Great Mid-Back Exercises: A Variety of Moves to Work Your Lats

Your back includes some of the largest muscles in the body, muscles that are used every day to support your spine and body. The back muscles also make up some of the muscles of the core, particularly the lats.

Developing these muscles will not only give your body great proportion, it will help you have a strong, sturdy base for all kinds of daily activities.

The lats, aka the latissimus dorsi, are the large muscles of the back. These muscles are located on either side of the back and travel from the back of the shoulder all the way down to the hips. These muscles are involved in pulling motions, like pulling open a door or, in exercise, doing a pull-up.

Because of that movement, typical lat exercises involve a pulling or rowing motion. The following exercises show a variety of ways you can work the lat muscles using dumbbells and resistance bands.

Keep in mind these are large muscles so you can typically use a heavier weight, depending on the exercise.

Creating Your Lat Workout

  • Beginners:  Choose 1-2 exercises and perform 1-2 sets of 12-16 reps. A good choice would be one arm dumbbell rows and seated rows using a resistance band. These exercises will target the muscles just a bit differently so you can challenge your body in a different way.
  • Inter/Adv:  Choose 2-4 different exercises - For example, a dumbbell row followed by a barbell row and a straight arm pull. Try a variety of moves with different types of equipment to work your muscles in a different way. Go for 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting between sets.
  • Use enough weight or resistance that you can complete the desired number of reps.
  • Make a complete back workout by including exercises for your upper back and lower back.

1
Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell Rows. Paige Waehner

For this move, you tip from the hips, keeping the back flat and the abs engaged.  The weights (which should be on the heavy side) hang down and you squeeze the back to pull the elbows up to torso level.

You don't want to yank the weights up, but really use those back muscles to regulate the movement. The elbows should stop just above torso level.

Because you're bent over with weights hanging down, your lower back works hard to keep your body in position. Bend the knees if you feel a strain in the lower back and keep your abs engaged.

2
One Arm Row

One Arm Row
Paige Waehner

For the one arm row, you can often go even heavier because now you're supporting your lower back with one hand on the other leg, unlike the double arm rows. 

For this exercise, engage the lat as you pull the elbow up to torso level. At the top, squeeze the shoulder blades together to get more muscles involved. Lower the weight and repeat for 12-16 reps per side. 

3
One Arm Row on One Leg

Row on One Leg
Paige Waehner

Doing a row on one leg adds a balance challenge and, for that reason, you'll probably use a lighter weight.

To start, shift the weight to the right leg and tip from the hips, taking the torso parallel to the floor as you lift the left leg straight up. Your body should be in a straight line from head to heel.

Hold onto a wall for balance if you need to. From this position, pull the elbow up into a row and slowly lower down.

If you feel shaky, take the leg down and rest lightly on the toes, keeping most of the weight in the front leg. Repeat for 12-16 reps on each side.

4
Seated Rows with Resistance Bands

Seated Band Row
Paige Waehner

Resistance bands can change the entire rowing exercise. The resistance band gives you resistance throughout the movement, so your muscle fibers will fire just a little differently.

For this move, you can do it standing or sitting. Wrap a band around a sturdy object in front of you and hold the handles in each hand. Move back far enough that you have a challenging tension on the band.

Keeping the shoulder down, squeeze the back to row the elbows in, stopping at torso level. Release and repeat for 12-16 reps.

5
Lat Pulls with Bands

Paige Waehner

The lat pull with bands resembles the lat pull machine at the gym. If you want to make this exercise more challenging, you can use a door holder for your band and secure it in a doorway above you.

Otherwise, hold the band overhead and squeeze the back to pull the elbows down towards the rib cage.

To make it harder, hold the band with the hands closer together. You can also do this exercise one arm at a time for a more targeted move.

Repeat for 12-16 reps. 

6
Bent Over Row with Bands

Band Row
Paige Waehner

For this move, loop the band under both feet and grab onto the band closer to the feet. This will let you get more tension in the band than holding the handles.

With the back flat and parallel to the floor (or as close as you can get), pull the elbows up into a row, stopping at torso level.

This move is a great compliment to dumbbell rows, adding a different type of intensity to the exercise.

Repeat for 12-16 reps. This move is also great with tempo changes. For example, start with 8 rows and then, keeping the elbows at the top of the movement, do 8 small and slow pulses to increase your time under tension.

7
Power Plank with Rows

Power Plank Row
Paige Waehner

This advanced exercise hits two birds with one stone. The plank activates the abs, lower back, and the lower body.

Adding a row means you work the core even more since you're balancing the body on one hand, and you're also working the lats.

To start, get into a plank position on the hands and toes with the feet wide. For a modification, do this move on the knees. Hold onto a kettlebell as shown or a dumbbell and pull the elbow up into a row.

Lower and repeat for 12-16 reps while holding the plank the entire time. Take a break and then switch sides.

8
Dumbbell Rows with Bands

Band and Dumbbell Row
Paige Waehner

One great way to add even more intensity to your lat work is to combine

To start, loop the band under your feet and then wrap each side of the band around a set of dumbbells. Make sure you can safely hold each weight without dropping them.

You may want to go lighter on the weights with the addition of the band.

Tip from the hips and keep the back flat and abs in as you row the weights up and down for 12-16 reps.

9
Alternating Dumbbell Rows

Alternating Dumbbell Row
Paige Waehner

One way to change traditional dumbbell rows is to alternate them from right to left.

This activates a bit more core and allows you to concentrate on one arm at a time.

To start, tip from the hips and keep the back flat. Slowly bend the right elbow, pulling it up to torso level. Lower and now lift the left elbow into a row. Alternate, taking your time with each rep for 12-16 reps. 

10
Barbell Rows

Barbell Row
Paige Waehner

While dumbbells allow you to work each side individually, a barbell allows you to lift a heavier weight than you would with separate weights.

To start, hold the barbell eight the palms facing in and tip from the hips until your torso is at about a 45-degree angle. You don't want to lower the torso too far because that can strain your back, especially if your weight is heavy.

Keeping the knees bent to protect the back, take the bar straight out and then squeeze the back to pull the barbell in towards your belly button.

Repeat for 12-16 reps. You can also do this move with the palms out, as in a biceps curl. 

11
Straight Arm Pulls

Straight Arm Pulls
Paige Waehner

This exercise targets the back, but it also targets the triceps as well. Balancing on the ball means your lower back and legs work to stabilize your body.

To do this, anchor a band around a sturdy object in front of you and hen position yourself with the ball under the torso. Make sure you're far enough away from the anchor to have tension on the band.

Start with the arms straight out in front of you and, keeping them straight, pull them down and back behind you, squeezing the back. Repeat for 12-16 reps. 

12
Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell Pullover
Paige Waehner

Pullovers are a great exercise because they work multiple muscle groups at one time - The lats, the chest and the triceps. If you do them on the ball, you also engage your lower body and core.

To start, get into a bridge position holding a weight straight up overhead. If you're new to this move, start with a lighter weight.

Keeping the arms straight, elbows slightly bent, lower the weight behind you to about head-level or as far as you feel comfortable.

Squeeze the back and slowly pull the weight back to start, repeating for 12-16 reps.

13
Barbell Pullovers

Barbell Pullover
Paige Waehner

Using a barbell increases the intensity of this exercise quite a bit. Unlike dumbbell pullovers, you'll want to keep your elbows bent the entire time so you don't go too far and end up dropping the weight.

Start on a bench holding the barbell with hands close together just over the ribcage. Keeping the elbows bent, lift the weight and take the arms back behind the head.

Squeeze the back to pull the barbell back to start and repeat for 12-16 reps. 

14
Compound Row

Compound Row
Paige Waehner

This dynamic move works the lats, but it also works the lower back, glutes and the hamstrings.

You might choose a heavier band for this exercise to get the most out of the move.

Wrap a band around a sturdy object in front of you and step back until you feel tension on the band.

Tip from the hips, knees slightly bent and abs in, keeping the arms straight. Stand up and, at the same time, pull the elbows to torso level in a rowing motion.

Release and repeat for 12-16 reps.

 

15
Renegade Row

Renegade Row
Paige Waehner

This lat exercise involves quite a bit of core, as well as the lower body. If this is too tough, do this move on your knees a shown below.

To start, get into a plank position on the hands and toes or knees. Hold onto to two dumbbells with the palms facing each other. If this bothers your hands, try just one at a time.

Holding the plank position, alternate rowing each weight up and down for 12-16 reps.

16
Modified Renegade Rows

Modified Renegade Row
Paige Waehner

For a modified version of the renegade row, start on the hands and knees, keeping the knees directly under the hips and the hands under the shoulders.

Hold onto two weights and, keeping the abs engaged, alternate rowing each weight up and down for 12-16 reps.

17
Pull Ups

Pull Ups
Paige Waehner

No list of back exercises would be complete without mentioning pull ups. These are probably the toughest of all back exercises because you're lifting your body weight very far off the ground.

If you're new to pull-ups, there are ways to modify to move and slowly build the strength to lift your entire body.

Start by putting a chair or sturdy stool under the pull-up bar. With hands wider than shoulders, prop one foot (or both feet if needed) on the chair and use that leverage to pull your body up.

Lower and repeat for 8 or more reps.

Over time, you can try using less from your lower body and more from your upper body. You can also try this version: Use a chair to pull yourself up into position and then slowly lower yourself down without the chair.

These are called negatives, which are a great way to build upper body strength.

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