lat exercise, I’d recommend that you pick a vertical pull, as they work more of your lat muscle fibers. A horizontal pull, however, can probably work decently as well.

Still, for the best lat development: do both.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of Each Lat Exercise?

Your training results are influenced by how many reps you do.

  • Strength is best gained from heavy weights and a low rep range, around 1–6 reps per set.
  • Muscle growth is best attained from medium weights and a moderate-to-high rep range, around 6–15 reps per set or even up to 20 reps per set.

There is considerable overlap, however, and training in either rep range will still yield large improvements in both strength and size.

Still, if you want to lean slightly more towards strength gains, a higher proportion of your training can be low reps with heavier weights. A case for this might be when training for your first pull-up, where you might want to incorporate heavy lat pulldowns or eccentric pull-ups.

If your primary goal is muscle hypertrophy, stick with a medium rep range that lets you get a good pump in your muscles.

You don’t have to do the same number of reps in every exercise, and even within the same exercise, you can do both low and high-rep sets. For example, in our pull day workout, we begin with heavy weight and low reps in the deadlift, follow up with medium reps in the upper back exercises, and finish with even more reps in the bicep exercises.

Regarding the number of sets, research has found that more sets lead to greater muscle growth up to a point of about ten sets per muscle per week.2

This is based mainly on studies with previously untrained participants, and it is likely that you will require slightly higher training volumes to keep growing as you get more trained. Up to 15 to 20 sets per muscle group and week is not uncommon for trained individuals to do, but you should be careful not to do too much too soon, as that increases your risk of injury.

I recommend you divide your total number of lat training sets between both vertical and horizontal pulls.

For example, if you are training both lat pulldowns and rows and do around 12 sets of lat training per week, that would be six sets of lat pulldowns and six sets of rows.

A Lat Workout for Muscle & Strength Gains

Don’t want to design your own lat workout?

Then follow ours!

Our lat workout is designed to maximize your lat muscle growth and develop all regions of them. It uses a variety of exercises and both low and high-rep sets to maximize strength and muscle growth.

I hope you learned something from this list of the best lat exercises, and wish you good luck with your lat training!


  1. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Jun; 6(2): e24057. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy.
  2. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.