"you don't use your lats in this" - said no one ever.
When I first began coaching, I realized that it's hard to go wrong with telling people to tighten their lats or use their abs. Perhaps it's the nature of powerlifting and hardstyle kettlebell, but I found myself saying it again and again.
More often that not, people don't know where the hell their lats are. Fair enough, there's no lat emoji. My two favorite ways of teaching a newbie how to find their lats are:
Calling your lat a "tickle muscle" - I ask students if they've ever been tickled in their armpits, and if so, do they remember pulling back their arm really fast and tight to protect themselves from laughing. I say, "That muscle right there," pointing to myself or them, "is your lat."
However, many of my students are lacking joy and I can tell they've never been tickled in their life. Instead of risking a lawsuit, I suggest we go another route:
"Look at your butt"- I get on the floor with my students in a quadruped position. From there, I say, "Without twisting my hips at all, I'm going to look at my hips." This means my upper back and shoulders will have to move a little, and as I'm looking over that shoulder, my lat will tighten. When I have students follow along, we will hold for a brief second and I will say, "That tension right there? That's your lat." We repeat on both sides so everyone knows both your left and right side have lats.
So why are lats even important for most people? Besides the fact that they give men that tapered triangle look, and women an hourglass figure (hello, yes please), they're big muscles. Bigger muscles do more work even when you're not working. This means burning more calories, higher potential for fat loss, and a leaner figure.
Why are lats important to the strength athlete? They protect your back. The stronger your lats are, less you'll be twisting and rounding in lifts such as your max effort deadlifts.
What lifts require strong lats? Kettlebell swings. Deadlifts. Pull ups, windmills, rowing in any form, bench pressing, back squatting, front squatting.... get the hint?
Give this "look at your butt" drill a shot for yourself and see how you can make your next deadlift set feel.