It is said that the deadlift works the whole back and it’s indeed true. Usually when people hear this they ask: “But, what about the lats? Do they work during deadlifts.”
Yes. The latissimus dorsi works incredibly hard during deadlifts. This is the biggest muscle in the upper body and when you deadlift it has two main functions:
pull the bar close towards you;
When you deadlift the bar needs to be as close to you as possible. That’s the job of the lats and to some point the long head of the triceps. The barbell is fighting to move forward while your are striving to keep it close.
That lat has synergistic role in extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine since it’s connected to the spine.
On different occasions powerlifters have suffered lat tears as a a result of heavy deadlifts, although such injuries are not that frequent.
If you want to feel regular deadlift, Romanian deadlift and rack pulls more in your lats, you can try the following. Before deadlifts (moderate weight) perform a set of straight arm pull-overs using a cable machine or resistance bands. The reason to do the exercise using a cable machine or bands is to really focus on the down portion of the movement since it resembles your deadlift position. Focus on pulling through your elbows, which you should strive to keep straight. If you do it properly, this exercise will give you great pump in the lats. After a couple of sets try some deadlifts. You w ill definitely feel your lats working hard.
Another exercise that also illustrates how the lats are used during deadlifts is the front lever. When front levers are performed the lats work incredibly hard in order to keep your body horizontal. While front levers and deadlifts are quite different in nature, both exercise stress the lats in a similar fashion and are good assistance to each other. Of course, in both cases the range of motion is small and most of the work is isometric. The front lever also depends much more on lat strength compared to the deadlift which is more of a hip dominant exercise.