How To Engage Your Lats in The Deadlift (2015)
A lot of people on the internet say that Deadlift variations are only good for the posterior chain, traps and the neck. Nothing can be further from the truth. Deadlift variations (conventional, rack pull, rdl, etc.) are probably some of the best lat builders in my opinion and are high up there with rows and pull-ups. I’ve met people who don’t do any rows or pull-ups but they deadlift heavy and they still have great lat development.
Many people don’t believe me because they don’t feel their lats working when they Deadlift. I understand where they are coming from because I too used to be one of those people. One of the reasons why you might not feel your lats working when you deadlift is because it’s an isometric contraction meaning that your lats aren’t going through a full range of motion like they would in a pull-up, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t working hard either.
Not only that, but since most people don’t know how to use their lats in the deadlift it leaves a lot of potential strength on the table. The lats are the biggest muscle group in the upper body and if used properly they can even help you a lot when benching and squatting as well but that’s for another article.
1) BUILD A MIND MUSCLE CONNECTION WITH YOUR LATS
If you don’t have a good mind muscle connection with your lats then you probably won’t feel them working when you deadlift. If you are a newbie in the iron game, it might take you a few weeks or months to really get the hang of the mind muscle connection with the lats (or at least it did for me). Practice with exercises such as pull-ups/chin-ups with different grips and various forms of rows to learn how to use your lats. One thing that I noticed is that if you want to be good at using your lats then you must practice often which brings me to my next point.
You won’t be good at using your lats if you don’t practice. If you train your lats once per week, then it will take longer than if you train them 3-4x per week. It personally took me a while to learn how to do this properly. I got fed up with having a small back so I started training my back 4-5x per week. While I don’t recommend something like this for everybody, I did this:
Monday: UPPER: Presses + Rows + weighted chins
Tuesday: LOWER: RDL + Squat
Thursday: UPPER: Rack Pulls, Vertical Pressing, Rows, Rear Delts
Friday: BODYWEIGHT freestyle day: Pull-up variations, lever work, dips, pushup variations
Saturday: LOWER: RDL, Squats, Hip Thrusts
As you can see, my lats pretty much got practice every time I walked into the gym or home. I noticed that if my lat frequency was low then I would forget how to fire them properly when I would do my deadlifts and rows. I trained back pretty much 5x per week and eventually it became 2nd nature and my back may not be impressive to some, but I am a drug free lifter and it is definitely getting stronger and bigger so I’m happy.
3) DO STANDING CABLE STRAIGHT BAR PULL-OVERS TO HELP YOUR LAT MIND MUSCLE CONNECTION FOR THE DEADLIFT
If you are still having trouble feeling your lats even after month (or years) of doing rows and pull-ups, then don’t worry because this exercise will save you. The cable pullover teaches you how to use fire your lats properly while taking muscles like the biceps out of the equation. It also teaches you how to pull the bar close to your body which exactly how the lats work when you deadlift properly (by keeping the bar as close to the body as possible).
You could use different grips and handles such as the rope or EZ-bar but when trying to teach people how to use their lats properly in the deadlift I like to show them with a straight bar handle because that is what they will be using when they deadlift. I also like to go for higher reps with this exercise (10-20 reps) while focusing on getting a good pump in the lats. You can throw in a few sets of this exercise after your back workout or even before if you want to really improve your mind-muscle connection with your lats. If you want to feel your lats before a heavy deadlift session, then it wouldn’t hurt to throw in 2-3 sets of high rep cable pullovers to get blood in that area and help you practice feeling your lats when the bar is close to your body.
I hope you learned a little something today if you didn’t know this already. Remember that the lats work hard when the bar is close to the body and not just close but physically touching the body. The lats won’t be working as hard if the bar is 2 inches away from your thighs so keep it close. Overtime you will notice that your lats will be a lot stronger and they should hypertrophy a bit as well.