Basic Anatomy of Stretching the Lats

*Updated 4/18/18
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Understanding the basic anatomy of the lats is important to know how to effectively stretch the muscle without irritating the joint by over-stressing it.

The biggest thing you want to make sure you are doing when you are stretching the lats is....stretching the lats. However obvious this may seem, frequently when people try to stretch the lats, they feel tightness on the top of their shoulder, which is an indication the lats aren't being stretched, the shoulder joint is getting to its end range of motion (meaning the bones of the shoulder are the limiting factor).

The lats literally attach your low back to your arms. The name 'latissimus dorsi', which is the technical name for the lats, literally means broadest muscle of the back.

It begins all the way down in your lower back and attaches onto your arm bone (humerus) to create shoulder joint internal rotation and extension.

Since the lats attach into your lower back, your low back positioning will affect the stretch you have on your lats. You can use these anatomical attachments to more effectively stretch the lats.


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How to Use the Anatomy to Your Stretching Advantage

When you turn your shoulder into external rotation, it tightens the lats (the position your shoulder would be in if you did a pull up underhand, which is technically called a chin up).

When you turn your shoulder into internal rotation, it loosens the lats (the position your shoulder would be in during a standard overhead pull up).

When you round your lower back, as if you were 'tucking your hips under', it would tighten the lats from the low back.

When you arch your low back (into extension) it will loosen the lats based on the lower back attachments.

When you side bend to the right, it will tighten your left lats and loosen the right lats.

Using these anatomical attachments and understanding how that affects the tension in the lats, we can more effectively target the lats.

For example, if you attempted to stretch this muscle but had your lower back in extension, you would be more likely stressing the shoulder joint and less likely targeting the lats.

How to Maximally Stretch the Lats

Understanding the anatomy allows us to maximally stretch the lats, here is the set up  for stretching your left lats:

  1. Round your lower back
  2. Side bend to the right
  3. Externally rotate your left shoulder joint
  4. Lean back into the stretch

From here you can use many different stretching techniques. We have an article showing a way to fully address the lats using soft tissue work, stretching, and activation.

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