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April 22, 2022
The lats are a crucial muscle to focus on when strength training, because first and foremost, who doesn’t love a well-sculpted, v-tapered back? And superficial reasons aside, there are many benefits to training the latissimus dorsi, including spinal stability, good posture, and back and shoulder strength. However, with training your lats comes the potential for tension and tightness in the muscle. Whether your lats are tight and sore from a rigorous workout or your overhead shoulder mobility is limited, it's time for some lat stretches.
In this article, we will examine:
All in all, you are going to walk away understanding how to ensure your lats feel and perform their best.
A broad, triangularly-shaped, superficial muscle that covers most of the lower thorax, the latissimus dorsi is the largest upper body muscle and is responsible for many shoulder and spinal movements.
The muscle’s origin is the sinuous processes and supraspinous ligament of the bottom six thoracic vertebrae and the inferior end of the fibers that attach to the last three or four ribs. Also included as part of the origin is the thoracolumbar fascia at the lumbar and sacral vertebrae level, as is a small portion of the inferior angle of the shoulder blade. The muscle fibers extend from these origin points to the insertion point, the floor of the intertubercular groove of the humerus. The various origin points all meet in one narrow insertion area that forms the triangle, or fan-like, shape the lats are so well known for.
This large back muscle works with the teres major and pectoral major to perform most major upper-body actions.
Since it is so integral to movement and takes up a large portion of the upper back, tight lats can impair the following movements (which are also the lat's main functions):
If you find any of these movements difficult, it is essential to start a regimen that emphasizes the best stretches for latissimus dorsi.
Tight lats are fairly common as many daily activities can contribute to it. Sitting with poor posture, like overly rounded shoulders, can create tight lats, and many popular hobbies, including cycling (if you grasp the handlebars too tightly), swimming, rock climbing, and gardening (hunching over), can also contribute to upper back tension.
Particularly, an intense workout that involves a lot of latissimus dorsi exercises is enough to cause tightness.
Any activity that requires repetitive upper back movement likely means it’s time to incorporate some latissimus dorsi stretches.
And while tightness in the lats is not usually a cause of concern, most people don't bother with stretching them out, which can cause an array of issues with mobility, posture, and performance.
There are several noticeable signs that indicate tight lats. These are all signs it’s time for some lat stretches:
Another way to determine whether you have tight lats is to perform a squat with your arms overhead...
Lat tightness mobility test:
Incorporating lat stretches before and after your workouts keeps muscles warm before lifting and ensures post-exercise tightness dissipates. However, it is also smart to stretch your lats periodically throughout the day - especially if you are at the beginning stages of your stretching journey to undo tight lats. And if you have a desk job that requires you to sit a lot, it’s likely your posture isn’t perfect, which means taking a minute or two to stretch will keep that upper body loose and limber.
DYNAMIC VS STATIC LAT STRETCHES:
We just talked about how important it is to stretch lats before and after working out, and this is where dynamic and static lat stretches come into play.
Dynamic latissimus dorsi stretches are best before your workout begins. These are active movements that stretches the lat muscles and joints through their full range of motion. For example, vertical arm swings or moving the shoulders in a circular, shrugging motion are great dynamic stretches for the upper body.
Now, let’s say you’ve just finished a killer back workout, and you can already tell your muscles will be sore tomorrow. This is when you incorporate static stretches for latissimus dorsi. Hold these moves for 30 to 60 seconds. Static lat stretches are great for post-workout, but you can perform them any time of the day. It's important to ease into the stretch very gently if your muscles aren’t already warm. Hold it for 30 to 60 seconds, release the position, and then gently move back into the stretch, trying to lean into it a bit further - without causing pain or pushing too far.
Remember, when it comes to stretching, it shouldn’t feel painful. If it does, you’re pushing into it too hard. Take your time moving into the position, and know that you will likely not have the same flexibility that exists immediately following a workout. Static lat stretches include movements as simple as hanging on to an overhead bar or door frame.
Here are 10 lat stretches to incorporate into your warm up or cool downs for upper body workouts. You can also do these any time you wish if your lats feel tight or sore.
Some of these exercises can be done as a dynamic stretch or static stretch, so we will make note how to perform them in either manner where applicable.
One of the best stretches for lats, this move will fully lengthen and loosen your entire upper back. Breathing deeply while holding this stretch encourages your tight lats to relax even more.
Static: Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, switch to the other arm, and hold it for the same amount of time. Repeat up to three times, deepening the stretch each time.
Dynamic: Flexing, fully extending, and then flexing the elbow again will enable you to move in and out of this stretch. Continue bending and straightening for 30 seconds and switch to the opposite side.
Not only is this move and the more advanced version (the next below) a great stretch for latissimus dorsi, but they also help correct your posture, improve your shoulder mobility, and strengthen your grip (hello, heavier weights!).
Static: Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Take a short break, and then repeat one to two more times.
Dynamic: Begin in the static hang position, and then retract the shoulder blades so your shoulders are pushed down and no longer near your ears. Once your ears are by your elbows, hold the position for as long as you can. The dynamic version of this stretch is a great option if you have shoulder pain since it isn’t using all of your weight to pull down on the tendons and ligaments.
Before advancing to this version of the hanging bar stretch, you should be able to comfortably hold the hanging bar lat stretch for at least a minute. Rather than hanging with both hands, you will only use one hand at a time.
While a gym bench works great for this, if you’re at home you can even use a kitchen chair for this exercise. If you’re not on a soft floor, laying a mat or towel down will feel more comfortable for your knees.
Static: Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and repeat two to three times. Attempt to lean back into the hips more each time to further the stretch.
Dynamic: Move from kneeling upright to sinking into the hips to back to kneeling 10 to 12 times. Your arms should move back to your sides as you kneel upright and then move toward the bench as you sink into your hips.
Focusing on your upper back one side at a time will enable you to make note of any lat imbalances that might be present. If stretching one side seems to trigger a bit more tension or pain, it’s a sign that that side may be tighter. Help work out the tension by adding a few extra seconds to that side’s stretch or even adding one more set to that side.
Static: Hold for 30 to 45 seconds before returning to the starting position and switching sides. Perform the stretch on each side at least twice.
Dynamic: Moving your shoulder blades into protraction and retraction makes this a dynamic movement. Once you protract your shoulder, hold the position for about 5 seconds and then retract your shoulder blades, moving your shoulders back as you do so. Move in and out of this movement 12 to 15 times before switching sides.
For the deepest stretch, find something anchored into the ground to grab onto with each hand. For example, almost every gym has equipment primarily used for pull-ups and tricep dips, and you can use the poles on each side for this stretch. If you’re at home and can’t find anything that’ll do the trick, you can also use a kitchen chair with a back you can grasp on each side.
Static: Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, performing the stretch at least twice.
Dynamic: Alternate between protracting and retracting your shoulder blades. As the shoulder blades retract, look upward and then downward as they move back into protraction. Continue this movement for at least 30 seconds.
You can use anything from a doorframe to a piece of gym equipment for this stretch. You’ll feel it run deep down your side, and including this latissimus dorsi stretch will help improve everyday mobility.
Static: Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds, repeating at least twice on each side.
Dynamic: Rotating between moving your hips laterally and bringing them back to the mid-line will create a more dynamic movement that will warm your muscles up. Move in and out of the position for 30 to 45 seconds and repeat on the other side.
No equipment is required for this standing lateral stretch that does an excellent job of improving mobility and flexibility.
Static: Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat at least two times on each side.
Dynamic: Gently move in and out of the stretch by raising your arm upward, and immediately bringing it down to the starting position. Continue repeating, trying to deepen the stretch more each time. This should be a fluid movement that continues for 30 seconds on each side.
This is a great stretch to include pre-workout, particularly on back day. It’s also great for warming up the shoulders and improving flexibility, flexion, and extension.
Static: Swing your arms upward, holding this position for around 30 seconds. Stretch your arms upward, feeling that nice pull through your lats.
If your lats are overly tight, you may not be able to get them to the ground for this exercise. That’s okay. Observe how far you get, and then work to get them closer to the ground each time you do this stretch.
Static: Hold between 30 and 60 seconds, repeating the move at least twice.
Dynamic: Swing your arms upward overhead, holding for a few seconds, and then bring them back to your sides. Repeat this movement for 30 seconds, trying to move your arms a little closer to the ground each time you swing them up.
Incorporating foam rolling into your repertoire of stretches for lats is another surefire way to alleviate upper back tightness. Myofascial foam rolling helps increase muscle length, providing a better range of motion. It reduces tension in muscle tissue and improves blood flow to the area, which can help reduce inflammation and shorten recovery time. It also helps break up collagen adhesions that limit the muscle tissue’s lengthening ability, potentially leading to a muscle imbalance and limited flexibility. Performing the following lat myofascial foam rolling techniques will ensure your upper back is stretched and ready for your next big gym session.
Because tight lats can impact even the most basic of movements, you should include stretches for your lats into your routine. Your posture, breathing, mobility, and strength will thank you!
We should also note that many lat-focused strength exercises are a form of dynamic stretching, such as pull ups, lat pull downs and pullovers. Be that as it may, you need to use a full range of motion for this to be true. Moreover, tightness in your lats may still occur. So, including dynamic stretches before workouts to help with mobility and static stretches after workouts or on off days to release tension is important.
More Stretching Resources:
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