How to Unleash Your Pull-up Work Out Potential with Lat Activation

So what is lat activation and why should you bother with it in your pull up workout? Trying to do pulling movements with the arms instead of the much more powerful back muscles is like driving a car with the emergency break stuck. If you don’t learn to use the lats on chin ups, you will never master them.

However, if you do learn how to feel, contract and use the lats, you will kick ass in the gym when it comes to pull ups or chin ups. Not only that, you will also get a killer v shape back because the lats will grow nice and wide.

How to Start Using the Lats

    • Practice contracting the lats. Throughout the day practice flaring out and flexing the lats (when nobody’s watching you of course). This will build a stronger connection to the muscles that you want to use in pull-ups.
    • Try wide grip thumbless pull-ups. These pull-ups rely more on the lats so you’ll have no choice but to start engaging them. The thumbless grip – thumbs on top of the bar – disengage the biceps so again more lat activation.
    • Lean back. When doing pull-ups or pull-downs, try leaning slightly back so you pull toward the rib cage. Focus on bringing the elbows towards the torso.
    • Pull with elbows. Pull-ups, chin-ups, pull-downs and rows. These are all done with the back, bot the biceps. To feel the back working, imagining your arms as hooks and focusing on pulling just the elbows down.
    • Activate the lats. This is a tip I got from the book Beyond Bodybuilding. Reach out with your arm. Have a buddy try to press your arm up while you use your lats (armpit muscles) to resist him.
    • Try one arm dumbbell rows.

To properly train the back with one arm dumbbell rows, row using the lats. Begin by lifting the dumbbell with a straight arm. Imagine your arms as hooks, try to bring the elbow as close to your waist as possible.

The above video shows how to initiate pull ups or chin ups by first packing the shoulders down towards your torso and then flexing the lats. Many advocate doing pull ups with shoulders flexed the whole time.

I prefer doing the entire movement on every rep. This way the serratus and pec minor get a great workout from bringing the shoulder down.

Action Plan

From now on whenever you are doing a pulling motion (weight moves toward you or you pull yourself toward stationary object), you want to initiate the movement with the lats. Pull your shoulder towards your body with a straight arm and then start pulling with the lats by bringing the elbow towards your chest.

VIDEO: Are You Targetting the Right Kind of Muscle?

Ultimately your strength in your chin up and pull up workouts will double or triple when you wake up the and start using the lats – those dormant super muscles.


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