One of the most impressive natural physiques a man can strive for is the body achieved by the one and only, Bruce Lee. Out of all his well-developed muscles, perhaps his most impressive were the lats that flanked his frame. When Bruce flexed those lats, he looked like a cobra spreading its hood in a warning display of deadly speed and power. As a kid, I remember thinking Bruce looked like his lats were big enough for him to take flight, or at least glide to safety if bad guys ever threw him off a building.
So, how do you build bigger lats of Bruce Lee-caliber? The answer may be as simple as improving an exercise you already perform.
Body weight exercises like the pushup, crunch, and pull-up have a plateau that begin and end with your body weight. When you have reached a level of fitness allowing you to perform a large number of reps of your own body weight without much struggle—say, 15 pull-ups—that’s amazing! But it won’t build muscle.
It is generally lower reps with high weights that promote muscle growth, and without increasing the weight you work out with pull-ups are not going to increase the size of your lats. Doing those pull-ups without extra resistance simply will not promote significant change in muscle size. If you want lats that spread outward giving your upper body that desirable V-shape, you must start adding weight to your pull-ups.
Before you add weight to your pull-ups, make sure you can achieve 10 strict pull-ups without weights first. If you’re comfortable with that then I’d suggest starting small. At most gyms you can find medicine balls of various weights. My first experience with weighted pull-ups involved holding a 5-lb medicine ball between my legs and doing several pull-ups.
Once I was comfortable I would increase to heavier medicine balls. I really like using the medicine ball because it forces you to have better form. I have to concentrate on holding the ball with my legs with squeezing, and because of this I was taking my time as I performed the pull-up so as not to drop the ball. The result was a more concentrated pull-up that really isolated and worked my lats more than I had ever experienced with body weight pull-ups.
You can improvise by using dumbbells and holding them with your feet, but I personally do not prefer that technique. Another easy way to add weight to your pull-up is with a dip belt, especially when you want to go for maximum weight.
Listen to your body and know the difference between “pain and gain” and “pain and strain”. If the dip belt is pulling on your spine and hurting your lower back, then switch to the medicine ball. If the medicine ball keeps dropping, stop yourself from rushing and take your time; one slow perfectly performed pull-up is more beneficial to your muscles than 10 sloppy pull-ups.