3 Tweaks for the Best Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

How to Fix Tight Lats that Can Restrict Shoulder Mobility and Hurt Posture

By Coach E

It’s time to upgrade the basic latissimus dorsi stretch. A few simple tweaks can make this stretch more effective at loosening your lats and shoulders and improving posture.

It’s time to upgrade the basic latissimus dorsi stretch. A few simple tweaks can make this stretch more effective at loosening your lats and shoulders and improving posture.

Anatomy & Function of Your Latissimus Dorsi

Your latissimus dorsi, or lat, is a big, triangular muscle that runs from the head of your humerus, down across your mid and lower back. You’ve got one lat muscle on each side of your body.

latissimus dorsi anatomy

This muscle connects to either side of your thoracic and lumbar spine via the aptly named thoracolumbar fascia – a band of tissue connecting your vertebrae to surrounding musculature.

Your lat muscle is also connected to the iliac crest – the big, superior arch along the posterior aspect of your pelvis as well as your lower ribs [1].

The muscle inserts on the front of your humerus and most of this muscle’s actions occur at your upper arm.

Your lat works to adduct your arm (bring it in toward your body), extend your arm (move your humerus behind you), and internally rotate your arm.

However, because your lat crosses your ribs, pelvis, and spine, it is influenced by the position and movements of these areas.

For example, the muscle can assist inhalation (which isn’t necessarily a good thing to be using it for) and also extend the lumbar spine.

The lats get worked really well with classic moves like chinups, rows, and pullovers, however, latissimus dorsi strengthening is probably also big part of your gym routine, whether or not you realize it.

latissimus dorsi stretch dumbbell pullover

Latissimus Dorsi Problems

The lats are usually very strong muscles. Your lats probably get worked a fair amount and can provide a lot of power. But…these muscles are usually not the most limber.

Latissimus dorsi injuries are possible, but are pretty rare due to the size and strength of the muscle.

Baseball pitchers might injure the muscle on their throwing side due to the high velocity at which they throw the ball [2] but even these injuries are pretty uncommon.

latissimus dorsi baseball

While lat injuries are rare, lat TIGHTNESS is not.

These strong muscles can easily be overworked and chronically contracted. When this happens, you might see restricted shoulder mobility and issues maintaining proper posture.

Unfortunately, many of us have been tackling our tight lats with a tired old stretch that is in desperate need of an upgrade.

The Traditional Lat Stretch

When I say “exercises for latissimus dorsi pain” or “lat stretches,” what comes to mind?

If you imagined the classic cross-body stretch, you aren’t alone. But, you also aren’t right!

latissimus dorsi stretch arm

A lot of folks assume that this stretch, with one arm reaching across your body, is hitting the lats, but that’s not the case. It stretches the rear delts and teres major more than the lats.

There’s one other stretch that you might have pictured.

latissimus dorsi stretch posture

The most common latissimus dorsi stretch involves grabbing onto a pole or rope. In this traditional stretch, you simply grab on, bend down, and hang out with your arms outstretched.

Now what this stretch IS a classic, static stretch that hits your lats. That’s fine. It will, in the moment, provide some lengthening to your lats.

But what it ISN’T is an elevated stretch that works with your neuromuscular system to encourage a lasting increase in not only flexibility and range of motion, but mobility and range of control.

Let’s learn how to upgrade this traditional stretch.

3 Tweaks for a More Effective Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

There are 3 simple tweaks to make the basic latissimus dorsi stretch much more effective.

1) Step One Foot Behind to Drop Your Iliac Crest

latissimus dorsi stretch tweak 1

We learned earlier that your lat muscles connect to both your spine the iliac crest of your pelvis through the thoracolumbar fascia.

Come into the stretch, grabbing hold of a rope or pole, straightening your arm and reaching it overhead as you bend forward into the stretch.

Next, take one foot and step behind yourself and bend into your spine, you’ll feel your hip and pelvis lower down.

This simple movement creates a bigger space between your hip and your shoulder, significantly deepening the stretch of your lat.

2) Activate the Opposing Motions

latissimus dorsi stretch
We also learned earlier that when your lats are activated (and thus contracted) they work to adduct, extend, and inwardly rotate your arm.

So, we can therefore encourage extra elongation of the lats by performing the opposite motions – arm abduction, flexion, and medial rotation.

Once you’re in the stretch, make sure your arm is overhead – if so, it will already be in full flexion and abduction away from the body. Next, externally rotate your entire shoulder and upper arm.

Activating your arm in this way will provide greater length, and a greater stretch, to the lats.

3) 3D Breathing

latissimus dorsi stretch 3d breathing

The final tweak is a powerful one that can be applied to any stretch, but is especially helpful for stretching muscles that cross the rib cage (like the lats).

As you’re in the stretch, you want to try to activate something I call 3D breathing.

Basically, focus on your breath and try to visualize your ribcage expanding and shrinking 360 degrees with every inhale and exhale.

You don’t just want to puff your chest out – you want to feel the entire ribcage (front, back, at the top of the lungs, and at the bottom or diaphragm) move and expand.

This technique will allow you to maintain core stability and relax the neuromuscular system – giving your body the signal that it’s okay to move into the stretch.

And since the lats cross your lower ribs, each big, expanded inhale will ensure still more lengthening to the muscle we’re targeting!

So next time you go to stretch out your lats, apply these 3 simple tweaks. Make sure to step one foot at a time behind, externally rotate the shoulder, and practice 3D breathing.

Your lats will get a more effective stretch, and the increased mobility should help ease shoulder tension and improve your posture!

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.