red bull doesn't give you wings this workout does lats

Red Bull Doesn’t Give You Wings…This Workout Does

Well developed lats are one of the hallmarks of an awesome physique.

For men, it shows that, in fact, you even lift bro. It adds width and makes those percolating pectorals pop. Because let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy with the pigeon legs, a pancake arse and no back because everyday is chest and arms day, with a small sprinkling of shoulders and abs here and there.

For the ladies, owning a decent set of lats can significantly alter the type of shape you want to rock in and out of the gym. They will make your waist look smaller in combination with well constructed legs and glutes. Don’t be that chick doing hundreds of abductions and kickbacks, only to take crazy back arched selfies for the gram that would make a contortionist cringe.

So ladies and gentlemen, one must seek these lat gains. One may ask, how one acquires wings that would make a bald eagle drop out the sky with envy?  Well it goes without saying you have to cover your bases with regards to nutrition, sleep, recovery etc, however those are all articles in of themselves. What we are interested in today is how to train the lats in an intelligent and targeted manner. So let’s dive in.


In order to know how to train any muscle, we need to understand its functional anatomy. The latissimus dorsi such an important muscle for physique development since it is the largest muscle in the upper body and the widest muscle in the entire body. Functionally, the lats act on the shoulder joint, with its key two roles of shoulder extension and shoulder adduction. It is also a strong synergist (or prime mover) in shoulder external rotation.

That’s just the local anatomy. On a more global view, the lats cross multiple joints and also influence movement of the scapula, spine and pelvis to varying degrees. For example, we know that the lats help to contralaterally stabilize the hip, meaning the right lat will help to stabilise the left side of the hip. This is why offset loaded movements can be so beneficial in improving stability and avoid looking like you are taking an involuntary seizure.

Programming Exercise Selection

So in understanding the key roles of the lats, the exercise selection within our programming must maximise its biomechanical nature along with other key variables. I would categorize these into X key components:


  • The Exercise Profile


Working the lats through its entire range, from the end of the shortened position all the way through to the lengthened position. Some exercises will emphasise the entirety of the range, whilst others will be more focused towards the mid to end ranges of each position. Partial range exercises have a place, but only if they are intentional and have a purpose, rather than just being a half rep harry.


  • The Mechanisms Of Hypertrophy.


Any solid training plan should cover all 3 mechanisms of hypertrophy – Mechanical Tension, Muscular Damage and Metabolic Stress. Some exercises naturally lend well to a particular mechanism. For example, mechanical tension occurs when high intensity is placed through full range of motion, making pull ups a great exercise for achieving this purpose. Plus, pull ups make you look like a complete badass, so you want to be doing those if possible!

On the other hand, cable straight arm pulldowns are fairly low intensity with the highest degree of tension in the shortened position, so are great as part of the metabolic component of your workout, especially if paired with an exercise which emphasises the lengthened position.

Exercise choice is not the only way we can manipulate how we get those lats sizzling like bacon on a skillet. Performing the humble lat pulldown for example, with a 3 or 4 second eccentric will accumulate some significant muscular damage.

Therefore, we must choose exercises that allow us to cover a variety of loading intensities, exercise profiles, along with ability to manipulate variables such as number of sets, rep scheme, rest periods, tempo and so forth.


  • Program Structure


This is a very important, but often overlooked variable. Training frequency will influence how many exercises you can or will choose to include in your rotation without your program becoming unnecessarily complex or spending 20 hours a week in the gym. If your program necessitates a very small pool of exercises, it’s probably sensible to choose exercises that provide the most bang for buck. These will most likely be compound movements which allow you drive a high stress response and accumulate significant volume. No point in adding sprinkles when you don’t have the cake to start with.


  • Hitting Them Angles


I came across a very interesting concept from coach Stephane  Cazzault of Kilo Strength Society that he describes as the “90’s Method”. It’s not to be applied as an absolute necessarily, but certainly does provide a logical framework when looking at the balance and spread of exercise selection within a program. His method focused more specifically on the shoulder and pressing exercises, but the same thinking could certainly could be applied to the lats given they are an agonist in many of those movement patterns.

The idea was that for every overhead pressing exercise there is in your program, there would be a horizontal pressing equivalent. The same idea is applied for incline pressing variations and Dip variations. By working those angles, you cover broad spectrum of the movement available within the shoulder girdle.

The lats can be looked at in a similar way, so be sure to cover pulling variations from a multitude of angles. This isn’t a photograph, you can’t just do your “good side”.

Putting It All Together

Keeping all of the above in mind, now we have to actually piece it all together into a program that doesn’t resemble Frankenstein’s monster. I’m going to provide 2 examples of how you might incorporate lats into a training plan. For the purpose of novelty and variety, I’ll use different  exercises in each example.

Example 1 – The Tri-Set

3-5 Sets of each exercise, 10-15 Reps

A1 – Dumbbell Pullover (Progression Banded)

A2 – Prone Incline Cable Pulldowns

A3 – Banded Underhand BB Rows

The Dumbbell Pullover is lengthened position focused, whilst the underhand BB row is shortened position focused. The Prone incline cable rows work through a full range of motion, emphasise shoulder adduction extremely well and hit the lats from an angle many others don’t. It’s not a definitive 3 exercises, but a combo that’s been tried and tested by myself and my clients with, in the best possible way, devastating effects.

Example 2 – Shoulder & Lat Combos.

A1 – Standing Single Arm DB Shoulder Press – 3×10-12e

A2 – Semi-Kneeling Single Arm Cable Row (Full Range) – 3×10-12e

B1 – Seated BB Military Press – 5×6

B2 – Pull Ups – 5×3-6

C1 – Seated Machine Shoulder Press – 3×10-12

C2 – Machine or 2-Handle Lat Pulldown – 3×10-12

D1 – DB Lateral Raise Into DB Front Raise Combo – 4×8-10 of each

D2 – Long Rope Cable Straight Arm Pulldowns – 4×12-15

The Semi-Kneeling Row is front loaded to get a sense for the full active range available that day, along with getting some blood flow into the lats. The pull ups cover mechanical tension, the Machine Pulldown Muscular Damage, and the Long Rope Straight Arm Cable Pulldowns allow for accumulation of Metabolic Stress.

Bonus Movements For The Lat Arsenal

Below are a few other movements I include often in my lat exercise pool. The first two exercises I credit to coach Eugene Tao (@coacheugenetao).

The Ultimate Lat Opener

Gironda Row

Cable Bench Supported DB Row

Band In Front Rack Pulls


Chest Supported Single Arm Plate Loaded Rows

Time To Spread Your Wings…

Figuratively and literally! I hope the above provides you with inspiration and ideas around how you approach training your lats. There are many coaches out there trying to align the moon and stars with the perfect exercise profile. Given the body is not binary and rigid, our thinking and variety of exercise selection should not be either. As long as you stick the key principles outlined above, you will find some sweet lat gains in your future.

About the Author

Ross Gilmour is a specialist in applying broad movement principles and methods to specific clients and contexts. The precision of execution is an absolute non-negotiable! Programming in order to build strength, add muscle or improve athletic performance is a real passion of his. Ross also gets an immense sense of reward from helping active populations recover from injury, bridging the gap between rehab and performance.