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Are your Lats the key?

The key to what? I don't know...a catchy title? While I don't believe any one muscle or thing to be the key to all injuries or problems, the lats are a big player in shoulder and core actions. So keep reading to learn more...


Latissimus Dorsi or better known as lats are one of the largest muscles in your body, expanding from your thoracic spine at T7 to your iliac crest (hip bone) and your last 3-4 ribs then out to your humerus (arm bone). This muscle makes up a majority of your back!

Its job: extend, adduct and internally rotate your arm. If the arm is fixed (not moving), the lat will help to elevated the trunk. To simplify, it helps bring your arm behind you, towards your side and turning your palm away from you reaching across behind your back or with a fixed arm pull you up. Typically you see the greatest lat size and strength in swimmers because of the action of pulling your arm down through the water. It is also known as the "V" muscle.



When we think lats in the gym, we typically think pull-ups. Makes sense, the lats are the prime mover during pull-ups. But the lats can play a much bigger roll in your lifts. If you are doing Crossfit gymnastic movements such as toes to bar or muscle-ups, then lats are key here. Many people can't hit the right rhythm on toes to bar and it is because they are focused on getting their toes to the bar rather than the shoulder action would should be throwing the bar away (getting those lats firing).


But lats go much further than just bar work or body over the bar movements.

Lats are a big stabilizer in the core and in creating tension.

For example, one of the biggest faults in deadlifts is a lack of lat engagement which causes the bar to drift too far away and causes you to lose your tension forcing a rounding of the spine. Proper engagement of the lats not only makes your less likely to injury yourself but it also helps create a better efficiency resulting in those PRs.


The first picture lats are not engaged. The second picture lats engaged bringing the bar closer and reducing rounding of the spine.


So far we've touched on lats being a big mover and creator of action. However lats play a role in mobility.

They can be tight and limit your overhead mobility (miss those squat snatches much?) or your kipping mobility (think arch position). How do you know if your lats are tight?

Try the screen below to know whether your lats are a limiting factor in your overhead motion or something else.



Do this screen by either laying on a bench or in the floor. With your legs flat or straight reach overhead with the PVC or just 1 arm. If you arm lays flat you have adequate shoulder ROM. Next you must tension the lats.






Lift your knees up to 90 degrees. Then reach PVC back overhead. If you have less motion than you did in the first test, you likely have a lat mobility issue.


To further tension the lats, palms up on the PVC and repeat.







Due to the nature of compensation that can occur with lifting and bodyweight exercises when something is tight or weak, we can see pain in your wrists or elbows with your lifts (especially overhead but even back squats)! Many times where we have pain is just the symptom, not the cause. The lats are an important key (see tied the title back in) when we are addressing upper body pain and limitations because they play a role in both moving the arm and limiting the arm movement. If you did not pass the lat flexibility test, you need to be working on improving the flexibility and mobility of your lats to achieve a better overhead or kipping position.


If you failed the lat screen test, try out a few of the following exercises to help create more mobility.







If you passed the lat flexibility test, that's not your issue however that just one piece of the puzzle. If you are still at a loss, call Body Fix 180 to get an evaluation! We can determine your missing pieces and set you on the right track.


If your lats just aren't doing the job getting you up and over the bar, keep strengthening them and try exercises like pull-ups especially negatives, lat pulldowns, straight arm-pulldowns using bands or machines. Muscle takes time to build and effort to do so!




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