Q: Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this email/question.
I have been bodybuilding for a couple years. I have pushed myself hard to earn the body that I have, but I currently have a dilemma. Like many, when I was dedicated to bodybuilding in the past I neglected myself in the pursuit of my goals in the sport of bodybuilding. Injuries, an imbalanced life, poverty I have been subjected to it all in the name of achievement.
My problem now is that after years of training I have come to a place where my lats (latissimus dorsi) are much bigger than I want or is reasonable considering I exist as a bodybuilder and an athlete. This problem exists because of my stubbornness to build a massive chiseled back frame in my “achievement days”. So now, what can I do to reduce the size of my lats?
My answer to this situation has been to reduce the time I train my back and to specifically not do pull ups, lat pulldowns and be careful on the angle of my elbows when I do rows. What more can I do? Do I have to stop training my back?
My goal at this point is to reduce the size of my lats, while maintaining the size and strength of my back.
I haven’t trained my lats specifically for months yet, because I train my back at least 1x a week. The size of my lats is not getting much smaller and is a constant concern. I would like to include a couple pictures below so that you can see what I mean.
Keep on in the pursuit of you.
My Answer: Angus, you have what’s known as a “high quality problem.” Most people want to gain muscle size, and you can’t seem to lose it. Anyway you haven’t specified as to why you want to decrease the size of your lats. Usually people want to decrease to size of a muscle for one of two reasons:
1) The muscle is far too strong in comparison to the opposing antagonistic muscle and in comparison to the surrounding stabilizer muscles. This causes muscle imbalances which leads to poor posture and pain in the shoulders or the joints in question. Your nervous system will shut down your strength development, because this one muscle is out of balance with all the others.
2) The size of the muscle is destroying the symmetry of your physique. If certain muscles are too big, then it will detract from the appeal of your physique overall. A classic example is when somebody has a huge upper body but skinny legs. Although with this example that I mention, the solution would not be to shrink your upper body, but to develop the lower body. Another example would be if the trapezius muscles were too big. Although it looks impressive for its look of power and strength, an overly developed trapezius will destroy your V-taper. If you’re a bodybuilder or just want to look good for sex appeal, then overdeveloped traps are not good.
From the tone of your question, it seems like you want to shrink the size of your lats due to reason number one. Overdeveloped lats are a common problem among gymnasts. They have incredible V-tapers which put some bodybuilders to shame, but at the same time they suffer from overuse injuries and rounded shoulders.
Here’s what I suggest: remove all direct back exercises. No pull-ups, pulldowns or rows of any kind. You’ve been training the back once a week, but if you read Strength Training for the Busy Bodybuilder, then you’ll know that you can easily maintain and even gain size by training once a week. So direct training for the back will be ZERO times a week.
Now you can still train the back indirectly through deadlifts once a week. The deadlift will help with postural realignment if you do it correctly. This means keeping your traps down and pull your shoulder blades back. Avoid the snatch grip variation and stick with the sumo and conventional deadlifts.
Develop the strength of the other muscles involved in the shoulders by adding some rotator cuff exercises and standing barbell military presses.