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.

Your lats are involved in more movements than you might think.

Your lats are involved in more movements than you might think.

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!

 

Enjoyed this article? Read Teres Major Help for Synchronized Swimmers

Emilie Mikulla

Having contracted a major case of wanderlust, Emilie has traveled the world, working as journalist, and now lives Dubai. After a second surgery on her spine, Emilie followed a lengthy Pilates rehabilitation program and, amazed by the results in her own body, became a comprehensively trained Pilates instructor in 2008. Emilie has taught in Thailand, South Africa, Dubai and in San Francisco. Emilie is an E-RYT and has completed her trainings with YogaWorks and Yoga Tree San Francisco, before earning her Yoga Tune Up® certification from Jill Miller. She has also spent hundreds of hours assisting her mentor Harvey Deutch PT at RedHawk Physical Therapy clinic in San Francisco, in teacher trainings, and on retreats at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. She has also recently participated in a week-long cadaver dissection workshop with Gil Hedley of Integral Anatomy. Emilie is the Lifestyle Editor for Women's Health & Fitness Middle East where she contributes a variety of articles and columns ranging from fitness and wellness, inspirational stories and nutrition. Blending dynamic movement with therapeutic releases, Emilie’s classes will empower you to practice the activities you love with awareness and joy.

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Primavera G

Another great stretch for the lats is kneeling with your elbows together and holding a block at different levels. Then rest your elbows on a surface and sink your chest down so the shoulders flex. This one is tricky but delicious when you can get it right.

Marta Hanrahan

The way you paint the picture and create imagery around the lats makes so much sense. helpful!-thanks!

Rachel Taylor

Reading this on my third day of YTU Level 1 Teacher Training, what’s really jumping out at me is how much this post follows the Context Grid approach that is a big part of the training. It explains why we should care about the lats, how the muscles work, which types of exercises they affect, and what movements in daily life will be helped through lat strength and flexibility. It’s a very useful approach to thinking about the body and movement.

Lorraine

Thanks Emilie, you explain the many functions of the lats so well. Great imagery.

Paula

Great info on the Lats! Although I always thought I was “aware of them” in my own body, a recent exercise in a Yoga Tune Up training uncovered this body blind spot. Your article helps to point out all that it can affect and I am beginning to understand the Lats more clearly! Also, thanks for my new word “thixotropic”, diving into that link next 😉

Audrey Snowdon

Thank you for the informative article about the lats. Interesting how the lats can even affect the gait. It’s a good reminder to work the therapy balls along the lats and open up with Parighasana.

Peter Southall

Thanks for the elaborating on this muscle’s function

Leah

I love the way you paint the picture and create imagery around the wings of the last. I’m someone trying to assimilate all this anatomy into my practice and this was very helpful!-thanks!

Dejia

Well, this just gives me a whole new angle to chew on for my low back pain! I still remember being an awkward teenage girl and my dad loudly exclaiming that my shoulders were, “built like a linebacker”….gee. Thanks, dad. Just what every 13 year old girl wants to hear, haha! In all seriousness though, as an ex-gymnast with low back pain that I haven’t been able to kick for over 2 years now despite doing PT, etc., etc. I’m pretty curious to explore this new train of thought! Appreciate the suggestions for what specifically to try too, thank you!

Jamie Walsh

Interesting… Never tied lats into back pain before. Could use some work on this. I roll them out occasionally but probably not enough. It’s been a muscle I have focused on strengthening but not releasing.

Thanks for the article Emilie.

Marie streich

Wonderful thorough explanation of the anatomy and function of the latissimus Doris, many people are weak in this area. Now that I know what an big important muscle this is I will be teaching more poses to strengthen and stretch the lats . Thanks !

Austin Way

Wow! Great blog post describing the importance of our lats and the possible roll they play when someone is suffering from low back pain. Great read!

Emma

I’m so glad you wrote this article to not only promote the need for lat strengthening, but for stretching the latissimus dorsi! Everything in moderation… I am often concerned that there is too much emphasis on shoulder depression and that students can start to create just as much dysfunction at or below the level of the scapula as they might be experiencing in the upper trapezius fibers above the the level of the scapula. Thanks for sharing!

Erik Love

This one is super important for me. Shaking cocktails all night at work really works out my shoulders and especially my Lats. This builds a ton of tension that goes from my lower back up to my neck. It’s really amazing and haven’t ever realized that just rolling them out can really relieve that pain. Looks like I’ll be able shake cocktails for a little while longer!

Ethan Hammond

As you said, the lats cover such a large area, they can easily cause dysfunction in either the shoulder, scapula, or low back. I have a sneaking suspicion now that I have some extra tension in my lats inhibting full shoulder flexion. Thanks for bringing this to light!

Patti Breitbach Rashid

Wow! Very informative post. I really liked how you included the other maladies that can be caused by tight lats. Thanks goodness for the YTU balls!!

Matt Halawnicki

The lats can really wreak some havoc. Thank goodness all it takes is some self care to keep everything balanced and in check.

Olga

Thats great. i never payed attention before that lats are connected to the iliac and may be the reason of hyper-lordose and lower back pain. All work out should be balanced and its important to add ads exercises in the back/ chest session to re-equilibrate the core

kelsey aidan friedlander

what sweet, sweet multi-taskers they are. this was really thorough – thanks

Tiffany

Omg! Great article! Didn’t know low back pain could be from tight lats! Plus glutes! Well, they are quite large muscles so it’s no surprise they affect so many other muscles! But low back pain can be a result of many different tightnesses! Good to know where we can check and make a link!

Sarah

I love the different lists for how short last will impact the top body and the lower body. So many of us do not realize the impabt of lats on our lower body. We always see them as the upper body superhero s they certainly are! Thanks for pointing out the two areas.

Christiane Parcigneau

Thank you for this information! It never dawned on me that one of the causes of my anterior pelvic tilt may be my Lats. As I work to “spread my wings” I’ll be mindful to notice the difference in my spinal alignment and overall posture.

Kassandra Barker

I really like that this information is presented how it is. The lats, thoracolumbar fascia and glutes relationship is often neglected.

Caitlin

It’s amazing to me the interconnectedness of our body. I never thought of the lats in relation to the gluts, very interesting the effect on each other and our posture.

Alison Pignolet

Thanks for a great round up of the Lats and especially the link on “thixtropic”. I have my word of the week 🙂 Also love the “cacophony of postural imbalances”! What a great way to describe it. Kudos from a fellow word geek.

Nicole Adell

Great breakdown of the location of the Lats And how they function. Never thought of my Lats being connected to my posterior iliac crest which effects my glutes. This is also great information for dancers as well. I see how important it is to not only be strong in this area but to have this muscle mobile especially in regards to the lower back and spine.

Thu Maraia

I totally agree, the lats and gluteus group of musles are all connected, weak glutes will create more tension on our lats and upper body. Defintitely so true, Stregnth training for all areas of muscles is so important, not just one group of muscles.. Balance…

Cindy Thomas

I love the blogs that include an anatomy review. Thanks for the good description of the Lats. I love the concept, lots of territory, lots of opportunity for dysfunction. This muscle covers a large expanse, so it is an important muscle to roll out to avoid upper and lower back dysfunction .

Ben Pace

Working with the lats for the rounded shoulders/extra kyphosis is such a great tool. Bonus extra flexion of the GH!

Karolina hess

We are so complicated! So many pieces have to fall in place for us to be able to move. It’s helpful to read quick anatomy reviews and keep on exploring what’s hiding underneath.

karen

thanks Emilie,I love how you say ” when your wings become too tight from over activity they inhibit your ability to fly”Just thinking of opening my wings gives me a better sense of how this muscle feels in my body. I love using the Yoga Tune Up balls to to keep my wings in flight!

carol

Actively releasing the lats via the “superman” stretch has helped many clients who feel like they cannot fully flex their shoulders. It often does not occur to them that it’s their lats.

Cathy Mook

Thanks for a great explanation!!! I have had so much tightens in this area from years of dental hygiene and rolling this out while breathing deeply helped to open this area up and breath better as well as released the shoulder girdle!

Anne

Great blog, thanks. Always amazing how much real estate associated with the lats! Great observation about how tight lats can exert enough pull to be the culprits for rounded shoulders, forward heads and even shoulder impingement.

Leslie

Aha! Thixotropic!
What a diabolical Scrabble word. . . I play often, and now I am aware that I will be using my latissimus dorsi to draw the Scrabble tiles from the bag in order to place them on their wooden holder.

Janine

Thank you for the description of the Lats! They may become my new personal obsession as well!

Sara

Thanks for the great explanation of the lats and how they are often forgotten in both shoulder and low back stabilisation.

Melissa Harris

I love that word “thixotropic” to describe the process of using the YTU balls to stir up the tissues. It really gives you a vision of taking this stuck adhered tissue and creating space for movement and fluidity.

James

The latissimus dorsi muscles are the muscles that I often associate with being analogous to bat wings. Using the yoga therapy ball or any type of direct massage to the muscles of the back not only helps with the health of those muscles, but can also help a person to relax because the muscles of the back, especially the deep muscles have a direct relationship to the nerves that exit the spine, including the sympathetic trunk on the posterior abdominal wall. Having these muscles tensed could also affect the surrounding nerves and vasculature.

Cristina G.

Thanks Emilie for posting article about the complexity of the latissimus dorsi due to its various origin points. I have a rounded posture which I’ve been trying to reverse by rolling out my shoulders and chest (with the YTU balls), but based on this article it appears I also need to roll out and stretch my lats more. As I learn more about how the body is interconnected, it appears that I need to roll out more parts of my body than I originally thought. If I have limited time in my day to roll on balls to help improve… Read more »

MICHELLE

We need our lats for so many daily activities. I wish body builders knew this! It makes sense that they can become tight from over activity and may shorten, I need to keep this in mind when my muscle men come to class and incorporate more poses to lengthen the area.

Rachel Peppler

Hi Emilie! Thanks for explaining that the way you did. The back is definatly an area that is focused on in the gym but not understood in how it relates to and affects the rest of the body and how it moves. I teach Pilates and it’s one of the areas I like to focus on with my clients/particapants. Now I know a little more. 🙂