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The Meaty Wings Program: 7 Lat Exercises At Home (With Dumbbells)

In this article, I’m going to show you how to train your lats across all of their functional ranges of movement. You’ll build a strong, healthy back without causing shoulder issues. Pull ups, rows and even overhead pressing will become easier if you follow the Meaty Wings program.

The lats are a really interesting muscle (well, if you’re a training geek like me – they are!)

They’re huge, they’re functionally important for a wide range of reasons, and they’re prized by many men for aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately though, they’re really misunderstood. 

A lot of lat exercises don’t really help them. They repeat the same moving patterns over and over again, don’t vary rep ranges, and eventually lead to ‘overactive’ lats (they become too tight). 

Overactive lats are one the most common causes of shoulder pain and compromised overhead and general shoulder movement patterns. Typically this is the result of an ineffective, poorly-constructed training program.

I’ve used this with dozens of my clients over the past 20 years as a personal trainer. 

So give me 8 weeks of your time, and I’ll give you a brand new back.

This program is written with home gyms in mind, meaning you don’t need access to a range of specialist equipment. The lat workouts here can be done with basic equipment you can easily buy for a home gym.

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Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.

Lat exercises general infographic

Meaty Wings Program: Build big, strong lats in 8 weeks

The lats are so much more than just a way to give you a broader back – they’re structurally important muscles that help you move more effectively and resist injuries. They’ll also improve your breathing efficiency, making you a better endurance athlete. 

By training using good lat exercises, you’ll also be helping yourself from a physique and functional point of view. 

Here are those benefits in more detail…

Lat exercises benefits

Benefit 1: Spinal stability

The lats contribute to both thoracic (chest/rib cage) and brachial (arm) movement and function. They’re huge muscles, with attachments on the pelvis, ribs, and scapular (shoulder blade). A muscle that size has a disproportionate impact on how strong and stable the spine is.

Spinal stability helps with injury resistance and allows you to lift more weight in a wide range of exercises.

Benefit 2: You’ll generate more force

Given such a large amount of the back is covered by the lats, if they’re strong, you’re strong! Powerful lats will help you generate force in multiple ranges of movement. The lats adduct, medially rotate, and extend the arm. 

By making it strong, you’ll develop force in all of these movements, so your ability to lift weights, throw a ball, throw a punch, hit a baseball or tennis shot, swings a golf club etc will all improve!

Benefit 3: You’ll remove power ‘leaks’ in lifting

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the weakest link in the chain is a muscle as big as the lats, it’s not a great chain at all! One of the most common failings in lifting is when the spine isn’t rigid and supported properly, resulting in ‘power leaks’.

These cause people to miss lifts they’d otherwise make.

In the example below, notice how he fails this lift ‘forward’ – it’s not his legs that were the problem here, it’s the power leak. He couldn’t maintain his upright spinal alignment, forcing him out of the optimum position. His torso tips forwards, taking the weight outside of his base of support. 

This makes him miss the lift in front of him…

Stronger lats by performing lat exercises will help this rack position and will help him ‘brace’. Giving him a better chance of making this lift in future.


5 Steps to Use the Meaty Wings Program to build bigger, stronger lats

This section is your quick takeaway – if you read anything in this article, make it this section. You’ll learn the bulk of what you need to know, without the longer explanations and the rationale behind the program design.

Step 1: Train this program 3 times per week

The Meaty Wings program is designed to incorporate a mixture of horizontal and vertical pulling patterns. It also mixes weights and rep ranges. This is to maximize muscle growth, but also to offer a variety of training stimulation for the lats.

There are 28 sets across 7 lat exercises in the program…

Lat ExerciseSetsReps
Inverted rows410
Deadlifts55
Wide grip bent over rows412
Single arm dumbbell rows48 (per side)
Pull ups4To failure
Chin ups4To failure
Dumbbell pullovers312

You should perform this program 3 days per week. 

I suggest you perform leg (check out our leg workout) and pressing (try our chest exercises program) workouts in between (more on this later).

A sample training week could look like this…

Monday: Meaty Wings Program

Tuesday: Legs and pressing

Wednesday: Meaty Wings Program

Thursday: Legs and pressing

Friday: Meaty Wings Program

Saturday and Sunday: Rest

By following this training mix you’re training the lats three times per week, but you’re not neglecting the other body parts. You’re also allowing sufficient recovery time for the lats to grow.

Step 2: Warm up thoroughly

A warm up for these lat exercises needs to incorporate 5 minutes of upper body cardio, before moving on to an exercise that warms up the whole back. In the case of lats I like the American kettlebell swing.

My preferred upper body cardio is the Ski Erg or the Rower, but an Air Bike, Skipping, light boxing or Cross Trainer work just fine.

After your 5 minutes here, move on to the American kettlebell swing. 

I like this exercise because it mobilizes the hips, the lower, mid and upper back. Perhaps most importantly though, it encourages an overhead stretch which is key to encouraging free shoulder and lat movement.

Shoot for 3 sets of 20 American Kettlebell Swings…

This combination of cardio and American kettlebell swings warms up the whole back. The cardio gets the blood flowing, the swings mobilize and stretch the muscles. It’s a perfect combination, which also doesn’t fatigue you for later on in the workout.

I also want you to perform a very light first set of each lat exercise ahead of the work sets when you’re doing your work sets. This means the ‘warm up’ is an ongoing thing, which is something I encourage. 

Each exercise is a new movement pattern, so you should work safely and prepare for what’s about to happen. It gives you chance to practice form with an easy weight too.

Pro tip: If you suffer with particularly tight lats, making rowing or pulling movements either painful or restricted, a quick foam roll after a warm up can work wonders…

This doesn’t just free up the lats, it also helps to improve your overhead mobility and shoulder movement. This is important for some of the exercises in this program (and others).

Step 3: Mix this in with legs and pressing days to maximize muscle growth

The Meaty Wings program is targeting the lats, but you can’t neglect the rest of the body. My suggestion is that you use a couple of days per week to target the legs and pressing movements (bench press, shoulder press and their variations) to ensure that your training is fully rounded.

A person performing back squats with a heavy barbell

We have a ton of workouts here targeting different body parts. 

I’d recommend performing exercises from our weight lifting workout, with the exception of any pulling exercises. These are perfectly suitable for a leg & pressing workout…

I’m a firm believer in making sure all of the body parts are trained over a week, even if there’s an emphasis on one particular body part. To build a really impressive physique, you can’t neglect any body part across the training week.

Step 4: Seek to progress every week

I don’t generally like to put numbers on expected strength improvements over a given week, simply because we’re all different and progress isn’t always linear.

That being said, you should be aiming for improvements on a weekly basis – either in terms of the amount of weight you lift (shoot for 2-5% increase per week), or the amount of reps you do.

As a general rule, by the end of the first 12 weeks of the program you should expect to be at least 20% stronger across all of your lifts, and be able to perform around 10-30% more pull ups and chin ups than you could at the start of the program.

These are general results – yours will be better or worse depending on a number of factors, including how hard you work!

Step 5: Perform the lat stretches after every lat workout

In the vast majority of people, the lats are ‘overactive’. This means they end up in a state of sem-contraction, making them tight. This can impair movement and in the worst cases, cause injuries.

Simply stretching the lats has been linked to reducing chronic lower back pain. Research from Pakistan was published in the November 2021 issue of The Rehabilitation Journal.

The research concluded that ‘stretching the latissimus dorsi is effective in improving functional disability related to chronic low back pain.’

There’s no need to overcomplicate the stretches either – my favorite one is a simple passive hang. Holding this stretch for a minimum of 2 minutes at the end of every session is a great way to stretch the lats, improve back health and improve shoulder health.

You also improve grip strength, which will translate into improving your other lifts too.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t manage a full two minutes in one go (very few can). Just hold the passive hang for as long as you can, take a 20 second break and go again. Keep doing this until you accumulate 2 minutes of passive hanging.


The latissimus dorsi in more detail…

Of all the muscles in the back, the latissimus dorsi is the largest. It covers a huge surface area, spreading from the pelvis at the bottom to the thorax (upper-mid back) at the top. It also attaches to the ribs.

Lat muscle depiction

The lats have various responsibilities in the body, so rather than go into detail, I’ll bullet point them…

Movements

  • Abduct and adduct the arms (move them towards and away from the body, like a wing flapping motion)
  • Medially rotate the arms (bring them in towards the center of the body)
  • Externally rotate the arms (move them away from the center of the body, like spreading your wings)
  • Extend the arms overhead (putting your hands in the air)

Accessory responsibilities

  • Help the ribcage expand and contract during breathing
  • Stabilize the back – either when under heavy load (such as lifting a weight) or when moving side to side
  • Moving the trunk forward during overhead movements

How does research say we should train them?

It has long been my anecdotal observation that we overemphasize the importance of grip width and hand position during exercises, expecting dramatic changes by moving hands a few inches wider apart.

I’ve seen people adjust grip by small amounts, claiming they ‘feel’ the difference – I’ve never believed them. 

This observation has been proven in the research. Lehman et al in their 2004 study on ‘Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises’ concluded…

‘There appears to be very little difference in muscle activity between the wide grip lat pulldown and the supinated grip lat pulldown for the biceps and latissimus dorsi muscles.’

Taking this as a start point means we shouldn’t worry too much about precise variations in grip width and angles. Instead, the focus should be on variety and quality of movements.

Further latissimus dorsi EMG research shows that the most activation comes from pull ups and chin ups. This isn’t a huge surprise – when you consider the movements the lats are responsible for (in the section above), these two lat exercises work them across the full spectrum.

For this reason, we’re using these exercises as our big volume plays in the program, performing both of these exercises to failure for multiple sets. 

Our emphasis here is to ensure we have plenty of training variety in terms of direction and type of muscle contraction. We’ve also got variations in grip width and position – the thinking here is to maximize muscle stimulation variety.

The workout is a medium-high volume, medium-heavy load approach designed to maximize muscle size and quality. The movements include overhead pulls from an extended position, horizontal and vertical pulls and single arm movements.

A person performing chest supported rows

Equipment requirements

To do the Meaty Wings program without having to tweak anything, here’s the equipment you’ll need…


Meaty Wings program: The lat workout

Given this workout is designed to target a particular muscle, many of the movement patterns are similar. Despite this, the whole back is trained in the program. This means you won’t need to do any additional back work if you complete this lat workout.

Lat ExerciseSetsReps
Inverted rows410
Deadlifts55
Wide grip bent over rows412
Single arm dumbbell rows48 (per side)
Pull ups4To failure
Chin ups4To failure
Dumbbell pullovers312

Warm Up

5 Minutes of cardio involving the upper body. Ideally one of the following…

  • Ski Erg
  • Rower
  • Air Bike
  • Skipping
  • Boxing
  • Cross Trainer

After 5 minutes of this, perform 3 x 20 American Kettlebell Swings…

1. American Kettlebell Swings

The American kettlebell swing divides opinion, especially amongst kettlebell purists. Personally, I like it. I like the huge range of motion, the fact that it trains the shoulders without relying on them to work against too much resistance, and I like the compound element of the lift.

There’s also excellent functional fitness benefits to the exercise.

Equipment needed for American kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do American kettlebell swings:

  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  • Swing hard, so the kettlebell is almost immediately overhead – just don’t lean too far back and risk the kettlebell going behind you!
  • At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  • Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hips and shoulders
  • Repeat as many times as required

This is the warm-up completed. In the main lat exercises, perform one set at the beginning with a very light weight. This doesn’t count as a working set, but it helps to get your movement pattern in place.


The Lat Workout

Here’s the main exercises for the Meaty Wings program. Follow the sets and reps guidance to the letter. Ideally do them in this order, but if you absolutely can’t, don’t sweat. Make sure the deadlifts are done relatively early in the workout though – you want to be fresh when doing them.

The Meaty Wings Program part 1

1. Inverted rows

Inverted rows are a great way to train the lats, scapular retraction, core and spinal stability in one go. It’s a simple set up, doesn’t need much in the way of technique and has a lot of additional bicep and shoulder training benefits.

Inverted rows are deceptively tough as well! As always, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout the movement. 

This is a great lat exercise that can be done without any equipment too (you simply can use a table if you must!)

Equipment needed for inverted rows:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do an inverted row:

  • Secure your bar in place
  • Secure your feet (or at least make sure they’re not going to slip!)
  • With a straight back, slowly lower yourself away from the bar until your arms are straight
  • Maintaining the straight back, pull yourself back up to the bar, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your torso reaches the bar, pause then slowly lower yourself away from the bar by straightening your arms
  • Repeat as many times as required

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the ultimate hinge movement. They’re a foundation human movement with huge crossover into other patterns and physical abilities. Used properly, they can build strength, reduce injury risk and ofer huge variety to a program.

Deadlifts are often seen as the king of exercises, and it’s a claim with plenty of support.

This is a great lat exercise with dumbbells or a barbell. 

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do deadlifts:

  • Assume an overhand or alternating grip on the bar, about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your legs, keep your back straight and your chest up
  • Drive through your legs, keeping your arms straight as you lift – this will lift the bar to hip height
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together and push the hips forward slightly
  • Reverse the movement on the way down – start by pushing the hips back and lowering the weight down by bending your legs, keeping your chest up and back straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as required

3. Wide grip bent over barbell row

This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years. It’s a way to not only train the back, but it also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight.

Always go with an overhand grip for the exercise in this program.

Equipment needed for bent over barbell rows:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

How to do bent over barbell rows:

  • Hold the barbell with an overhand grip
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the barbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

4. Single arm row

Single arm rows are very effective because they force each side to work independently. They require shoulder and trunk stability to maintain good torso position throughout the lift too.

With the single arm row you can lift some serious weight – this forces the lats to engage hard in order to maintain spinal stability and prevent over-rotation throughout the lift.

Equipment needed for single arm rows:

  • Dumbbell
  • Bench

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do an single arm row:

  • Place a hand and knee on a bench, with the other leg on the floor for stability.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the free hand, with your arm straight down. 
  • Pull the dumbbell up to the rib cage, bending the elbow behind you as you do.
  • Once the dumbbell is at rib height, pause and lower to the start position.

The Meaty Wings Program Part 2

5. Pull ups

The Everest of bodyweight lat exercises for many. Pull ups combine the huge muscle building benefits of training a lot of muscle in one go, with the physical challenge of being pretty damn tough.

They also train grip and at the bottom, they stretch the lats. This stretch helps with shoulder health.

They’re a simple technique to learn, but hard to do. If you can do pull ups well, add weight to ensure you fail at around the 8-10 rep mark.

Equipment needed for pull ups:

  • Pull up bar

How to do a pull up:

  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement

6. Chin ups

The chin up is the pull up with an underhand grip. Although the movement pattern is exactly the same, the underhand grip activates the bicep more, which has a couple of benefits – it builds the arms, so you don’t need additional bicep work.

The other one is that it is slightly easier than pull ups because of the bicep help, so you can add more volume. Adding the pull ups and chin ups to the lat workout makes it both challenging and effective, plus it’ll help you improve your strength and shoulder flexibility dramatically.

Equipment needed for chin ups:

  • Pull up/chin up bar

How to do a chin up:

  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an underhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement

7. Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is an excellent lat exercise for two reasons – the first is that it forces a deep stretch of the lats and thorax. The second is that it helps to activate the stabilizing muscles where the lats and shoulders meet.

It offers a unique contraction angle of the muscles, adding variety to the lat workout.

Equipment needed for dumbbell pullovers:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do dumbbell pullovers:

  • Lie on bench so your arms are able to reach behind you in an overhead position
  • Take a dumbbell and hold in both hands, with your arms fully extended directly in front of your head
  • Maintaining straight arms throughout, extend the dumbbell overhead and behind you, towards the floor
  • Keep going until you feel a stretch in the lats, but no further – if your lower back starts to arch, you’ve gone too far
  • At maximum stretch, hold for a second and return the dumbbell over your face to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

These exercises make up the meaty wings program. They cover a range of movement patterns, rep ranges and intensities. By following the program properly you’ll give your lats a great workout and see the result quickly.


Meaty Wings Program – bonus tips

Lat exercises bonus tips

Here’s a few additional coaching points to ensure you get the most from the Meaty Wings program…

1. Perform the sets and reps in the lat workout as described

The back has to work across a range of movements and rep ranges. The meaty wings program is designed to reflect that. We mix up hgh weight, low rep work with medium weight, higher rep work. The idea is to make sure we tick all of the boxes and use a lot of movement variety.

2. Keep the rest periods to a maximum of 90 seconds

This is a fine balance – you want to keep the intensity up, but you need to rest long enough in order to make sure your next set is of good enough quality. I believe 90 seconds is long enough.

If you feel you can rest for a shorter period of time and still hit good quality sets, by all means go for it!

3. Don’t sweat the exercise order

Whilst I want you to perform the lat exercises with the correct sets and reps, the order is largely up to you. The only suggestion is that deadlifts are near the start, because I want you to do those when you are fresh. Beyond that, train in the order you prefer most.

4. Run the program for at least 8 weeks 

If you do the Meaty Wings workouts for 8 weeks, you’ll have hit these sessions 24 times. During this time you’ll notice considerable muscle growth and your numbers will be much higher – you’ll have gained significant amounts of strength. After that, rest for a week and go again.

5. Eat to grow!

This isn’t a fat loss program, so don’t treat it as such. That doesn’t mean you have the green light to eat like a pig for 8 weeks, but it means you have to fuel muscle and strength growth.

Stick to the regular healthy choices (clean carbs such as rice and potatoes, lots of fruit and veg, and plenty of good quality protein), but up the amounts. If you’re training hard enough, you’ll need the extra calories!

6. Allow an hour for the lat workouts

You don’t want to rush through this workout, but you want to take enough time to rest sufficiently between sets (see the 90 second guidance earlier).

That being said, you should try to get the workout done in around an hour. If you let a workout drift for too long, my (anecdotal) observation is that you can lose focus and intensity.

A person working out with a heavily loaded barbell

These tips will help you eek a little more out of the program. Expect to feel sore with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) at first, because you’re changing the intensity of what you’re doing. 

Beyond that, expect to see strength improvements and shoulder health improvements. You may even notice that your posture gets better as you strengthen the upper back – an additional benefit of a strong pillar!


The Meaty Wings Program: The bottom line

Across this program I’ve explained what the lats are, how they work and how to train them. The focus is on effective lat exercises performed with a high quality movement pattern. You don’t need to waste time worrying about precise grip widths etc – the research shows it’s not a huge deal.

Simple movements, done well and done often are all you need.

Follow this lat workout for 8 weeks and watch your back strength improve, building you a broader, more triangular physique and improved athleticism. You’ll help to wave bye bye to back and shoulder injuries too – and who doesn’t want that?

Check out our quad exercises workout to complement this one.

Want to Improve Your Own Home Gym?

Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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