The latissimus dorsi (also known as “lats”) is a super important back muscle. You use it every time you pull something towards you. Recently I’ve come to recognize how little attention and love I give to this muscle.
I train in karate. One of the requirements to move up in rank is to do 3 chin-ups. This feels like an almost impossible feat to me. I can throw someone, break-fall safely, punch, kick, spar … but chin-ups elude me.
It is definitely a bit of a mental game. Thoughts like this fill my brain: I’ve never had great upper body strength, I’m a woman, I’m almost 50. But … I can do 25+ push-ups and I’ve seen other women, older than me do chin-ups. So I guess my mental story just isn’t true. The real story is that to do chin-ups, I need to work technique and strength. To strengthen the main muscles that get recruited to in chin-ups – the latissimus dorsi.
The latissimus dorsi is a large V-shaped muscle of your back with two segments that sit on either side of the spine. From Latin, latissimus (“broadest”) + dorsi (“the back”), it is one of the widest muscles in the human body.
What do lats do?
The main work of the lats is to:
- extend the shoulders (e.g., when pulling things towards you),
- adduct the shoulders (bring your arms in towards your sides) and
- internally rotate your shoulders.
Lats are also an accessory muscle to breathing during inspiration.
Where are they located?
The latissimus dorsi is in the group of muscles known as superficial. Lats lie toward the surface of your back attached to the shoulder girdle.
The latissimus dorsi originates in your lower/middle back. Specific points of origin are: the iliac crest, sacrum, spinous processes of the lumbar and lower thoracic spine, lower three ribs and inferior angle of the scapula. It goes all the way into your shoulder, inserting on the upper, medial humerus. The muscle is narrow by the arm and wide closer to the spine, which creates a fan like appearance across the back.
What have lats done for you lately?
The latissimi dorsi are key muscles used in all kinds of sporting activities. For example, swimming, maneuvering a kayak, rowing and climbing. In your day-to-day life, you use your lats to close things in a downward motion, like the trunk of your car. Lats are engaged when you extend your arm as you walk, unzip your dress in back, or swing a hammer. Anytime you need to pull something towards you (like get a heavy box from a shelf overhead or restrain your excited doggo), you recruit your lats.
What can you do to love your lats back?
Here are some things you can do to build both strength and mobility in your latissimi dorsi.
Yoga Tune Up® Poses
Strengthen and lengthen your lats by doing:
- Gomukhasana (Cow Face) Shoulder Series and
- Shoulder Flossing.
These poses move the shoulder through internal rotation/extension; and external rotation/flexion.
- Holy Cow at the Trough focuses on shoulder movement in opposition to the work of the lats, with heavy external rotation and flexion.
- Bonus Pose – Dancing with Myself
Other Yoga Poses
Other yoga poses to stretch your latissimus dorsi include:
- Balasana (Child’s Pose)
- Garudasana Arms (Eagle Arms), and
- Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).
At the Gym, strengthen your lats with:
- Rows (seated row, one-armed dumbbell etc.)
- Lat Pulldowns
- Superwomans and of course …
- Chin-ups and pull-ups.
Along my journey to three chin-ups I have done all of these exercises. Plus I train chin-ups with an exercise band (over the bar, foot in the band). Now, on a good day, I can get two. And I feel like three is actually in the realm of possibility … Go Lats Go!