Huge Lats Dude – The Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi are wide, generally flat, triangular shaped dorso-lateral muscles on the posterior of the trunk. Each person has two, bisected laterally by the sagittal plane, with the spinal column running down the middle, separating the pair. Each muscle is posterior to the arm, and partly overlapped by the trapezius on its median dorsal region.
Each of the two latissimus dorsi originate on their corresponding side to the spinous processes of the vertebrae, specifically T7 to L5, the thoracolumbar fascia, the iliac crest, inferior 3 or sometimes 4 ribs and the inferior angle of the scapula. Each inserts at the floor of the intertubercular groove of the humerus.
Given the relatively large size and multiple points of origin, this muscle plays a key role in a variety of movements in the human body. The latissimus dorsi, or “lats” as they are commonly known, work to extend the back, adduct the arms, create horizontal adduction of the arms, flexion of the trunk when in an extended position, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint. It also assists in the extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine synergistically.
For an image of latissimus dorsi development, check out the great Franco Columbu example
Strength can be developed through traditional weight training movements. These include:
• Pull-ups or weighted pull-downs – example
• Rows of various types – example
• Pull-overs – generally performed supine on a bench – example
• Deadlifts – example
Since most of the exercises that strengthen the lats involve pulling – either a weight towards yourself while your body is fixed, or yourself towards a fixed position, activating and building strength in a yoga context can be more difficult.
However, some poses, if done correctly, can target this harder to reach area as well. Some of them are:
• Chaturanga Dandasana
• Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)
• Utpluthi
• Lolasana
• Bakasana
The form needed to most effectively target the lats in each of these asanas is generally the same:
1. Move slowly – momentum is the enemy
2. Contract the lats as you transfer your weight through the movement.
3. Perform each exercise in sets – ideally 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.
4. Don’t just hold as an isometric, but move from the bottom to the top of the range of motion, and back again.
For example, starting in a high plank position, arms straight and core engaged, slowly lower the body towards the floor. Keep the elbows pressed tightly into the ribs, and the scapula pulled apart so that the upper back takes on a rounded, dome-like shape. Don’t let your hips sink, or your scapula come together.
As the angle in your arms reaches 90°, hold, and press slowly back up to the top, continuing to contract the lats.
*for arm balance asanas, try moving in and out of them with control, holding for 3-5 breaths each time, again, for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.
I speak from experience when saying that a lack of flexibility in the latissimus dorsi can be the source of much frustration while practicing yoga. Since the lats insert at the humerus, tightness can effect shoulder and arm mobility as in tadasana, the thoracic region of the back as in setu bandhasana (transferring much of the stretch painfully into the lumbar spine), and certainly any asanas where both areas are involved, such as urdhva dhanurasana.
To stretch the lats, simply move through those asanas that are most limited by their lack of flexibility. Slow, long held tadasana, ardha chakrasana, both to the back and side, forward bends like uttanasana, or baddha konasana B will provide a more gentle stretch. For a more intense lengthening, focus on urdhva dhanurasana, as well as padangustasana, padahastasana or prasarita padottanasana D, using the pulling action of the arms and lateral rounding of the back to stretch and lengthen.
Michael Thompson – 200hr YTT Weekend Warriors