Lat Activation for Bigger Pulls

Ever missed a heavy deadlift, clean, or snatch because the bar got out in front of you?

I have – and it sucks!

You get the bar moving off the floor, but then, the bar drifts out in front, rounding you over, and putting you in a horrible position to finish the lift.

Not only does this limit the weights you can handle, but it puts you in a position where you could get injured as well.

No more!

Proper lat activation is a key to pulling heavy weights. The key, however, is to use the lats to keep the bar in tight, and not to increase the arch in your lower back.

This video should give you a brief explanation as to why lat activation is important, as well as how to properly engage your lats prior to lifting.

To recap, here are a few key points:

  • The lats are critical for “pulling” the bar back into the body.
  • Cue your client/athlete to do this without the bar first; have them stand up tall and “pull” their straight arm back into your hand.
  • If necessary, poke them in the lats as well to further cue facilitation.
  • When pulling (deadlifting, RDL’s, cleans, snatches, etc.) cue the client to keep the lats tight throughout the lift and “pull” the bar back into their body.

This simple tip has made a profound difference in my deadlift over the past couple of months. Kudos to both Glenn Pendlay and Greg Everett, who both discuss this in their Olympic lifting videos and textbooks.

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  • Maurizio Paolini

    Great post as usual, Mike…If someone trains alone ( like me ) squeezing a broomstick against legs just like the midpoint of a straight-arm pulldown could be an alternative activation drill?…..

  • Robert

    SO true!

    Since spending some time training my lats to contract at-will, a whole new world has opened up to me. Things that PLers have said about lifts now make SO much sense to me. Flexing my lats during my setup and keeping them tight while pulling through the DL has been HUGE in keeping my back from rounding or having the bar drift ahead of me. Flexing lats and pulling the bar down when benching has had a HUGE effect on my bench. Flexing the lats and pulling the bar down into my traps/back when squatting has been HUGE to keep my back straight and not caving under heavy weight.

    Taking the time to row like there was no tomorrow (thanks Cressey for that recommendation) and to do various drills was SO worth it.

    I cannot speak more highly of the need to get the lats functioning, strong, and in use during pretty much every lift.

    Glad you posted this entry!

    • Robert

      Oh, and the size gains on my lats that came from all that work … well that was just icing on the cake.

  • Richard Sanders

    Great Video as usual.
    Activating lats as works great on pull/chin ups as well.

  • Kristie

    Thank you for this video. I have been struggling with increasing my dl weight. I am going to try this and see how it goes.

  • replacement

    Do you use the same lat activation cues for trap bar deadlifts? Without the barbell there, I have a tendency to get the bar too far back on the way up when I really make an effort to engage my lats. Nothing drastic — the bar moves back maybe an inch or so during the bottom half of the concentric move. But, this makes the sequencing look a bit off and full lockout harder since the center of mass is a touch too far back. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks for your time and appreciate all the great info!

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