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Commonly referred to as "The Lats"
Nearly always referred to as “the lats” by those who fancy themselves highly knowledgeable of the muscles and the muscle groups, “the lats” is a short version of its long name: Latissimus dorsi.
This Latin term means “widest back muscle” and, not only is it a very large muscle, but also it’s an important one because of its connection to the arm.
Origin and Insertion
All of its fibres originate from places along the thoracic and lumbar spine, the lower ribs, and the crest of the pelvis.
The tendon gathers together in a spiral fashion and insert in the upper part of the upper arm bone (humerus).
Although the fibres for this muscle are in the back, it is usually considered a shoulder and arm muscle.
The Latissimus dorsi is a very powerful muscle. It allows us to move our arm in several ways. It is involved in any strong movements of the arm, such as the downward arm movements in swimming or climbing. It helps in extension, adduction and medial rotation of the arm. 2
The Latissimus dorsi is most often injured during a repetitive sports activity. Sometimes injuries to the neck and upper back will also affect the Latissimus dorsi. If this muscle is injured, you will notice it most when moving the arm (arm swings, arm extension or adduction, or rotation of the arm).
Exercises for the Lats
The most commonly used exercise for the lats is called The Lat Pulldown. You can do this exercise on a machine or with a resistance band.
If you use a resistance band, hold the band straight out in front of you at about shoulder level (you can go as high as eye level). Keep one arm straight, holding on to the band, while you bring the other hand back to your shoulder. Hold for a moment and then return the arm to straight. Repeat on the other side.
If you go to a gym, you will most likely find a lat pulldown machine. You will sit in a padded seat and reach up to pull down a bar which has weights attached to it. You can control how much weight you wish to pull down.
Stretches for the Lats
Two positions will stretch your Latissimus dorsi:
- Stand tall or lie on your back on a mat, and stretch the arms up above your head. Grab your hands together and hold. If this is difficult to do with both arms, you can do it with one arm at a time.
- Known as the 'child pose' in yoga, this is a good stretch for the Latissimus dorsi. Position yourself on a mat on your knees and fold your body down. Stretch the arms overhead, creating as much stretch for the back as possible.
For other articles about muscles, see:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors and Abductors: Muscles in the Thigh
- The Deltoids: The Shape of the Shoulder
- The Erector Spinae: Spine Muscles
- The Forearm, Elbow, and Wrist
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscle Cramps and Other Injuries
- Muscles of the Head
- The Muscular System: How it Works
- Opposing Muscles
- Pectoralis Major and Minor: The Pecs
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- Taking Care of your Feet
- The Trapezius and the Rhomboids
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.