5 Common Latissimus Dorsi Strengthening Mistakes

Mistakes to avoid as you train pull ups, rows, or lat pull downs

By Coach E

lat dorsi strengthening mistakes

Have you been working on latissimus dorsi strengthening but not seeing results? Get your back into shape by avoiding these 5 common mistakes.

What’s Up with Lat?

Your latissimus dorsi muscle is a broad, wide muscle that runs along your back and is key to mastering exercises like pull-ups.

The lat has several origins – your pelvis, your lower ribs, and the vertebrae of your low- and mid-back. The muscle wraps around your back and inserts onto your humerus, or upper arm bone. latissimus dorsi muscle - anatomy image

5 Common Latissimus Dorsi Strengthening Mistakes

Your lats have 3 primary movements. They help adduct your arms (bring them in toward the midline), extend your arms (reach them back behind you), and medially rotate your arms.

Because of their connection between the back and arms, your lats are crucial in moves like chin ups, pull ups, lat pull downs, and seated rows. But when training these muscles, it’s easy fall into bad habits that do more harm than good.

These mistakes can happen in any lat exercises, but we’ll use seated cable rows as an example.

Mistake 1: Pinched Shoulders

The first common lat training mistake is pinching your shoulders together.

People tend to pull their shoulder blades down and back when they are hitting their lats. While this might be a good postural cue to help you stand at attention, it’s not a good cue to use when moving your arm.

The problem is that your shoulder blades, or scapulae, need to move in conjunction with your humerus. This is called scapulohumeral rhythm and its essential to the way we move our upper limb.

When you pinch and set your scaps back, you interrupt this pattern of movement and your shoulder blades stay put.

Latissimus dorsi training mistake mistake - shoulders pinched together

What should happen is that as you extend your humerus back, your scaps retract, or pull together. And as you move your humerus forward into flexion,  your scaps should protract, or wrap forward around your rib cage.

Anytime you start messing with this rhythm, it can start bleeding over into other movement patterns and become habitual. Eventually, you can develop issues like shoulder impingement, which will occur if you’re pressing your arms up overhead but maintaining your scapulae in a down and back position.

Train your scapulae and arms to move together naturally as opposed to keeping them pinched together when you’re training lats.

Mistake 2: Biceps on Overdrive

The next mistake you want to look out for is overusing the biceps.

When you’re focusing on lat strengthening, you want the biceps to assist, not dominate.

You can spot this pattern by the excessive elbow flexion that occurs during rowing movements. Once you start to overrecruit your biceps, your elbow will bend beyond 90 degrees and your wrists may start to come up near your shoulders.

Latissimus dorsi strength mistake - overusing the biceps

In contrast, when you’re properly recruiting your lats and not your biceps, the movement will end with your elbows about in line with your torso.

Reduce the focus and flexion in your elbows and retrain the attention on your back.

Mistake 3: Forward Head Posture

This third mistake, forward head posture, has become a problem in many movements we do.

This lat strengthening mistake, forward head posture, is a big problem in many movements we do..

We don’t want our head jutting forward as we text or type, and we definitely don’t want it when we’re doing strengthening exercises whether for our lats or other muscles.

But what often happens is at the very end of the range, the head will move forward in a compensatory way.

You might do this because it makes you feel like you get a little extra motion – but that’s not really the case. The range for your lats hasn’t changed,  your cervical spine just jutted forward and your shoulder joint rotated down.

To fight this, try to keep your chin tucked – almost like you were making a double chin – whenever you’re training your lats (or other muscles). It may feel a lot harder at end range and that’s a good sign that you’re reinforcing good posture.

latissimus dorsi strength mistake - forward head posture

Mistake 4: Shoulder Downward Rotation

I mentioned that forward head posture can contribute to another issue – downward rotation of the shoulder joint – which is the next big mistake I often see.

The glenoid fossa, or “socket” of your shoulder joint, naturally faces a little bit anteriorly and provides the surface for your upper arm to move around in.

If you allow your shoulder to downwardly rotate as you perform rows or pull-ups, you’ll create issues and malalignment in the glenohumeral joint.

For one, the head of your humerus will be forced to move more anteriorly in the joint space, putting excess strain on the front of your shoulder joint capsule.

With enough reps and enough strain, this poor positioning can create instability.

Lat Training Mistake - shoulders rotated downwards

To fight this, stay focused on sitting up tall with your shoulders in a natural, upright position – don’t let them round forward or down as you work your lats.

Mistake 5: Hyperextended Low Back

The last common lat mistake is hyperextension of the low back.

Your lumbar spine has a naturally extended curve. But, pushing beyond that natural curve into hyperextension or excessive lordosis is no bueno.

lumbar spine lordosis

This position not only creates a lot of stress in your lumbar spine, it causes postural changes that affect your form all the way up and down the kinetic chain.

Similar to jutting your head forward, many people fall into this hyperextension trap because overly extending the low back may make them feel like they are getting more range.

Lat dorsi strength mistake - lumbar hyperextension

Or, maybe the weights are getting too heavy at the end of the set, your lats are fatiguing, and you start to recruit your low back muscles to help. As they contract, your lumbar spine hyperextends and the muscles you’re actually trying to work – your lats – get a breather.

Yet again, you can combat this issue by focusing your attention on engaging your latissimus dorsi. Concentrate on keeping your low back in a neutral position, and if you find yourself overcompensating, it’s time to drop some weight or take a breather.

It’s better to perform an exercise with good form than to muscle through with bad posture just so you can do more reps or lift heavier weights. Your body will thank you by staying healthy and giving you strength gains that last.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.