Pull-ups, chin-ups and rowing exercises target your lats in the gym. (See Reference 4) In the yoga studio, try Cobra pose or Downward-Facing Dog to stretch tight lat muscles. (See Reference 3) Stay in shape for your weekend tennis match by perfecting your Pigeon pose with strong, stretched arms, shoulders and upper spine. In these poses, your lats help to align your posture correctly and protect your rotator cuffs from injury.
The latissimus dorsi moves your shoulders and shoulder blades. (See Reference 5) This large muscle covers some of your lower back, most of your middle back and the sides and outer edge of your armpits. Raise your arm overhead, propel yourself forward swimming, push up off a squishy sofa and your lats are at work. (See Reference 2) Tight lats can cause rotator cuff tears by restricting overhead arm movements, and prevent correct posture in Handstand, Downward-Facing Dog and Upward Bow. Weak lats cause your torso to collapse and shoulders to creep toward your ears in Upward Dog. (See Reference 1)
Good posture and form in asanas depend, in part, on balanced lats. Tight latissimus muscles cause your shoulders to curve forward, pulling your back out of alignment and pushing your chest in. You can counter that tendency by keeping your shoulders down and shoulder blades back as you go about your daily activities. However, adding a couple poses to your yoga routine will strengthen the surrounding muscles and move you toward perfect poses and posture. (See Reference 1) Cobra and Locust poses stretch and strengthen your upper back, shoulders and arms as they open and lift your chest, creating tension to counter tight, untoned lats.
Build stronger lats on your mat with Upward Plank and Scale poses. Upward Plank stretches your shoulders and strengthens your arms as you push up into a slightly arched bow, with your weight in your feet and extended arms, head back and hips reaching skyward. Scale pose strengthens your arms and shoulders as you suspend your weight, palms flat on the floor and legs crossed and lifted off the floor. Staff pose is another shoulder strengthener. Sitting with your legs fully extended, arms at your sides and palms on the floor, and back erect works your back muscles as it opens your chest and shoulders. Maintaining that 90-degree bend at the hips with a straight back is harder than it looks. (See Reference 2)
Upward Salute stretches your shoulders, arms and armpits as you stand in Mountain pose and raise your arms strongly skyward. To make sure the stretch is in your lats, engage your core to stabilize your ribs, pelvis and lower back. (See Reference 2) This tightens your glutes and helps you tuck your tailbone under slightly to perform the pose correctly. Keep your chest high and head aligned with your vertical body to feel the intense stretch in your outer armpits and down your sides. You can max this lat stretch even further by bending backward with your arms extended, a partial move to mimic the complete standing back bend of Upward Bow. Upward Bow stretches your chest and spine and strengthens your arms and shoulders, if you are advanced enough to attempt it safely.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .