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15 Exercises to Stretch and Build Your Lats | Build Your Back

Feeling tight in your back and shoulders may have more to do with your lats than you realize. This is why lats stretches are so important to building and mobilizing your back. 

Stretching the lats not only gives you more freedom of movement in your upper body, but it also allows you to gain more access to the strength of your upper body muscles.

Lat stretching can open up the pathways so you are able to use the entirety of your back muscles when pushing, pulling, lifting, and more. 

What are Your Lat Muscles?

What makes your lats so important is they connect at five different points including the spine, pelvis, ribs, scapula, and upper arm. This makes your lats a crucial component of many different upper body functions. 

The lats essential functions aid in adducting, rotating, and extending the arms, as well as pulling the arms back and down towards the hips.

Any pulling action you perform, whether that is starting a lawnmower, rowing, or pull-ups require activation of the lat muscles.

Where Are Your Lats?

The lats are one of the largest muscles in your back and insert at your upper arm bone, known as your humerus. 

If you are unsure exactly where your lats are, they are the triangularly shaped muscles that cover the width of your middle and lower back, creating a taper from your shoulder to your waist. 

When to Stretch

Stretching the lats should be part of any exercise routine that includes weightlifting, sports, or pushups. Performing lat stretches after your workout can help prevent any exercise induced soreness, and keep you feeling loose and mobile. 

You also can stretch lats whenever you're stretching biceps. 

Stretches for lats also counteract tightness involved in extensive pushing or pressing. Many exercise routines focus on pushing and pressing to build muscles in the anterior (front) side of the body, but this can round your shoulders and affect your posture. 

Lats stretching can help level this out so your body is balanced and you do not put yourself at risk of injury. Thus, it can be beneficial to stretch the lats any time you are feeling tightness in your upper body, whether you have been hunched at a computer for a few hours, or just waking up in the morning. 

15 Ways to Stretch Lats

Now that you know you should be stretching your lats, it’s important to understand how to stretch the lats. Try out these 15 ways to stretch your lats:

15. Foam Roller Lift Offs

Your Yoga Strong Roller can be used for more than myofascial release, as foam roller lift offs are a great lat stretching for shoulder mobility.
Here are the steps:

  1. Start on all 4 fours with the Roller in front of your hands,  then sit back onto your heels.
  2. Next, place your right hand on the roller with the thumb facing up.
  3. Now, engage your shoulder muscles and lift off your hand from the Roller so there is no contact with the roller.

With foam roller lift offs, you should feel your shoulder and lat muscles deeply engaged. This is a great exercise for overhead mobility and end range flexibility. 

14. Active Floor Stretch

The active floor stretch does not need any outside equipment, which makes it an effective stretch for lats at home or on the go. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Start in a kneeling position on all 4s 
  2. Then, sit your hips back towards your heels and rest your right forearm on the floor. 
  3. Next, slightly put more weight onto your right arm and straighten and reach as far as you can with your left arm.

This lat stretch is effective for opening up the entire left side of your torso. 

13. Overhead Lat Stretches

Overhead lat stretches are especially important for those that lift weights or play sports that require high velocity movements in the overhead position, such as tennis. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Raise your right arm overhead, completely straight. 
  2. After that, grab your right wrist with your left. 
  3. Once you have a firm grasp, sway your hip to the right, as you pull your right wrist left side overhead. 

The laterally flexed hip, coupled with the overhead lat stretch, can combine for an intense stretch that hits the lat and entire right side body. 


12. Exercise Ball Stretch

The exercise ball stretch has similarities to the foam roller lift off, but since an exercise ball has more height, it makes this stretch less intense. But this lat stretch still helps lengthen the lats and improve overhead mobility. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Start on all four hands and knees, with an exercise ball in front of you.
  2. Now that you’re ready, with a straight right arm, place your right hand on the ball with your thumb facing up.
  3. At the same time, press your left hand firmly into the ground to support the next movement. 
  4. Now, start to slightly sink your chest and arch your back, and you should feel a big stretch in your right side lat.

If you do not have an exercise ball available, this lat stretch can be performed with a chair, sofa, or any surface area that has more height than a foam roller. The height provides more leverage so you can feel a deeper stretch for lats. 


11. Passive Hanging Doorway Lat Stretch

The passive hanging doorway lat stretch is great at stretching the lats because you can also use your hip to intensify the stretch. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand in a doorway and raise your right arm straight overhead.
  2. Then, reach overhead to the left side to grab the door frame.
  3. When you have a firm grip, take your right leg and cross it over behind your left leg. 
  4. Now, try to passively hang without losing your grip to open up the lats.

With the aid of your leg crossed behind you, the entire side body can feel this lat stretch, while decompressing the spine and helping inhibit common back problems, like back pain while coughing.


10. Wall Press

The wall press is a variation of the exercise ball stretch that you can perform if you have no available equipment. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand about 2 feet from a wall and facing the wall. 
  2. Next, place both hands firmly on the wall.
  3. Now, slowly hinge at your hips to bend forward, letting your back arch, then hold. 

Since the position of your arms is now above your spine, you should feel a good stretch for lats. In addition, the arching of your back should loosen up your thoracic spine. 

9. Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is great for lat stretching as well as strength training. 

Here are the steps: 

  1. Using a bench, lie on your back with your head supported at the edge
  2. Now, grab each light dumbbell with each hand.
  3. If you are secure with the dumbbells, press your arms straight, and the dumbbells should be above your chest.
  4. Slowly, start to lower your arms behind your head while maintaining straight arms. 
  5. Once you reach your threshold and the arms cannot lower, slowly return your arms to the starting position and repeat. 

The dumbbell pullover is a great stretch for lats because it can be intensified or lessened by using heavier or lighter dumbbells depending on your tolerance. 


8. Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown may be viewed as a strength exercise, but all good strength exercises incorporate mobility, making this a good stretch for lats if you have a gym membership and access to a lat pulldown machine. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Sitting on the lat pulldown seat, with your feet flat on the floor, make sure the bar height is equal to your outstretched arms, but still being able to maintain a firm grip.
  2. Next, grab the bar wide, making sure your butt is also still firm on the site and your thighs are supported by the pad. 
  3. To start, pull the bar down until it's at your chin height while squeezing the shoulder blades.
  4. For the next movement, slowly return the bar to the original position with your arms fully extended and then repeat until fatigue. 

Controlling both the ascent and descent of the bar is key to making the lat pulldown an effective stretch for lats. This allows the full range of motion to complement the weight on the machine. 


7. Eagle Pose

Eagle pose is a traditional yoga pose that is a good lat stretch, as well as shoulder opener. Even though eagle pose utilizes different leg and foot positions, we’ll focus on the arm positions so you can understand how to stretch the lats without other variables. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Standing with your arms in front of you, bend your arms and cross the left arm over the right, hooking at the elbows. 
  2. With your arms hooked at the elbow, bring your forearms together and wrap your right palm around your left palm, crossing at the wrists. 
  3. Lift your elbows to shoulder height while keeping your spine straight and hold.

If you have limited mobility, eagle pose may be a challenge, but you can still get the benefits from this lat stretch.

6. Cat-Cow Stretch

Cat-Cow Stretch is one of the most common stretches for upper body flexibility. By mobilizing though the thoracic spine, stretching the lats is a byproduct of a more flexible spine. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Start on all four hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders.
  2. When ready, round your spine towards the ceiling while dropping the crown of your head for “cat” 
  3. For “cow,” drop your belly towards the ground while lifting your chin, trying to look at the ceiling.

Since tight muscles can cause back pain, the flexion and extension of the spine in the cat-cow stretch is not only great to loosen up your thoracic spine, but it can also directly impact any tightness you may feelin your lats.

5. Foam Roller Lat Stretch

The foam roller lat stretch is an excellent option if you have a Yoga Strong Roller handy. The use of the foam roller can provide leverage to increase the depth of your lat stretch. 


Here are the steps:

  1. While side lying, place the foam roller on the right lat, approx. 3 inches below your right armpit.
  2. To get into starting position, straighten your right arm with an upward facing palm. 
  3. To roll and stretch the lats, maintain solid pressure on your lat and slowly roll up and down the lat muscle. 
  4. If you find a tender spot, hold consistent pressure on that spot until it dissipates. 
  5. For a deeper stretch, lift your hips off the ground to put more tension on your lats. 

The use of the foam roller can provide additional soft tissue release to your lat muscle, making the foam roller lat stretch a valuable stretch for lats.


4. Downward Dog

Downward dog is one of the most famous yoga poses for good reason. In fact, the mobility benefits on your lat and full body make this stretch one of the best all-around exercises.

Here are the steps:

  1. Start on all four hands and knees with your toes tucked.
  2. To begin, lift your knees off the floor and start to push your hips back, straightening your knees and lengthening at your waist. 
  3. To find the ideal position, firmly press your hands into the ground, relax your head, push your butt up and back, while trying to drop your heels. This should form a triangle position with your body. 

The lengthening specifically at the shoulder joint can help resolve any lingering tightness in the lat and keep your entire body flexible to avoid issues such as back pain while sneezing.

3. Child’s Pose

Even though child’s pose is considered a resting posture, it is quite a good lat stretch.

Here are the steps:

  1. Start on all 4 hands and knees with your toes untucked. 
  2. Now, start to sit your butt back towards your heel.
  3. Once your butt reaches a comfortable position on or near your heels, extend your arms out in front of you with the palms facing down.
  4. In this position, breathe and try to relax your shoulders into the posture. 

The use of the extended arms in child’s pose creates length so your entire upper body’s kinetic chain, from your fingertips to your torso can feel more flexible. 

2. Upward Salute

One of the main keys in how to stretch lats is getting length in the overhead position. Like many other lat scratches, the upward salute uses the overhead position to stretch the lats.

Here are the steps:

  1. Standing straight, raise your arms overhead while keeping your shoulders relaxed and your palms facing each other. 
  2. Staying grounded, keep your arms in line with your arms, clasp your palms together and start to look up.
  3. To intensify, reach high using your core muscles and slightly lean back.

The upward salute is a staple of what’s known as Sun Salutation A found in many yoga classes. Even though it is a less difficult yoga pose, it is a great lat stretch and spine opener. 

And since back pain can affect your body in many ways, such as high blood pressure, performing stretches that attack both the lat and spine are doubly efficient. 

1. Bent Arm Band Stretch

Using props always adds some extra umph to your stretch, and the bent arm band stretch is no different. Using your Yoga Strong Strap you can lean harder into the stretch for maximum benefit. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Find a secure place to hold one end of the strap (a weight rack, pole, etc.).
  2. Using the other side of the strap, put your arm through the hole with a stable core and lower body.
  3. Now that you’re in position, bend your arm and elbow and step forward until there is tension in your lat and your upper arm is near the side of your head. 
  4. If you’re feeling it, hold and repeat on both sides. 

Performing lat stretches in standing positions are especially helpful to stretch the lats because they are more functional to the task, since most sports and challenging activities that require lat strength and mobility are in standing, overhead positions. 

Final Thoughts

Even though the lat may be overlooked when stretching, knowing how to stretch lats when necessary is significant for a preventative approach to exercise, as well as from a recovery perspective. 

Since the lats connect at five different points (the spine, pelvis, ribs, scapula, and upper arm), maintaining proper mobility will help you avoid injury and enhance your performance. 

So next time you are warming up or cooling down from exercise with your standard stretches, incorporating lat stretching can establish a solid routine so you can continue to increase flexibility

References:


Sharma, Mohit. “How to do Lat stretches – 5 best stretches ever.” 9 Oct 2021, Moshword. https://www.moshword.com/lat-stretches/


Otey, David. “The Top 15 Lat Moves to Build a Stronger Back.” 1 Apr 2022, Men’s Health. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a25940847/best-lat-exercises/