4 Keys to Unlocking Lat Growth

In gyms all around the globe you will hear, “How much do you bench bro?”
Or there will be guys bragging about how much they can squat. Or there will be the guys who are tensing their biceps so hard that they nearly pop a blood vessel.
But you never really hear people talking about back training or how they are going to build a huge back. For example, you never hear people talking about how many chin ups they can do, or discussing optimal row technique. This is a crying shame! The back is a huge, powerful, and integral part of our physiques. It does not get half as much credit as it deserves. Building a strong muscular back can and will have an extremely positive effect on your overall physique. If you want to attain that v taper, then you have to train your back and you have to train it hard. This blog will give you the 4 best ways to build a towering back that will make you stand out and put everyone else in the shadows. But before we get to those 4 points, let’s talk about the back in a bit more detail.



The back is made up of a wide range of muscles that include the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, and the rhomboids.

Each one of these muscle performs a specific function. And, each one of them can contribute to an impressive-looking back that will get heads turning.

Latissimus Dorsi – The lats are the most known and largest muscle group of the back. They are extremely useful for achieving that v taper body that we all want. Contrary to popular belief, Redbull does not give you wings. But hitting your back and lats with weight will give you wings!

Trapezius – The traps are located between your neck and shoulders. They are actually made up of three different muscle fibers- upper traps, middle traps, and lower traps. Most guys in the gym will pay far too much attention to the upper traps. This can lead to muscular imbalances and injury.

Erector Spinae – These muscles run either side of your spinal column. They run right from the lower back up into the upper back. The spinal erectors support and protect your vertebrae, leading to better posture and improved core strength.

Rhomboids – These muscles are located in the upper back and lie just underneath the traps. They are extremely important for shoulder retraction. Having weak and underdeveloped rhomboids will lead to that hunch back look, which we do not want!

Now there are many other smaller muscle groups in the back, but these are the main players when it comes to back development. If you hit these muscle groups with the right exercises and the right technique, you will add slabs of muscle to your back. You will start to stand out in your gym. So next, we will talk through 4 ways that you can achieve a back that will get you standing out from the crowd.

All Hail to the King

Of course, we are talking about the king of exercises- the deadlift.

The deadlift will basically work all major muscle groups in the body, but it is fantastic for overall back development. It will stress every muscle in the back from the base of the erector spinae all the way up to the upper traps.

keys to unlocking lat growth

Deadlifts are certainly an exercise which have stood the test of time. I mean, how can you mess up picking something heavy off the floor? Image courtesy of: visualimpactformen.com

Look at the most impressive backs of all time, bodybuilders like Franco Columbu, Jonnie Jackson and of course Ronnie Coleman. All these men had gargantuan backs. They all put this down to deadlifting with heavy loads at least once a week. The best thing about deadlifts? You don’t need any fancy techniques to start progressing on this move. You don’t need supersets, drop sets or rest – paused sets. Essentially all you need to do is start ripping some heavy weight off the floor and start watching that back grow. The deadlift is a hugely taxing move, not just on the back but on the body as a whole. It is best not to overdo this move, especially if you are also squatting heavy in your program. So deadlifting heavy once a week should cover you. Keep the reps at the lower end of the scale. We find that if people start going over 8 reps with their deadlifts their form becomes extremely sloppy and this can lead to injury. So if you’re performing deadlifts, perform the majority of them between 1-6 reps. People may not include deadlifts in their programs because of all the gym gossip that says deadlifting is bad for your back. Well, yes. If you’re performing this move with awful technique and lifting more weight than you should be, then you may well end up injured. If you perform this move correctly, it builds significant muscle on your back. It will also help strengthen your lower back as a whole. This study from the University of Valencia looked at the best ways to strengthen the paraspinal muscles. These muscles are a smaller group of muscles that run down either side of the spine. They play a major role in strengthening the back and preventing injuries. This study concluded that deadlifting is an extremely effective way of strengthening these muscles. So deadlifting will make your back grow. And if done properly it will make you stronger and more injury resistant, turning you into ironman!

Chin Your Way to Success

Chin ups are squats for the upper body.

If you want big, muscular legs you should have squats in your program. If you want a muscular and impressive-looking back, then you should be including chin ups in your program.

When we mention chin ups we are referring to several different grips that will target different muscles. But at its core, lifting your own body weight up and down is a hugely effective way of activating a multitude of different back muscles. This especially affects the lats and getting that v taper that we want. Different grips will shift the focus on different muscle groups. Wide grip chins will really shift the focus on those outer lats. This exercise will really give you wings. Medium, close, and under grips will shift the focus on the inner and lower lats. An added plus of chin ups is that the biceps are heavily recruited. You’re not just adding muscle to your back, but you’re getting bigger biceps in the process. Bonus!

Now one of the biggest problems with chin ups is people perform this move with awful technique and do not see the benefits. If you want a huge back that puts your competition in the shadows, focus on your technique. Make sure you come all the way down so your elbows are straight. Pause for a slight second at the bottom, and pull yourself back up. Contract your muscles at the top of the movement. With the rise in CrossFit and people performing hundreds of chin ups, looking like a fish out of water it has become acceptable for people to cheat on this move. But you are only cheating yourself. In this blog, we are talking about building a huge, muscular and impressive looking back. If you are cheating on the chin up and rushing this move you will not see the countless benefits of it. So don’t rush the move, take your time. If you’re struggling with full chin ups with your own bodyweight, there are many ways to progress up to the full chin up. Most gyms now have assisted chin up machines, so you can perfect the technique on this. Other exercises such as inverted rows and lat pull downs are great for getting the lats ready for the main event!

Row to Grow

No great back is built without its fair share of rowing in the gym (and I don’t mean jumping on a rower and doing 2000m).

There is no better exercise for developing a thick muscular upper back than a wide variation of rows. Any of the following exercises are great to hit the upper back.

Barbell bent over rows

Pendlay rows

Dumbbell one arm rows

Seated cable rows

Seal rows

keys to unlocking lat growth

Do Pendlay Rows correctly and your lats will be absolutely roasted. You won’t need much load here. Image courtesy of: fitfrek.com

Every single one of the above exercises are fantastic for hitting the majority of the upper back muscles. The upper back is made from a huge complex group of muscles. For this reason, your back can be hit with high amounts of training volume. By this I mean you can hit it with a decent amount of total sets and reps and it will be good to go again in a few days.

Rowing movements are not just there to build slabs of muscle onto your upper back. They will give your physique a more overall balanced look and also help prevent injuries. A personal story from me now. In my first few years of training with the Iron, I trained with a couple of older guys. All we seemed to do was chest, shoulders, and arms- all pushing movements. I did not question them at the time because I was young and, well, they had huge chests. But there were no rowing/pulling movements whatsoever. This led to me developing huge muscular imbalances between my chest and my back muscles. Of course, I picked up an injury because of this that put me out of action. If you think about it from a mathematical point of view, you have 3 major muscles in your chest. In your back, you have numerous muscles that need strengthen and working. In your program, you should be doing more rowing/pulling movements than pushing. If you do this, you will build a huge back and stand out in your gym. You will also have a much more balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique. You will prevent more injuries, which means more time rowing, which means more time growing!

Please Take Your Ego Out of It!

There has been an underlying theme to this blog.

All of the above exercises are tremendous ways to add a significant amount of muscle to your back and create an impressive physique. But all of the exercises featured in this blog mean nothing if you do not perform them properly.

I see this all the time in gyms everywhere I go. People performing back exercises with dreadful technique. They will then continue to say, “I don’t feel my back working when I train.” As a result of this, they don’t work their backs out as regularly as they should because they cannot feel or see the muscle working. Like I have mentioned in this blog many times: The back is a huge, complex body part. It contains many different muscles, and all of these muscles have different fibers that run in different directions. So you cannot expect just to throw the weight up and down and expect your back to grow. It will not respond to that. You have to give your back a reason to grow. My advice to you today, something that you can put it into action in your current training program, is to take 10lbs off your current back exercises (especially the rowing movements). Really focus on your technique and working the muscle. For example, I see people yanking the dumbbell up and down on a one arm row. Or I see someone loading up the barbell for a row and not getting any range of motion. If you want to start packing tons of muscle onto your back, you really need to start taking your ego out of the equation. You will thank me later.

keys to unlocking lat growth

As you can see, the deadlift places a TON of demand on your physique. Image courtesy of: spinemuscle.ca

Bonus Tip – Hit Your Back with VOLUME!

We like to over deliver here at SJ Fitness.

So we are giving you a bonus tip. One more tip that you can start using to ensure you build an impressive back.

The research is pretty clear now that high training volumes are associated with muscle hypertrophy. This study in 2010 by James Krieger showed that performing multiple sets over just one single set resulted in more muscular growth. Now we have more recent research that looks in more detail on how many actual sets we need to perform on a weekly basis per muscle group to maximize muscle hypertrophy. This study by Brad Schoenfeld, James Krieger, and Dan Ogborn shows a dose response relationship with the amount of weekly sets per muscle group. It shows that the more overall sets we do in a week per muscle group results in more gains up to a certain point. It seems performing 10+ sets per muscle group is the sweet spot if we really want to maximize muscle growth. If you think how many different muscle groups make up your back, it gives you an idea of how many sets you need to perform on your back to start packing on the muscle. Of course exercises such as deadlifts, barbell bent over rows, and dumbbell one arm rows hit several different muscle groups at one time. This can help you achieve the amount of sets needed in a week. I would also like to point out the main word here is MAXIMIZE. 10+ sets is what this study showed if you really want to take your training to the next level and start putting on some serious muscle mass on your frame. But it also showed you can build a fair amount of muscle performing between 5-9 sets per week, per muscle group. This point is to highlight the different amount of muscle groups in your back and to ensure you are hitting them with a sufficient amount of sets each week. I know for a fact that the majority of people will probably perform more sets on their chest, shoulders, and arms per week than they do on their overall backs. So when you are designing your next training split make sure that you are dedicating enough time, effort, and sets on your back.


Hopefully, this blog has highlighted the importance of a well-developed back to your overall appearance.

If you perform all of the exercises in this blog with great technique and sufficient training volume, then I have no doubt that you will start building an impressive back. It will tower over everyone else in your gym. To finish this blog in the words of Ice Cube, “You can do it, put your back into it.”

About the Author

Simon and Joe PasseySJ Fitness believe in a No FAD, No GIMMICK, No BS approach to getting clients into great shape without all the “bro” advice. We have been there done that and bought the bro t-shirt and it got us nowhere. We are now dedicated to learning from the best in the industry and rely on science for results instead of gym gossip. If you want to find out more about us check out our brand new website