Scrolling through any #bodybuilding hashtag today, one of the biggest achievement poses that you’ll notice professional bodybuilders hitting is the lat spread.
Although a lot of us don’t take back training as seriously as chest for some reason, an impressive back can make or break your physique.
Mr. Olympia winners like CBum and Phil Heath are known for insane front and back lat spreads that helped them craft their titles in the bodybuilding community and build physiques that have inspired generations of young lifters.
Learn how to spread those wings and fly, baby! We’ll teach you how to pose for the best gym pics and get aesthetic, strong lats.
Plus, if you’re not seeing a good spread, you’re not alone. Find out why your back may be acting up and killing your lat spread.
What is Lat Spread?
In competitive bodybuilding, the lat spread is a pose that’s used to show off the development of your back muscles.
What most competitors look for is a back that looks big, full, and broad, tapering down toward a narrower waist.
The “spread” refers to the look of engaged lats. They flare out and can take on a winglike appearance.
Not only is this a sign of some pretty strong back muscles, but it looks pretty darned awesome and can significantly increase your confidence.
If you’re competing in a bodybuilding physique show, the lat spread is one of the traditional poses the judges will ask you to take on to show off your body composition.
You’ll need to be able to demonstrate both a front lat spread (where the judges observe you facing toward them) and a back lat spread (with your back to the judges).
In a front lat spread, the idea is that your latissimus dorsi should be well-developed enough to show around the sides of your ribs and waist.
And of course, from behind, the judges get a straight-on look at your lat muscles to see things like shape, size, fullness and muscle striation.
The latissimus dorsi, aka “lats” sit on the sides of your torso, wrapping around to your back.
They start at the shoulder blades, spanning across your spine, all the way down to the top of your pelvis at the back.
These large, spread-out, flat muscles are a crucial part of movement in your upper torso. They also help with your breathing process, allowing you to create deeper and fuller breaths.
To extend, adduct, and rotate your arms, the latissimus dorsi work in tandem with your pectoral muscles (the chest) and your teres major shoulder muscle.
Latissimus dorsi is used for most climbing and pulling exercises that you go about in your everyday life. Even something as simple as pulling boxes towards you across your floor would engage the lats.
In athletics, exercises like rock climbing, swimming, or rowing are just a few sports that are lat-dominant.
How to Lat Spread
Front Lat Spread
- Set your feet up hip-width apart and slightly turned out.
- Bend your elbows back at 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Hook your thumbs under the back of your lower ribs.
- Lean forward, bringing your elbows forward and rounding out your back. Protract your shoulder blades (bring them forward as far as they will go).
- Bring your body back up to a straight standing position, keeping your elbows flared out wide.
- Pop your chest out slightly in a proud position.
Back Lat Spread
For a back lat spread, repeat the steps of the front lat spread while facing away from your audience (or camera phone).
Here, you may want to focus even more strongly on popping your chest out slightly at the end.
This will help you get another degree of size and make your waist look extra small compared to your shoulders.
Focus on hooking the ribs well and drawing your waist in as much as possible with your hands to create a size contrast.
Can Women Lat Spread?
Yes, anyone can lat spread provided you understand how to engage your lats.
Although women’s bikini fitness competitions didn’t used to feature lat spreads, it has been a fixture in other women’s bodybuilding competitions like figure and physique events.
But now the lat spread is becoming more popular for women both in organized fitness competitions or just learning to pose in the gym. Women and men can both follow the instructions listed above to hit a proper lat spread.
This pose can be a fantastic way for women to show off a tapered waist to get that hourglass figure.
On top of training glutes for a heart-shaped butt or rounded butt, the back is one of the sexiest muscles for women to train. Not sure what butt silhouette you’ve got? Here is a quick guide to discovering your butt shape.
Why Can’t I Lat Spread?
Although this move has a fairly simple setup, many people struggle to feel their lats at work when they spread.
If you’re not competing professionally and are just working on taking progress pictures yourself, it can be tough to know what to look for in a good lat spread.
Don’t worry. If you’re not able to lat spread to your satisfaction there are a few factors that may be inhibiting you and some easy fixes.
Bad Shoulder Mobility
Part of the lat spread is good scapular protraction, or the ability to bring your shoulder blades all the way forward effectively.
Protracting your scapulae (shoulder blades) effectively can help activate the surrounding muscles that help your shoulders move.
Not only your lats but your serratus anterior, upper trapezius muscles, and shoulder flexors will be more pronounced when you achieve good shoulder mobility around the scapulae.
In upper body workouts, make sure to add shoulder movement workouts into your game plan. Shoulder-opening stretches like weighted shoulder circles or a through-the-door stretch for your pecs and shoulders can be great ways to add flexibility and mobility.
You can add shoulder openers to your routine both before and after your workouts, but make sure to switch up the type and duration so things don’t get stagnant.
Not Training at Full Range of Motion
Pull exercises including those that work your lats are a little bit different than push when it comes to being able to “complete a rep.”
Say you’re working on a bench press. Since gravity is working against you, with a heavy weight, you’ll either be able to press the barbell up over your body or not.
Even if it only goes halfway up, you can easily spot a bench press that’s not at full range in a push movement.
When you’re pulling, the full range of motion isn’t as easy to track.
Take something like a row. When you lean far back into your rows, it may look like you’re getting a deeper range of motion since your body is technically moving further in space from its starting point.
This works your legs and hip flexors more than the back, defeating some of the purpose of the row, but it looks like you’re getting MORE of a workout.
Effectively you’re cheating your reps when you focus on using momentum to drop your body into a move rather than engaging the muscles that should be doing most of the work here (the lats and other back muscles).
Working with a usable range of motion helps you build mind-muscle connection in that you understand what it feels like to engage your lats.
If you don’t feel your lats “turn on” or “pop” during the spread, it may be because you don’t know what it feels like to properly engage them!
Drop your weight, use fewer leg muscles in your pull day exercises, and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of your back moves to properly feel your lats.
If you do a lot of single-side moves for your upper body (e.g. one-armed cable rows), you may have one lat that is stronger than the other.
Unless you already know you have an imbalance and are trying to play catch up with the other side of your body, focus on back-day moves that hit both sides of your body evenly.
These are the kind of wings you don’t necessarily want when it comes to building an aesthetic and full back.
Winged scapula or scapula alata is a condition where the muscles that support your scapulae don’t work efficiently so the shoulder blade is not properly supported.
Because of this, one or both shoulder blades can start to protrude abnormally, giving your back an uneven look.
However, evidence indicates that this condition usually has to do with a nerve injury to the Serratus anterior. This muscle is technically considered a chest muscle that wraps under your armpits and sits underneath your lats.
Despite it not being directly related to the latissimus dorsi, this condition can still give you an uneven look.
Fortunately, there are some corrective moves you can take to help with the winged scapula. These include:
- Massage or muscle recovery
- Posture corrective movements
- One-armed back exercises, if the winging only occurs on one side
If you notice a scapular imbalance is causing you pain, trouble performing everyday pulling movements or you simply don’t like the look, consult a physiotherapist or sports physician to learn some improvement methods.
Who needs gains if you can’t show them off right?
Well, not exactly. Building muscle and getting fit are great indicators of health, of course.
That being said, it’s pretty fun to show off a great set of developed muscles and this includes strong lats.
The latissimus dorsi, aka lats, are the biggest muscles in your back and require a lot of attention and care if you want to train them for strength and hypertrophy.
To get an aesthetically pleasing back, it’s important to focus on compound moves to hit the back. Exercises like:
- Lat Pull Downs
Can all help your back get stronger and gym selfie ready.
Although men naturally have bigger and stronger muscles, including the lats, there’s no reason women can’t get big lats and pose like competitive lifters too.
For healthier lats that show a good spread:
- Be aware of muscle imbalances
- Train at full range of motion
- Focus on efficient shoulder warm-ups
Remember, spread it, don’t forget it!
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