How to activate the lats when performing back exercises

Do you ever aim to train your back, but end up feeling the exercise mainly in your arms? This happens a lot! The exercises this is most common with are rows and lat pulldowns. The back muscles, and especially the lats (latissimus dorsi- see illustration below), are not easy to activate, and getting the hang of how to do it might take some time and practice. Learning how to build that mind-muscle connection and actually feeling the exercises you’re doing where you want to feel them will transform your back workouts completely!

If you have this problem, and if you’d like to finally feel your back workout IN YOUR BACK, have a look at the tips below and see if they help!


Latissimus dorsi in purple


Focus on pulling with the elbows, not with the hands. The only purpose of the hands is to hold on to the grip or weight (you can imagine them being just hooks), and the elbows pull back or down towards your body and move the weight. If the weight is too heavy for you to be able to pull with the elbows, lower it, start with a weight it is possible with, and work your way up from there over time.

Don’t use momentum. Keep your core engaged and your torso still, and let your back do the work. If you cannot move the weight without using momentum, lower the weight until you can.

Practice the movement without weight and focus on what you need to do to feel the muscles in your back working; build the mind-muscle connection. Then, do exactly the same thing when you use weights. You’ll be surprised how different it feels!

I hope this will help you benefit from your back workouts even more!

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