Top 5 Exercises to Stretch your Lats

The latissimus dorsi (Latin for "wide muscle of the back") is a large, flat, triangular muscle located on the back. It is the most powerful muscle of the spine and is responsible for movements such as pulling, pushing, and twisting. It may also assist with breathing, and may help to expand the ribcage and draw air deep into the lungs.

Lats are rarely injured. They can be strained through weightlifting or sport, but this is unusual. There tend to be more commonly injured structures in the back such as discs and facet joints.

At Surrey Physio, our team do see all kinds of back injuries including injuries to the lats (albeit rarely). However, in the overall presentation of back pains, we are more likely to diagnose disc or facet joint pain that refers to the latissimus area. If you need to see our team to get your back injury diagnosed and treated, just call us to book an appointment.

You’ll typically see highly developed lats in some sportspeople, especially those involved in overhead activities such as swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting and tennis. Lats can be overused, and over-strengthened. In bodybuilders and weightlifters who over-strengthen the lats, we often see a restriction in lifting the arms fully overhead which is a sign of shortening of the lats (and could also indicate a shoulder issue too).

Let’s look at 5 ways to stretch your Lats:

1. Lat Dorsi Stretch: Stand up next to a high shelf, or high table. Rest your elbows on the shelf or table. Drop your knees slightly and shift your hips back without moving your arms to feel a stretch around the armpits of both shoulders. This will create a stretch to the latissimus dorsi muscle (you will feel the stretch under the armpit, and towards the shoulder blade). Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds, and repeat three times.

2. Overhead Dowel Abduction: Hold a dowel rod above your head, and use your good arm to assist your painful arm in moving away from your body. Only go as far as feels comfortable, unless your therapist advises you otherwise. This exercise helps improve mobility of the shoulder, in its later stages of rehabilitation. If you don't have a dowel rod, you can use a broom stick or golf club. Repeat ten times each side, pushing the stretch at the top of the movement. Repeat for three sets.

3. Teres Stretch with Lats: Stand up and place your arm up towards your ear. Wrap your arm over and around your head. You should feel a gentle stretch just beneath your arm pit. Pull against your arm, and side-bend. This is the teres major stretch but also stretches the lats on that side. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, and repeat three times.

4. Triceps and Lats Stretch: Lift your arm above your head, and try to pull your arm back down while putting resistance through the elbow. Your arm should not move. Side bend your body away from your arm to create a stretch just behind your armpit. This exercise stretches your triceps and latissimus dorsi muscle. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, and repeat three times.

5. Hanging: Hang from a bar and try to gently take the weight off your legs. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Avoid using the door frame or other less secure objects to perform this exercise. It's useful for tractioning and stretching the muscles and joints across the shoulders and spine. Hand for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat three times.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you need to see our team, please call us at Surrey Physio. If you have any comments about this article, please send your feedback to us by email. Thanks for reading!

(Physios and Therapists: these videos are provided by Rehab My Patient – the best exercise prescription software for therapists to prescribe exercises Patients: if you are a patient needing advice, call Surrey Physio to book a telephone/video consultation with one of our expert physios or osteopaths, or book in face-to-face for an appointment. You can call us on 0208 685 6930 or book online by clicking the link at the top of the page. Follow us on Instagram: @surreyphysio or Facebook