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The Best Lat Stretches You Aren’t Doing

The latissimus dorsi, or the lats for short, play a huge role in shoulder function and health. Often times, these muscles become tight after injury, surgery, immobilization, or simply a lack of stretching or repetitive lat overuse/overdevelopment! Because they act to internally rotate and depress the shoulder girdle, they can severely limit your ability to achieve an optimal overhead position. This is a very important position for just about anyone who does anything with their arms overhead: weightlifters performing snatches, swimmers swimming, crossfitters performing kipping pull-ups, volley players spiking the ball, tennis players serving, baseball players throwing, or gymnasts performing handstands. Because so many individuals need full overhead mobility, stretching the lats is a part of many athlete’s [P]Rehab programs. This article will show you some of the best lat stretches out there, and more importantly, how to maintain your overhead mobility after lat stretching!

Lat Anatomy 101

While most people seem to “know” how to stretch each muscle, to really maximize your stretches you have to move the origin of the muscle (where it starts) as far away from the insertion of the muscle (where it ends) as possible. And when it comes to muscles that cross multiple joints like the lats, you have to take up this extra tension at each available joint to truely maximize your stretching.

best lat stretches anatomy

In the case of the lats, they have multiple origins! The lats originate on:

  • The spinous processes of vertebrae T7-L5
  • Thoracolumbar Fascia
  • Iliac Crest
  • Inferior portion of the 3rd or 4th rib
  • Inferior angle of the scapula

When it comes to stretching, the most important origin that we have control over (ie what we can voluntarily move) is the iliac crest. The iliac crest is the top portion of your hip bone. When you put your hands on your hips at your side and feel that little bump, that’s your iliac crest!

The muscle fibers of the lats all eventually make their way to our shoulder and turn into a tendon. This tendon then attaches into the front of the shoulder onto the intertubercular groove of the humerus.

When muscles contract, they typically will move the insertion closer to the origin. Thus, to stretch the lats, we would want to move the lat’s origins as far away from the insertion as possible! So to optimally stretch the lats, we need to:

  • Abduct the shoulder
  • Flex the shoulder
  • Externally rotate the shoulder
  • Posteriorly pelvic tilts the pelvis
  • Sidebend to the opposite side

These actions above should hold true inย every form of the best lat stretches to fully optimize it!

READ: Mid Back [P]Rehab


Active vs Passive Stretching

In general, when it comes to any form of muscle stretching, there are passive stretches and active stretches. Passive stretches are what most think of when it comes to stretching. Passive stretching simply involves trying to stretch the desired muscle by elongating it and holding the stretch for the desired amount of time. The key to passive stretching is you must be able to relax!


Best Passive Lat Stretches

I find hanging on a rig or doorway to be the single best passive lat stretch. You are able to perform all the necessary movements to maximize your lat stretch and relax at the same time.

The single best cue for this lat stretch is to “look under your armpit”

Doorway Lat Stretch

Keys to the exercise:

  • Keep your palms facing up. This externally rotates the shoulder which stretches the lats even further
  • Drop your back leg and hip further down to the floor to accentuate the stretch

READ: Exercises To Improve Thoracic Spine Mobility


Best Active Lat Stretches

After any sort of passive stretching, you need to actively move through the desired range of motion to “lock-in” the mobility gains you made. It’s essentially showing your brain that you now have more mobility and teaching your brain how to use it! No matter how good of a passive lat stretch you do, if you don’t follow it up with active mobility work your shortcutting your gains!

Keys to the stretch:

  • Back and shoulders must stay against the wall
  • Don’t arch your back
  • You must keep your elbows touching the entire time
  • To increase the stretch, try and separate your hands – while keeping your elbows together!

Overhead Mobility Overhaul

Overhead shoulder mobility is not only a necessity for simple day to day tasks, but it is a prerequisite for many exercises, lifts, and functional activities. Without it, your body can and will compensate from many other body regions when doing things overhead, which can expose these areas to potential unnecessary strain. If your mobility is limited due to an injury/surgery in the past, or youโ€™re just dealing with a stiff upper body that is limiting your workouts and athletic performance, this program is appropriate for you as long as you have general workout experience! Learn more HERE.ย 

Foam Roller Lift Offs

The foam roller liftoff is personally my favorite active lat stretch. Using a foam roller, really sink into your chest. This will open up the chest and increase the amount of flexion at the shoulder. Rotate your hand out, into external rotation, as you roll out. This will preferentially bias stretching the lats, as they perform internal rotation. Hold this position for a few seconds, then try and lift your hand off the foam roller for a few seconds. A good cue to use for this is to “put your scapula in your back pocket” to facilitate the lower traps and posterior tilt of the scapula. If you can’t lift your hand, donโ€™t worry! The goal is to activate your scapular muscles at the end range and learn to control the movement.


Bulletproof your shoulders for life with our 4-phase, 16-week Shoulder [P]Rehab program! Click HERE to learn more!


Best Combination Lat Stretches

The first part of this video shows Arash performing some active self-myofascial release to his lat region. Because he is moving through his range of motion in an attempt to stretch his lats, we’re going to consider this an active lat stretch.


Putting It All Together For The Best Lat Stretches

While there are many different ways to stretch your lats, the best lat stretches are combinations of a passive lat stretch followed by an active lat stretch. Hopefully, by understand what goes into the best lat stretches, you can now formulate a stretch for just about any muscle of body region, like the hip flexors!


Happy Stretching!





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