The lats are an often forgotten muscle that should be more of a focus for a lot of people. Just because you typically can’t see them, doesn’t mean you get to forget about them!
The lats are the largest muscles in the upper body, responsible for shoulder extension, adduction, horizontal abduction, and (medial) internal rotation. It also helps with extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine thanks to the attachments at the thoracolumbar fascia.
It’s fair to say they’re a big deal.
Using the relationship of your lats and low back to our advantage, we can manipulate our set up for both the pull up and the pull down to get more lat engagement and a bigger range of movement on each exercise.
The pull down
One of the common errors I see with the pull down, regardless of the grip being used, is allowing the hips to roll forward, arching the low back and shortening the lats, not to mention flaring the ribs and losing the connection between the hips and ribcage.
A quick fix for this is to move the feet from below your hips to in front of you, allowing the hips to roll back (or stay more neutral). This helps you keep your ribs locked down, and encourages you to extend from the upper back.
The pull up
The same issue is seen with the pull up. You’ll see the person doing them arch the low back, hooking their feet up behind and leaning back in the pull. Because of the change in the line of pull, this misses out the lower portion of the lats, since you are going from a vertical pull to a flatter version. holding the feet out in front, in a hollow body type position stops this from happening. It also makes the pull up (and chin up) harder to do, which is why a lot of people don’t do it.
A great way to mimic this position, and get the extra stretch and loading of the lats, is to use a rack pull up.
As always, a video shows the set up and execution far better than I could describe it.
The set up.
Whatever you put your feet up on, make sure it is high enough to keep your feet above or in line with your hips. this helps tuck your hips under and get that stretch at the bottom position.
Make sure it’s not so far away as to pull your butt out from under your torso. You still want the vertical torso to mimic a pull up.
Make sure to start with a full hang position, getting a big stretch in your lats.
Initiate the pull by pulling your shoulder blades down, and pulling through the elbows to bring them down to your sides, rather than thinking about pulling your hand down towards your shoulder. The latter tends to make you try to force more load through the biceps, which compared to the lats are tiny and puny.
Keep your butt below your ribcage throughout.
Whichever option your choose, pull up, or down, putting a little thought into your hip position and set up, goes a long way to helping you get more out of the exercise.