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Lat Activation

Wings of Steel

Everyone likes great looking shoulders and a good upper body physique. But what makes a good physique? Well, it’s a set of strong looking Lats that increase the girth of the torso and gives the body that thick athletic look. The activation of the Lats really sort out the men from the boys and will propel you from that ‘Ken and Barbie workout’ you are doing to a mean Kettlebell lifting machine.

This article will be discussing the importance of the lats, their role and how to get them to function correctly. But first we need to locate them.

Location Location Location

The Latissimus Dorsi is an incredibly important muscle of the back. Well-developed Lats give the back its characteristic looking ‘V shape’ definition. In fact in Latin latus means ‘broad’ and dorsum means ‘back’.

The origin of the Lats are found at the top of the glutes attaching to the lower vertebrae of the spine and crest of the pelvis and finally insert on the upper arm bone the humerus.


The main role of the Lats is to extend, adduct and internally rotate the arm. We can also forget that the other roles of muscles and connective tissue are to protect the internal organs, in this case the kidneys, and to stop the organs from falling out of the body. Now that would be a messy sight!

Give up Kettlebell Training

Now the location and function of the Lats has been established. Why are they so important to Kettlebell Training?

If you aren’t interested in Lat activation or oblivious to it in your training you might as well put that Kettlebell down or any weight for that matter and give up training today, for safety sake.

Lat activation is extremely important and is generally over looked by less knowledgeable instructors. As an RKC II instructor I see many clients and kettlebell trainers forgetting the importance of Lat activation or not even testing their clients can fire them consciously.

We will discuss how to activate them later on but first we must set the Lats in the Swing before any other Kettlebell exercise can be attempted.


If you aren’t setting your Lats before and during the Swing, then the entire shoulder girdle is weak and disconnected from the body. This setting of the Lats or what is known as ‘packing the joint’ is very important and must be mastered if you want the upper body strengthening and toning benefits and to be able to stabalize the bell during your swings.

I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. Once you master this technique your swings will become very strong and powerful. You will reap the benefits of a stronger back and your lifts will increase as a result thus getting you the physique you’ve always wanted.

Kettlebell Press….We aren’t done yet.

Proper Lat activation is essential for shoulder stability when pressing the Kettlebell overhead. See my previous article The Importance of Thoracic Spine Mobility.

Before the press begins the Lat should be fired when the Kettlebell is in the clean position. Not only should the Lat beneath the arm holding the Kettlebell be activated but the ‘free’ hand, the one without the bell should also be activated and flexed. This is something called irradiation.

After the press has been successful this isn’t the end of the move. To return the Kettlebell back to the clean position gives the Lat an almighty workout. This is where we gain the strength in the press, the downward motion. Many people think that pressing builds superior strength, wrong. It’s the lowering that is the most important.

You must now pull the Kettlebell down from the overhead position using the Lat, recreating the movement of a humble pull up in the gym except with one arm.

Dropping the Kettlebell down into the clean position. Using gravity is a cowards way out, only the most dedicated Kettlebell participant or ‘victim’ as Pavel puts it will be determined enough to enjoy the slow lowering of the bell and firing the Lat throughout the move.  This is a tough technique but without it you will be assigned to lifting girly weights forever with no real progression. Get it done.

Having both Lats flexed throughout the entire session will give balance and symmetry to the body and more importantly make the shoulder stronger and function and fire the rotator cuff muscles accordingly. This will reduce common injuries to the deltoid and surrounding musculature.


Here are 2 methods of activating the Lats that will increase your Kettlebell lifts.

  1. Simply stand with the Kettlebell in the racked position. Reach across with your free hand a touch your Lat whilst depressing the shoulder downward towards the floor. You should feel your lat flare and become rigid.
  1. This one requires a training partner. Lie on your back with legs straight and arms raised above the chest with hands overlapping each other and elbows locked. With one hand your partner will try to push you hands over your head and you will resist the movement and push down. The partner will feel for your Lat to see if you have complete control of firing the muscle. You should feel the sides of the body become tight and the shoulders will feel strong a taught.

Knowing a little about how our muscles function is really the key to strengthening them. Each muscle has a job to do, but the majority of the time muscles are stabilizers. They hold us in positions so other muscles can do a particular job. Becoming aware of our bodies and being able to switch our muscles on without much thought is a tough thing to do, but once conquered your results will be better every time. Squeeze those Lats upon every Kettlebell move you will feel instantly stronger and develop a fantastic looking torso.

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