EstimatedEst. Read Time: 27 minutes
lat workouts


Do you find it tough to build your back muscles even though you’re doing the right exercises?

If your lats aren’t growing like you want them to, there’s a good chance your workouts are missing something important.

In this easy-to-follow guide, I’ll explain how to properly train your back muscles. You’ll get the best exercises and tips, all focused on your lats.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a fully stocked gym or just have a couple of dumbbells at home, this guide is for you.

The following topics are covered in this exercise guide:

Before we begin talking about lat-focused exercises and workouts for muscle growth, let’s review lat muscle anatomy so you’ll be oriented as we begin to talk about the area we’re targeting with each move.

back muscles anatomy


Before I cover the best lat exercises, I want to make sure you know exactly which muscle groups to target.

Having a strong understanding of the muscles you’ll be working is a great way to develop a solid mind-to-muscle connection.

When you hear someone mention the back muscles, they are talking about the following:

  1. Lats
  2. Upper and Lower Traps
  3. Low Back / Erector Spinae
  4. Rotator Cuff
  5. Teres Major

You might want to only focus on the lats, but all these other muscle groups play a part in most lats exercises.

Not to mention, you want a balanced workout program that includes these other back muscles. This will ensure you avoid muscle imbalances, and you’ll have that aesthetically pleasing back.


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the lats

The lat muscles, short for latissimus dorsi muscles, are large fan-shaped muscles that span the lower and middle part of your back. They’re sometimes referred to as your “wings” due to their shape.

Building this powerful muscle can give your back a broader, more V-shaped appearance, which is why lat exercises are so popular.

This major back muscle is responsible for several arm movements like pull exercises, bringing your arms down from a raised position, and helping you twist your body.

Common lats exercises include Pull-Ups, Single Arm Dumbbell Rows, and Lat Pulldowns.

Naturally, there is a brutal variation of each of these exercises such as Negative Pull-Ups.


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upper and lower traps

The trapezius, usually shortened to “traps,” is another major muscle that extends down the back of your neck and upper spine to the middle of your back. It’s named for its trapezoid shape.

The trapezius is divided into two main sections: the upper and lower traps.

Upper Traps: These muscle fibers are the most visible part of the trapezius and sit at the top of your shoulder muscles, running from the base of your skull down to about the level of your collarbone. They help in shrugging your shoulders and moving your neck.

Lower Traps: These are located below the upper traps, running from the middle of your back up to the base of your skull. They help in moving your shoulder blades down and together.

Each part of the trapezius has slightly different functions, but all work together to promote proper posture and for the function of your shoulders.


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low back / erector spinae

The low back, or lumbar region, contains the erector spinae muscles, which are responsible for maintaining posture and controlling the movement of the spine.

Comprised of the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis muscle groups, they work in conjunction with other core and back muscles to ensure spinal stability and controlled movement.


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rotator cuff

The rotator cuffs are a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint, especially the rear delts.

Their primary function is to stabilize the shoulder joint, facilitate a wide range of motion, control arm movements, and prevent shoulder injuries.

They work in coordination with other muscles to ensure optimal shoulder function.


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teres major

The teres major is a muscle located in the upper back and shoulder region. It is situated underneath the larger and more well-known latissimus dorsi muscle.

The teres major functions primarily as a powerful shoulder extensor and adductor.

It works in conjunction with other muscles to assist in pulling movements, such as pulling oneself up during activities like climbing or performing pull-ups.

Additionally, these upper back muscles aid in internal rotation and stabilizes the shoulder joint during arm movements.

While it is a relatively small muscle, the teres major plays a significant role in upper body strength and functionality.



Aside from the fact that lat workouts can give you that well-developed back that you want, they also play a pivotal role in your overall fitness and physique development.

Here are some key reasons why lat workouts are important and the characteristic benefits they offer:


Lat workouts naturally target the largest muscle in the back. By activating and strengthening this muscle, you can increase the overall functional strength in your back.

This, in turn, can support posture, promote spinal alignment, and reduce the risk of back injuries.

You’ll also see an improvement in other pulling and rowing exercises like the Dumbbell Pullover and Barbell Rows.

In other words, all your strength progress and strength goals will see a boost.


Continuing with the point above on building strength, lat workouts help to improve other compound lifts, including Pull-Ups, Rows, Deadlifts, and Overhead Presses.

A set of well-built lats provide a solid foundation for these exercises, improving overall strength, power, and performance.


Strong lats are essential for performing various daily activities and sports-related movements.

They play a crucial role in pulling and lifting motions, such as pulling yourself up, carrying heavier loads, or performing athletic movements like swimming, rowing, and climbing, as well as movements in overhead position.


Lat workouts indirectly engage and strengthen the core muscles, as they help maintain stability and proper alignment during back-focused exercises.

This can lead to improved core strength, better balance, and enhanced overall athleticism.


Finally, well-developed lats get attention. Plain and simple.

When you have a set of sculpted lats, they contribute to a visually appealing V-taper back.

This creates the illusion of a wider upper body and a narrower waist, resulting in a more balanced and proportionate appearance.


You know where your lat muscles are and why it’s so important to train them. Now, let’s talk about the best lat workout and exercises to target the lats.

Here are some of my picks for the best lat workout exercises to incorporate into your week.

And this might shock you, but we’re not starting with the classic back exercise you’d expect. Instead of the classic Barbell Deadlift and Hex Bar Deadlifts, we’re going right for the exercises where you’ll feel the contraction the most.

These compound exercises are great, but they are engaging multiple muscle groups at the same time. Our goal is to focus as much as we can on those lats, which is why you won’t find the Barbell Deadlift on this list.

Let’s jump into it:


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dumbbell tripod row


  1. This is a dumbbell exercise, but you can also use resistance bands. Use one hand on an adjustable bench for balance and the other hand holding a dumbbell. Use an underhand grip for a tighter contraction on the lats. Start with lighter weights before using heavier dumbbells and focus on grip strength.
  2. Let the weight hang and row it up towards your rib cage, squeezing the lats as you do. Keep your elbow close to your side to engage the lats, instead of the upper back.
  3. Pause and slowly lower the weight.
  4. Complete all the repetitions (12-15 repetitions) on one side before moving to the other.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This is not the classic dumbbell row exercise that you might be used to. By keeping your elbows tight to your sides, you put all the focus on the lats. Start with dumbbells before trying the Single-Arm Cable Row.


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wide arm reverse pulldown


  1. Start with a wide grip, similar to Wide Grip Pull-Ups. Instead of an overhand grip, use an underhand grip.
  2. For maximum muscle recruitment, drive your elbows down and in, going from wide to narrow. Focus on getting your elbows down and behind your body for full contraction.
  3. If you don’t have access to machines, you can achieve a similar effect using a Pull-Up bar and a resistance band.
  4. Perform 10-12 repetitions at around a 50-70% load of your 1RM (one-rep max).
  5. Keep your core tight throughout the movement.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  By actively tucking your elbows in during cable extension exercises, you will experience a tight contraction throughout your waist. This will extend the squeeze beyond just the halfway point.


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one arm alternating high cable row exercise


  1. Set the cable machine so that the level of resistance allows you to engage in a full range of motion. Position your feet wide apart on the floor for stability.
  2. To enhance the lat stretch, shift your hip back as you extend your arm in front.
  3. Maintain a close and tight elbow-to-side alignment as you drive the elbow down with a neutral grip, specifically targeting the hip point. Make sure your hand reaches chest height or slightly below.
  4. Engage your core muscles and incorporate a slight rotation as you attempt to touch the elbow to the hip.
  5. If a Cable Crossover machine is unavailable, you can achieve similar results using resistance bands. Go lighter and perform 15-20 repetitions.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  When performed correctly, this exercise not only emphasizes a wide and extended sweep in the lats but also creates a distinct difference in elbow positioning. Unlike the Traditional Pulldown that involves pulling from above the head, this exercise involves pulling away from the body, providing a unique effect. You’ll also notice a perfect amount of consistent resistance throughout the exercise.


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incline single arm


  1. The initial position for this bench setup is at a 45-degree angle next to a cable pulley machine. Lie on one side, with both feet favoring that side.
  2. When you raise your arm over your body, you will experience an intense lat stretch due to the full arm extension and additional hip rotation.
  3. The key is to maintain a clear pathway for the elbow to drive downward toward the hip, creating a powerful lat contraction. Aim to touch the elbow to the hip.
  4. Since you’re lying on your side, you’ll notice that the top of your hand will reach shoulder height. During the upward movement, you will once again feel a deeper stretch.
  5. Be mindful of the weight and do 12-15 repetitions.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  The Incline Single-Arm Stretch Pulldown allows for a full range of motion and contraction under an intense stretch, resulting in a peak contraction on the lat muscles. This makes it an incredibly effective exercise for triggering above-average muscle activity in the lats.


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one arm cable pushdown


  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a single cable handle, and perform the exercise one arm at a time.
  2. Keeping a straight arm, pull the cable handle down and back.
  3. In this variation of the typical lat exercise, you will move past the usual stopping point of the bar version, allowing for additional contraction. Aim to get your hand back and behind the body.
  4. If you go heavy on this one, aim for 6-8 repetitions. If you go lighter, shoot for 10-12 repetitions.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  There is no total isolation exercise for the lats. For example, arm muscles get involved with a classic Lat Pulldown. With that said, this exercise is as close as you can get making it a must for any type of strength training program. By focusing on bringing the elbow closer to the hip and positioning it behind you, you can enhance the contraction and maximize muscle engagement for a more effective workout.


Is your goal to expand your lats, making your “wings” appear larger?

To develop wider lats, I want you to think about the anatomy of the lats muscle I discussed earlier.

Remember how the lats, the biggest muscles on the back, extend from the spine to the pelvis and connect to the arm?

To achieve a full range of motion for lat training, you’ll want to raise the arms away from the body as much as possible.

One of the most effective methods to accomplish this is by utilizing an underhand grip on a Lat Pull-down machine. Keep that in mind as I cover exercises to help you get wider lats.


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underhand lat pulldown


  1. Grasp the Pulldown bar with an underhand grip and your palms facing you. You also want to have a medium grip on the bar. Position yourself with a straight back. Slightly lean back, ensuring your chest is up and your shoulders are down.
  2. Begin the movement with your arms fully extended, allowing your lats to be fully stretched.
  3. Keep the core tight and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down towards your upper chest, focusing on activating your lats.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement to feel the contraction in your lats.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  The underhand grip in this classic bodybuilding exercise allows for a higher arm position, promoting shoulder flexion. As you pull the bar down and back, you focus on squeezing your elbows into your sides, which effectively activates the lats, maximizing their engagement.


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wide grip pulldowns


  1. Sit on the Lat Pulldown machine, making sure the thigh pad rests securely on your thighs and your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Grasp the bar with a wide grip, wider than shoulder-width, and with your palms facing away from you. Sit upright and engage your core muscles for stability.
  3. With your arms fully extended, lean back slightly while keeping your torso upright.
  4. Now, exhale and pull the bar down towards your upper chest, leading with your elbows. Focus on engaging your back muscles, especially the teres major.
  5. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement to maximize the contraction in your back.
  6. Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position, fully extending your arms.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  The primary muscles in this exercise are the teres major. When you target them, this helps with full back and lat development.


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meadows row


  1. This is a barbell pulling exercise that will require a landmine accessory. Stand so that your side is to the weighted end of the barbell landmine.
  2. Move with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips, keeping your back straight and your core engaged. Your torso should be at roughly a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  3. With your arm fully extended, grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
  4. Retract your shoulder blades and pull the barbell up towards your chest. As you pull, focus on squeezing your back muscles and keeping your core stable.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This barbell back exercise taps into the teres major again, which is going to make a huge difference in how wide your lats and overall back looks.


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rocking pulldown


  1. You’re going to set up just like you would for a normal Lat Pulldown with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. This is not a wide grip exercise.
  2. As you pull the bar down, contract and twist towards the right slightly. This will ensure extra tension on the right side of the lats.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat this on the left side.
  4. Continue to alternate from side to side.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  Thanks to the rotation of the movement during the descent, you achieve a greater extension of the arm. This extension allows for an additional squeeze on the lat muscles, further enhancing the effectiveness of the exercise.


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face pulldowns


  1. Sit down at a Lat Pulldown machine or a Cable Row machine that you can elevate. Use an underhand grip on the handles. Keep an upright body position and a tight core.
  2. As you pull down, pull back as well so that you’re going into external rotation at the shoulder.
  3. Focus on pulling the arm back, down, and behind you.
  4. Squeeze the teres major and slowly return to the starting position.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:   This exercise allows for external rotation, and it directly targets the teres major to help you build a wider back.

If you’re looking for more great exercises to help you get wider lats, check out my article How To Get a Wider Back.



Let’s say that you don’t have access to a cable machine or Lat Pulldown machine. But maybe you have access to a few pairs of dumbbells.

Dumbbell lat exercises are perfect for building a muscular back!

Here are some of the best dumbbell-based exercises for your workout time:


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weighted pullup


  1. To add weight to your Pull-Up exercise, there are a few different options you can try. One simple method is to use a dog leash and a dumbbell. Wrap the leash around the dumbbell and secure it to your waist.
  2. Alternatively, if you’re working out at a gym, you can use a dip belt and a dumbbell. You can also simply hold the dumbbell in between your feet.
  3. Once set up, jump up onto the pull-up bar. With your arms raised above your head and palms facing away from you, hang straight and engage your core.
  4. Pull yourself up in a straight line until your chin clears the bar.
  5. Slowly lower yourself back down, returning to the starting position.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  Weighted Pull-Ups are one of my favorite exercises! They directly target the lats while challenging your core and stability. They are also a great exercise to develop strength and power.


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dumbbell pullover


  1. Start by lying down on a flat bench, ensuring your head, upper back, and hips are in contact with the bench for stability.
  2. Grab a dumbbell with both hands, palms facing upward, and extend your arms above your chest. Engage your core by gently pulling your navel towards your spine.
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Focus on feeling the stretch and activation in your back muscles.
  4. Reverse the motion and bring the dumbbell back to the starting position above your chest, keeping the movements controlled without relying on momentum.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  I love the Dumbbell Pullover because it allows for an exaggerated eccentric overload on the lats. This makes it great for developing those back muscles!


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dumbbell dead rows for power shoulders


  1. Place two dumbbells on the floor, one on each side of you. Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Get into a bent-over position, ensuring your knees are slightly bent. Grab the dumbbells with your hands.
  3. Generate a powerful force through your feet, pushing into the ground, similar to a deadlift. Drive your body upward in one fluid motion. As you do so, pull the dumbbells up and back, bringing them behind your torso in a rowing motion.
  4. This exercise is essentially a deadlift up to the level of the knee. From here, you drive your elbows behind your body, pulling the weights back with the strength and power of the lats.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This exercise combines strength and explosive power, allowing you to use heavy weights with controlled form.

If you’re looking for more great dumbbell back exercises to add to your workout routine, check out my article Best Dumbbell Back Exercises.


What about those of you who don’t have a gym membership and you only have household items lying around?

You’re in luck!

Here are some body weight exercises for the lats that you can do in the comfort of your home.

The only equipment you’ll need is a sturdy surface to grab onto along with a strong pole that you can set across two chairs.


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sliding lat pulldown bodyweight mid back exercise


  1. Begin by lying face down with your hands facing up towards the ceiling. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides and ensure that your arms and legs are in a straight line.
  2. Engage your glutes and lift your arms and legs off the ground simultaneously.
  3. Initiate a rotating motion by pulling your shoulder blades inwards, causing your hands to turn towards the ground. Focus on contracting your lower back muscles for a duration of two to three seconds.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This one exercise is going to light up your entire posterior chain. It activates all of the muscles on your back side.


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straight arm pushdown


  1. Position your upper body under a bar set low in a rack, with body straight and feet on the floor.
  2. Allow your body to slide under the bar, but the key is where you’re pushing from. You’re not just extending your knees here to drive your body back. What you’re really trying to focus on is pulling down with your hands. The key is trying to fight that negative.
  3. Lower your body back down as slow as you possibly can.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This is one of the best things you can do for your back. It’s actually a version of a lever and as you recreate this, you put all the workload right on to the lats.


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Lat Workouts


  1. Center your hand on the bar. Put your feet out as far as you’re able to with good form.
  2. Pull your body up, focusing all the contraction in the lat.
  3. Focus on eccentrically lowering yourself slow and allow your body to rotate a little bit to get an extra stretch in the lats.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This is a one-sided movement that helps to target the lats, but more importantly, it helps to highlight and correct any muscle imbalances.


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human pullover


  1. Lay on the ground and reach above your head to grab a hold of something sturdy. Ideally, you’ll use a bar in the gym, but a heavy piece of furniture will also work.
  2. Extend your legs as much as you can while maintaining good form.
  3. Push through your hands to engage the lats. The lats will pull your body up from the floor and you have to focus on slowly lowering yourself back down with complete control.
  4. If this feels like an advanced level exercise, try bending your knees instead of straightening your legs.

WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE:  This exercise is all about lat strength, not core strength. You are pushing through your hands, engaging the lats, and that is what lifts your body from the floor.

No matter what equipment you have access to, there are effective exercises that specifically target and strengthen your lats.  

It’s important to remember that building well-defined lats requires working on all areas and progressive overload of each section of the muscle group, while also utilizing the full range of motion.

By incorporating the recommended exercises from this guide into your training, you’ll be well on your way to achieving bigger and stronger lats along with a wider back.

If you’re looking for a complete training program to help you build muscle and strength from head to toe, we can help.  Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which one best fits your goals and fitness level.



Three of the most effective exercises for the lats include the Wide Arm Reverse Pulldown, Meadows Row, and Weighted Pull-up.

Wide Arm Reverse Pulldown: Sit at the Lat Pulldown machine, grab the bar with a wide underhand grip, and pull it down towards your upper chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Meadows Row: Stand next to a barbell landmine, grab the handle, and pull it towards your torso by retracting your shoulder blade.

Weighted Pull-Up: Attach weight to a dip belt or hold a dumbbell between your feet. Grip the pull-up bar and pull yourself up by contracting your back muscles. Lower down with control, engaging your back and arms.

To build bigger lats, follow these strategies: progressively increase the weight and exercise difficulty, prioritize exercises like Lat Pulldowns and Rows, vary grip widths and hand positions, maintain proper form, rest adequately, and maintain a nutritious diet.

A lat bar, also called a Lat Pulldown bar, offers various exercises for targeting the back muscles, including the following:

To shape your lats, you have to focus on targeting the muscle in two important ways: pulldowns and rows. Pulldowns and other exercises like it will help to widen the lats. Rowing exercises, on the other hand, will ensure that your lats get thicker.

Performing these two types of exercises will help to shape your lats, helping you to increase both muscle mass and muscle size.

You can target your lats at home by starting with Bodyweight Pull-Ups on a sturdy bar or branch. You can also do the Bent-Over Row exercise using dumbbells or weighted objects like a milk gallon.

Try Towel Pulldowns by attaching a towel to a bar and pulling it towards your chest. You can also do Doorway Rows by leaning back and pulling your chest towards a doorframe.

Lastly, incorporate Plank Rows by rowing weights towards your chest from a high plank position.

Push-ups do work your lats a bit, mainly to keep your shoulders stable and your form right. But if you're trying to strengthen your lats specifically, push-ups won't do much.

For a better lat workout, try exercises like Lat Pulldowns, Pull-Ups, and Rows. These exercises target your lats directly and will help to both widen and thicken your back.

Pulldown exercises are going to be your best friend when your goal is to widen your lats. I’d recommend performing the Lat Pulldown exercise but do so sitting up straight. Do not lean back. If you lean back, you’ll start to incorporate other muscles.

Bring the bar or cable handles straight down to your chest and squeeze the lats at the bottom of the movement.

The best workout for lats is going to be a combination of both pulldown and rowing exercises. By performing both types of exercises, you will target the entirety of the muscle group and help to develop it in a balanced way.

Pulldown exercises focus on the width of the lats while rowing movements help to thicken the lats. Both types of exercise are a must if you’re serious about a well-developed and aesthetically pleasing back.

Some of the best exercises to include in your lat workout are the following:

To target your lats at home, you have a few options, depending on what type of equipment you have at your disposal.

Consider bodyweight lat exercises like Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, or Bodyweight Pullovers using a secure bar or doorway pull-up bar. Resistance bands allow you to perform great back building exercises like Lat Pulldowns and Rows by simply anchoring the band and performing pulling motions.

If you have access to dumbbells or kettlebells, you’ll have a ton of effective lat exercises to choose from such as Bent-Over Rows, Weighted Pull-Ups, and One-Arm Rows.

If you want to build your lats at home, you can take advantage of your own bodyweight and the household items you might not otherwise notice. Here are some of the best exercises you can do at home. The only equipment you’ll need are small things like a broom, chairs, soup cans, etc.


Jeff Cavaliere Headshot

Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS

Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.

Read more about Jeff Cavaliere by clicking here

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