Safety / Injuries
Best Exercises to Strengthen and Stretch Your Lats at Home
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Work out at the gym and there are many pieces of equipment that can help you strengthen and stretch the muscle in your mid to lower back. You can use a barbell and weight plates to perform deadlifts or to do a lat-building bench press. Using a pull-up bar builds this muscle as well.
But how can you work your latissimus dorsi when exercising at home, when you don’t have access to any real gym equipment? Before we answer that, let’s look at a few of the reasons why you should build this particular muscle.
Benefits of a Strong, Flexible Lat Muscle
You use your latissimus dorsi muscle many times throughout the day. Every time you pick up your children or grandchildren, this muscle is engaged. You also use it when grabbing grocery bags from your trunk or when pulling weeds.
You even use it when sitting at your desk. Turn to the side to grab a paper from the printer and you’ll not only engage your abdominal muscles, but also your latissimus dorsi. Keeping your lats strong and flexible enables you to perform all these tasks with ease.
Regularly working your lats also improves your overhead mobility. This makes it possible to grab items off higher shelves in your kitchen, closet, or garage without experiencing stiffness or pain. Tight lats can prevent you from doing any of these things by limiting your shoulder mobility.
Poor posture has many negative health consequences. These include increased risk of back pain and digestive issues such as heartburn, constipation, and incontinence. Strengthening your latissimus dorsi supports a healthy posture. Specifically, this muscle helps keep your thoracic spine and lumbar spine in proper alignment.
Did you know that having short, tight lats can lead to rounded shoulders? Rounded shoulders mean that, when sitting or standing, your shoulders aren’t in line with your spine. Instead, they’re hunched forward. This can lead to pain in your neck and back.
It is also your lats that help you develop the V-shape you see in most bodybuilders. Strong lats tighten the core, providing a more tone physique. So, how do you build this muscle when you’re working out at home?
Top At-Home Exercises for Building Strength in the Latissimus Dorsi Muscle
Admittedly, certain pieces of equipment can make it easier to build big lats. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good back workout when exercising in your living room or home gym.
Lat Exercises Requiring No Equipment at All
If you have absolutely no gym equipment at your house, you can still use your body’s weight to get a good lat workout. Push-ups are a prime example. In addition to building your lats, this exercise also works a number of muscles in your upper body. It builds the muscle in your chest, shoulders, and arms.
Another exercise to consider is the Superman. When holding this outstretched position while lying on your front, you can feel the tension in your mid to lower back.
The jackknife is typically associated with building stronger abdominal muscles. However, it too works your lats. So, including this bodyweight exercise in your at-home workout is a great way to increase strength in your lower back.
If You Have a Resistance Band
There are also several exercises you can do with a resistance band if you have one at home. Doing these will give you a wide back up top and a trim midsection.
One is a lat pulldown. Anchor the middle of your band around an over-the-door hook, get on one knee, and pull the two ends of the band down toward your body. You should feel the tension in your lats, as well as your upper arm.
You can also use a resistance band to do a squatted row. Run the band around the leg of a sturdy table and pull the ends of the band toward you while in a squatting position. This exercise works your quads and hamstrings in addition to your back.
Building Stronger Lats with Free Weights
Do you have a set of hand weights at home? If so, you can do a dumbbell row to build your latissimus dorsi. If you don’t have a bench to bend over, you can always use the seat of a chair. Just be sure to do this movement on both sides so you don’t wind up with a muscle imbalance.
If you have a barbell, you can also work the muscles along your spine by doing a barbell row. The benefit of this exercise is that you work both of your lats at the same time. This is helpful if you don’t have a lot of time to work out.
You can also do a deadlift or back fly with dumbbells. Choose weights heavy enough to create good tension, but not so heavy that you risk hurting the muscles in your shoulder or back.
Using a Suspension Trainer for Your At-Home Lat Workout
Suspension trainers are another good way to build your lats when you can’t make it to the gym. Simply anchor the device to the top of a door or wall and you have instant access to an effective at-home workout.
Suspension training exercises for your latissimus dorsi include single-arm suspension rows, Y-raises, and W-raises. Each of these movements will build the muscle in your lower back.
What’s the Best Latissimus Dorsi Stretch?
Tight lats not only limit your movement, but they can also lead to pain. Sometimes this pain is felt along your mid to lower spine. Other times it appears in your upper body, such as in your shoulders, around your shoulder blade, or even down your arms.
Regular stretching can help prevent or ease pain caused by tight muscles in your hips or back. Which stretch is best for elongating your latissimus dorsi? The answer to this question is less about the stretches themselves and more about the sequence you do them in.
There are two types of stretches: passive stretching exercises and active stretching exercises. Passive stretching movements require an external force, such as a wall or strap. Active stretches don’t require any outside objects. Instead, you force the stretching motion yourself versus using an object to supply the force.
To get the best stretch of your latissimus dorsi muscle, do a passive stretching movement followed by an active stretch. This helps ease tight lats, also relieving any resulting pain.
You can use any doorway to get a good passive lat stretch. For instance, when standing in the doorway, grab the left side of the doorway with your right hand. Next, drop your right foot behind you and slide it closer to the left side of the doorway. You should feel a stretch all along your rib cage. Follow this type of movement with an active lat stretch, such as an active floor stretch or side bend.
If you have a foam roller, this can help you stretch your latissimus dorsi too. Foam rolling helps release tight connective tissues around your lat muscles, such as your thoracolumbar fascia.
How Often Should You Strengthen and Stretch Your Lats?
Ideally, you should strengthen and stretch your lats two or three times a week. Giving them 24-48 hours between each strength training session helps them recover before working them again. This reduces the likelihood of an overuse injury, which can result in pain.
Stretching your latissimus dorsi a few times a week also helps reinforce maximum flexibility. Elongating the muscle fibers keeps them mobile and increases their range of motion. Benefits of these stretches extend beyond this muscle group. They can also help relieve shoulder pain, improve lateral flexion (your ability to bend sideways), and more.
To learn more ways to help your clients prevent low back, shoulder, and knee pain, the ISSA offers a Corrective Exercise Specialist certification. This course teaches you some of the most common movement dysfunctions and how to resolve them. It also explains how to restore structural alignment, which can relieve pain too.
Corrective Exercise Specialist
The ISSA's Corrective Exercise Course will help you learn how to identify and correct the most common movement dysfunctions that you are likely to see in a wide range of clients, from the weekend warrior to the serious athlete. Both health care professionals and certified personal trainers can benefit from this distance education course, learning more about how people move incorrectly and how to guide them to correct those dysfunctions.
Please note: The information provided in this course is for general educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider regarding particular medical conditions and needs.