It’s time to shine some light on one of the under appreciated muscles in our bodies, the latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi muscle connects the upper body to the lower body through a range of attachments on the vertebral column. The lats are one of the biggest muscles in our bodies that have a huge mechanical effect on numerous joints.
The lats aren’t just a big muscle, they are capable of stabilizing the core as well as increasing your strength, and stability in push, pull, and hinge patterns. That sounds like a pretty impressive and important muscle to be aware of. Now that the lats are in the spotlight it’s time for the secret to get out on how to engage your lats to help create tension and strength during your exercises.
Lets start with hinge patterns, if we focus on activating our lats to create tension, we are also creating spinal stability in the lower back. When we talk about hinge patterns think of deadlifts. Now you could be wondering how the lats could have any effect on your deadlift when that exercises targets more obvious muscles in the lower body like the glutes and hamstrings. But have you ever deadlifted and felt it in your lumbar spine/ lower back? Well my friends; that could be one sign of lacking lat engagement. The lats are a strong stabilizer for the lumbar spine and they resist any improper tension or flexion that could be produced during the lift. The secret to being stronger during your deadlift is to first start with lat engagement. If I was to put two delicious oranges in your arm pits, you are going to squeeze your arms and elbows into your side and try to pop those oranges out.. cause no one actually deadlifts with oranges in their armpits that’s just weird.. and you don’t want to be weird.. right? But by driving your arms and elbows into your sides you should already be creating active tension in your lats which is a magical thing. Once you create that tension you are increasing strength and stability in your lower back which can help you become stronger and increase the weight for your lift.
Lat muscles don’t only create added strength to our lower body lifts, it can also help with upper body patterns like our push, pull and core stability patterns. When we think of pull-ups we think of muscling through it with sheer power from our back and arms but what about the secret lat muscles. Remember the secret, engage the lats, find tension in order to create stability and gain extra strength. During pull-ups, engage those lats, feel as if you’re going to pull the bar apart by pulling your elbows down into your sides and squeezing those oranges. The lats will take some pressure off your shoulders as your engaging more muscles. Same goes with push-ups, they aren’t just a shoulder/ chest exercise. Slightly cork screw your hands, squeeze those oranges and boom the lats will help to stabilize the lumbar spine and your core will come alive to help create a strong pushup. When you are working on core exercises, lets use the good ole mountain climber exercise as an example. Lat activation again will make your mountain climber more efficient and stronger. Slightly corkscrew those hands, feel as if you once again are squeezing those oranges and let yourself feel your lats fire up.
Next time you are at the gym working on push, pull or hinge patterns, welcome yourself to the wonderful world of lat engagement. Time to make your body your own machine!