Building Wide Lats As a Natural Bodybuilder

The latissimus dorsi is the biggest muscle in the upper body.  Its primary function is to pull the humerus (upper arm) down and close to the body. The lats also participate in spinal extension.

Wide Lats

The workout below is designed for natural bodybuilders and recreational lifters. It may seem strange to some, but it consists of only one exercise – pull-ups.

The best lat exercise, in my opinion, is the ring pull-up with a shoulder width grip. Contrary to popular belief, wide grip pull-ups are not that good for lat training. The wide grip shortens the range of motion, while the narrower grip increases the range of motion and the stretch of the lat in the bottom.


A proper pull-up consists of a few simple steps:

1. Start from a dead hang

The proper way to start a pull-up is from a complete dead hang. Grab the bar and hang. Don’t look down, but don’t look at the ceiling either. Since the neck is part of the spine, the position of your head is crucial. If you look down, your back will hunch. If you look at the ceiling, your neck may hurt.

2. Starting the pull-up

The initial phase of the pull-up is crucial. If you don’t do it correctly, your arms will lift most of the weight. From a dead hang imagine that your arms are “hooks” from the elbow up. Now, pull your shoulders down without flexing your elbows. The movement should be just a few inches. It’s called a scapular pull-up and is meant to activate your lats. If the technique is correct, your shoulders will go down and back, and your chest will elevate a bit. When you can do that, it’s time to move up.

Interesting fact: The first Mr.Olympia, Larry Scott, is famous for “pumping” his lats by doing a ton of scapular pull-ups.

3. Moving up

After the scapular pull-up, continue to pull yourself upwards. The whole time you should pull from your elbows as much you can. While you are going up, keep on pushing your chest out as much as you can. If you are doing the pull-up correctly, your lats will hurt…in a good way.

4. Descending

Once the bar is below your chin, begin to lower yourself. Do it in a controlled fashion. Don’t drop. This part of the exercise is called a “negative” and is very important.

The Routine

The whole routine looks like this:

Beginner version (The lifter can only do 1 pull-up)

Day 1: After a general warm-up, perform a total of 10-15 pull-ups. Do as many sets as you need. Keep your form strict. Never go to failure. The workout shouldn’t take you more than 45 minutes. It’s meant to be fairly easy.

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Repeat your workout from Day 1.

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Repeat the workout from Day 1, but this time, add 1 rep to your lowest set.

Add one rep every other day. Once you are doing sets of 3-4 reps, switch to the intermediate version.

A theoretical run of the beginner program:

1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 2, 2
3, 2, 2, 2
3, 3, 2
3, 3, 3

Intermediate version (the lifter can do 5 pull-ups in a set)

The pull-up is still trained three times a week. Every other workout, add a rep or two to your first low set. The requirement is to reach a total 20-25 pull-ups per workout.

Hypothetical training cycle:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1
5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1
5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2
5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2
5, 4, 3, 3, 3
5, 4, 4, 3
5, 4, 4, 4
5, 5, 4, 4
5, 5, 5, 4
5, 5, 5, 5

Note: The numbers above are just a guideline. The end goal is to perform a few sets of 5 with little rest in between –  2-6 minutes.

Advanced version ( the lifter can do 5-8 reps in a set)

The advanced version follows the same principle, but you start with higher numbers.

A theoretical training cycle

8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 3
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 4
8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 4, 4
8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5
8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5
8, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5
8, 7, 6, 6, 6, 6
8, 7, 7, 6, 6
8, 7, 7, 7, 6
8, 7, 7, 7, 7
8, 8, 7, 7, 7
8, 8, 8, 7,
8, 8, 8, 8

You can continue with the same scheme until you reach 10-15 pull-ups per set. If you can do that with good form, it’s time to start doing weighted pull-ups.

Q&A

Q: Why only one exercise?

A: If you do too many exercises, it becomes really hard to track progress.

Q: Why pull-ups?

A: Pull-ups are very effective and do not require a lot of equipment.

Q: How much will my lats grow?

 A: If you are natural, don’t expect miracles. Without a doubt, however, your lats will report growth.

Q: When will I see results?

A: In a few months.

Q: Can I do other exercises for the back beside the pull-up?

A: Yes. You can do exercises for your spinal erectors (deadlifts, back extensions..etc). But don’t add lat pulldowns to avoid overtraining.

Q: I can’t do even one pull-up?

A: Instead of pull-ups perform bodyweight rows a.k.a Australian pull-ups. Follow the same format. You will perform regular pull-ups in no time.

Q: Can I reach the natural potential of my lats by just doing pull-ups?

A: Yes, especially if you graduate to weighted pull-ups and reach a pull-up with 50-70% of your bodyweight added to you for a few reps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *