Vertical pulls: Pulling from overhead.
Chin-ups, pull-ups, lat pull downs, etc.
Horizontal pulls: Pulling from in front of you. The “rowing motion”.
Barbell rows, dumbbell rows, cable rows, etc.
Vertical pulls will active more of the lats, the “outer back” muscles. Incorporate vertical pulls to develop back “width” (side to side).
Horizontal pulls will activate more of the rhomboids and traps, the “inner back” muscles. Incorporate these to develop more back “thickness” (front to back). Horizontal pulls strengthen the “posture muscles” (rhomboids, rear deltoids, etc.) that hold you in correct posture, prevent shoulder injuries and pain, and prevent neck pain; so a special emphasis should be put on these.
**As a general rule: pull horizontally to vertically on a 2:1 ratio. For each vertical pulling exercise, do 2 horizontal pulling exercises.
**As another general rule, use at least the same ratio for pulling to pushing exercises (many people overwork the “mirror” muscles and neglect the posterior muscles).
KEY TO ENGAGING THE BACK MUSCLES:
Scapular Retraction & Depression
An extremely common issue when training the back is little to no back activation, with the biceps doing the majority of the work. The most common cause of this is failure to retract and/or depress the scapula (shoulder blades) when pulling.
WHEN PULLING FROM OVERHEAD (vertically): Initiate the movement by pulling the shoulders down first, as if “pulling your shoulders to your back pockets”. Pull your shoulders down towards your lower body as far as possible, without letting your elbows bend at all. Once the shoulders are completely depressed, cue “pulling your elbows towards your hips.” This will effectively engage the lats.
WHEN PULLING FROM IN FRONT OF YOU (horizontally): Focus on pulling the shoulder blades “together and down” as you pull towards your torso. At the back of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together, as if you were trying to crush a soda can between them. On the way forward, the eccentric part of the movement, allow the shoulder blades to relax and be pulled forward by the weight to achieve full range of motion on the movement.
Pictured Exercise: Lat Pulldown (muscles worked—latissimus dorsi—the large wing shaped muscles of the back)
Lat Pulldown Tip: instead of focusing on pulling through your hands, forearms and biceps, try focusing your pull through your elbows. Cue yourself to pull your elbows towards your hips. Think of your hands and arms as merely “hooks”. To further help disengagement of the forearms and biceps, do not use a “closed thumb” grip. Use an “open thumb” or thumbless grip. These tips will help you initiate the movement from the intended target muscle—the lats—instead of turning it into a forearm and bicep focused movement.
Hope you find these tips helpful! Give them a try and let me know!