7 Effective Exercises For Your Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)

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Exercises For Your Lats

Your lats or back muscles play a more crucial role in your body’s stability and even your shoulder and back strength, than you may realize. The Latissimus Dorsi, as they are called, benefit from stretches and simple exercises like chin-ups or cat-cow. The superman, the seated lat pulldown, and even some simple yoga-based stretches can go a long way in warding off shoulder and back pain and keeping your lats strong and loose.

Your lats or Latissimus Dorsi muscles are two flat and large muscles on your upper back that connect the upper extremities and arms to your spine, giving stability to the trunk of your body. These muscles also help protect your spine and aid arm movement. So, why is it important to exercise these muscles? Working your lats can help improve your upper body strength and range of motion as well as balance and stability. On the other hand, tightness in this muscle can lead to chronic shoulder pain, chronic back pain, or tendinitis, an inflammatory condition of the tendon.1 Reason enough to take a serious look at these exercises for your lats!

1. Seated Lat Pulldown

Before you begin

  • Sit down on a weight machine and secure your thighs below the pad.
  • Stabilize your spine and grip the bar with hands held a little more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Your palms must face forward and your thumbs need to be wrapped around the bar. Keep your elbows straight over you and pull your shoulder blades back and down.Lean back a little but ensure your back doesn’t arch.
  • Your feet need to be flat on the floor and your head in line with the spine before you begin.2

Now you are all set to start!

  • Exhale as you pull down from your shoulder blades, bringing the bar to the mid/top of your chest. Your elbows should come to the sides of your torso toward the floor. Ensure you don’t lean back more than your start position.
  • Bring the bar down further so it touches your chest. Stop when you feel that your elbows are no longer in a downward motion but about to start going backward.
  • Pause and hold for a moment before slowly releasing the movement and straightening elbows to allow the bar to return to the start position. This must be a controlled slow movement to prevent injury.
  • Let your shoulder blades rise a little as you return to the start position.

2. Seated Row

The seated row makes use of the resistance in a cable machine.3

  • Sit down facing the cable, keeping your feet firmly on the ground. Your knees must be bent and your back should be straight.
  • Hold the straight section of the bar, keeping your elbows wide and the palms of your hands facing downward.
  • Start to pull the bar to the top section of your chest. As it touches your chest, pause.
  • Hold this for second before you straighten your arms, allowing the weight to come back to its start position.

3. Chin-Ups

All you need is a pull-up bar or similar equipment that allows you to do chin-ups.4

  • Stand below a pull-up bar with your arms above your head, palms toward you. Reach up or jump to grip the handles, thumbs wrapped around properly. Cross your legs and engage your abdomen to stabilize your body. Your wrist must be aligned to your forearms and the head aligned to your spine. Keep your shoulders pulled back and down.
  • Exhale as you slowly bend your elbows to pull your body up in a controlled manner. Your elbows need to be in front and should point down as you pull yourself up. Try and keep your body in a straight line, perpendicular to the floor.
  • Keep pulling yourself up until your chin is now level with the bar/your hands.
  • Pause and hold for a second before you release slowly and return to the start position in a controlled manner. Your abdomen must remain engaged throughout and your spine and head must stay in their alignments as your elbows straighten fully.

4. “Supermans” Or Trunk Lifts

This is an exercise for your lats that doesn’t need equipment. You will need to lie face down on your stomach on an exercise mat for this one. There are two phases to this exercise.5

  • Stretch your legs out behind with toes pointing to a wall that’s behind you. Your arms must be stretched out overhead with the palms facing one another. Your neck must be relaxed and the head aligned with the spine.

In the upward phase,

  • You should exhale as you stabilize your spine and engage your core and abdomen.
  • Reach your legs away from the torso of your body until they rise a couple of inches off the ground.
  • Let your arms “float” a little off the ground too and ensure they remain straight. Your legs must be straight too.
  • Your head should not drop down or be lifted up and your back mustn’t arch.
  • Hold this pose for a few seconds.

In the downward phase,

  • Inhale as you bring your arms and legs back down to the start position. Your hips and lower back must not move.

5. Cat-Cow Exercise

Cat-Cow Exercise

This stretching exercise for the latissimus dorsi muscles does not need any equipment.6

  • Go down on all fours in a kneeling position on an exercise mat. Your knees must line up below the hips and your wrists below your shoulders. Fingers must point forward.
  • Engage both your abdominal muscles and your core. Picture a corset around your midriff and imagine it tightening. Your spine must remain neutral – neither arched not sagging. Pull your shoulder blades back to your hips.
  • For the Cat part of this exercise, exhale and tuck your tail under as you engage your abdominal muscles pushing the spine up to the ceiling. You should resemble the outline of an angry cat. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, letting your head reach for your chest, neck lengthened.
  • In the Cow part of the movement, you should use your lower back and abdominal muscles to tip the tail to the ceiling. This will increase the arch of the low and mid back. The abdomen should stretch toward the ground. Pull shoulder blades down the back. Hold this for 10 to 15 seconds before coming back to the start position.

Yoga also has exercises that loosen up your lats. The following stretches not only loosen your shoulders, they make other yoga poses like backbends easier. They are also useful to anyone looking at preventing tightness and strengthening this part of the body. Remember to learn these under the direction of a trained yoga practitioner.

6. Wall-Aided Stretch

This movement loosens your lats and helps strengthen them. It also gears your body up for asanas such as the upward bow pose or urdhva dhanurasana and the popular downward-facing dog pose or adho mukha svanasana.7

  • Stand straight, keeping your back against any wall. Rotate your arms outward as far as you can.
  • Next, reach your arms above your head, allowing the palms to press into the wall.
  • Walk forward a couple of inches, taking care not to alter your alignment, but so your hands no longer touch the wall.
  • Try reaching your arms even higher and even further back so they touch the wall again from this new position. Ensure you back isn’t arched and that your hips aren’t moving forward as you do this. Your lower ribs must also remain aligned and not stick out in front.

7. Yoga Block Aided Stretch

Another method to loosen tight lats is by using a yoga prop like a block.8

  • Kneel down on a folded blanket placed in front of a chair. Hold each end of a yoga block in your hands. Your forearms should be held apart and upper arms rotated.
  • Now bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and put the back of each elbow on the front of the chair so that they are shoulder-width apart. They shouldn’t slide off. Alternatively, use a strap looped around your forearms near the joint.
  • Now walk both knees away from this chair so that the trunk of your body is now parallel to the ground, with the knees below your hip joints. Ensure your lower rib cage isn’t sagging.
  • Exhale ensuring your elbows don’t slip off the chair. Lengthen your spine and draw your head away from the seat of the chair. Let it hang between the chair and the trunk of your body.
  • Exhale once more, moving hips back even further. Feel your tailbone press to the ground as you stabilize your lower back and pelvis. Your ribs must be slightly lifted and your outer arms moved towards the floor to the extent possible. If you experience any discomfort in the shoulder, try backing up a little by raising your shoulders or squeezing tips of elbows to each other (not actually moving them closer).
  • Relax the sides of your trunk, outer armpits, and lower back surface all the way to just above the tailbone. You should feel your lats lengthen and feel a release.

References   [ + ]

1.Bhatt, C. R., B. Prajapati, D. S. Patil, V. D. Patel, Binodkumar GP Singh, and C. D. Mehta. “Variation in the insertion of the latissimus dorsi & its clinical importance.” Journal of orthopaedics 10, no. 1 (2013): 25-28.
2.Seated Lat Pulldown. American Council on Exercise.
3.Seated High Back Row. American Council on Exercise.
4.Chin-ups. American Council on Exercise.
5.Supermans. American Council on Exercise.
6.Cat Cows. American Council on Exercise.
7, 8.How to Loosen Up Tight Lats. Yoga Journal.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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