Sitting all day at work or in the car can make your back feel as stiff as beef jerky. The latissimus dorsi, a broad back muscle that extends from your lower spine under your armpits to your ribcage, extends the shoulders and moves the shoulder and arm toward the center of your body, according to massage therapist Andrew Biel, author of "Trail Guides to the Body." Stretching the lats, as they are commonly called, can alleviate tension and may help to reduce pain.
Stretching on a stability ball allows your lats and shoulders to move repetitively to increase their elasticity so they stretch and contract like a rubber band. One way to do this stretch is to kneel in front of a stability ball and place your hands on top of it in a karate chop position. Exhale and bend your torso forward, sitting back on your heels and pushing the ball away from you. You should feel a stretching from your armpits down to your lower back. Hold this position for two deep breaths and then bring your body back to the starting position. Repeat this movement pattern for eight to 10 reps. You may also do this exercise one side of your body at a time to focus more on each side. When you do this with one arm, add a rotation by moving your arm toward the center of your body while keeping your body still.
Take a quick break and do some lat stretches while you're sitting in your chair. Extending and flexing your upper spine can improve upper spine and neck mobility. To extend your spine, sit at the edge of your chair and lace your fingers together in front of you. Exhale and raise your arms over your head, extending your lower back slightly. Hold this position for two deep breaths and then lower your arms to the starting position. Do eight to 10 reps. To flex your spine, extend your arms in front of you with your fingers laced together. Exhale as you tilt your chin to your chest and flex your upper back. Hold this position for two deep breaths. Lower your arms to your thighs as you lift your head and chest up. Do eight to 10 reps.
Some standing stretches for your lats also stretch your legs and hips. This position also alleviates compression in your lower spine from sitting too long, says the "IDEA Fitness Journal." One way to stretch is to put your hands against a wall and stand with your feet about shoulder-distance apart. Bend your torso forward at your waist until you feel a stretch from your armpits to the back of your legs. Hold this position for five to six deep breaths. Repeat this exercise two or three more times. Add a twist to the stretch by standing with one foot in front of the other: Lace your fingers together and raise your arms overhead. As you hold this stretch, turn your torso slowly left and right about 10 times to twist the lats and other back and ab muscles.
Don't Overdo It
Sometimes too much stretching isn't always better. Overstretching your lats -- or any other muscle group -- can cause your joints to undergo a stretch reflex. This is your body's way of protecting itself from tears and joint damage that may result from stretching, says fitness author Ann Frederick, author of "Stretch to Win." When you stretch too much, your muscles automatically and quickly contract, causing them to become stiffer and more sensitive to touch and pressure.
- American Council of Exercise: 90 Lat Stretch
- The Pain-Free Program; Anthony Carey
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Corrective Exercise for Prolonged Static-Posture Damage
- Stretch to Win; Ann and Chris Frederick
- Trail Guide to the Body; Andrew Biel
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.