I can’t help but be slightly obsessed with the mighty latissimus dorsi. Well known as the “Lats”, they’re unmistakable on gym buffs, swimmers and gymnasts, who spend a lot of time strengthening them to develop that chiselled ‘V’ physique. Well, here’s the scoop on those much-loved superhero muscles: the latissimus dorsi are the broadest and strongest muscles of your back. They look like wings and originate on the inferior angle of the scapula, spinous processes of the last six thoracic vertebrae, last three ribs, the thoracolumbar fascia; and, posterior iliac crest (where you’ll also find the gluteus maximus – more on that later), inserting into the top of the humerus.
Wow, that’s a lot of territory covered and thus many opportunities for dysfunction. The lats are multi-taskers. Because they cross the inferior angle of the scapulae, they’re shoulder stabilizers. They’re essential in arm and shoulder movements, including extending, adducting and medially rotating the shoulder at the glenohumeral joint (where the humerus (the upper arm bone) fits into the glenoid fossa (the “socket”). If you’re a swimmer, rower, baseball or tennis player, you know how important your lats are to bringing your A-game. And if you’re not an athlete, latissimus dorsi exercises are still key to your health and wellbeing – imagine not being able to reach up to grab your favorite novel at the book store or, if you’re a little naughtier, the chocolate bar on the top shelf of your kitchen. But that’s not all! Because the lats latch onto the thoracolumbar fascia and the posterior iliac crest, they also act as stabilizers of the spine, helping you maintain proper posture and gait.
But when your wings become too tight from over activity they inhibit your ability to fly. In a nutshell, they shorten, creating a cacophony of postural imbalances that reverberate all the way from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. In the upper body, tightly wound lats can be the culprits for rounded shoulders, a forward head, increased kyphosis, neck discomfort and even shoulder impingement (the brachial plexus nerve bundle is located in that region, near the insertion at the humerus).
In the lower body, hypertonic lats will pull on the thoracolumbar fascia and may over tilt the spine anteriorly and laterally. So if you’re someone who gets low back pain, maybe your lats have something to do with it. Throw in weak glutes – which as we mentioned earlier also dock onto the posterior iliac crest – and what you’re left with is a messy gait pattern.
How can your phoenix rise from the ashes? Massage your lats with your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to release gnarly trigger points and transform the tissues’ thixotropic nature from adhesive to more supple. Yoga Tune Up® poses can also give your lats some slack. One of my favorite latissimus dorsi exercises is Parighasana or Gait pose: your lats will get a wonderful stretch from top to bottom and you’ll also enjoy a fantastic opening of the Quadratus Lomborum. And guess what? Like your lats, the QLs also anchor into the ribs and thoracolumbar fascia – but that’s another fascia-nating story!
Come back Friday for another lat liberating pose!