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The latissimus dorsi muscles are the largest muscles in your back. Collectively called as the 'lats', the latissimus dorsi is large and flat and stretches to the sides and behind the arms - all the way down to the hips. The lats are responsible for extension, transverse extension and adduction. Basically, these muscles help you to flex the muscles in the back, which is essential for any type of movement of the upper body  .
Working out these muscles help in developing the lats, which thereby help in giving your body a healthy proportion and the strength to carry out physical activities. These muscles connect the spine to the arms and help stabilise your whole upper back. The lats are responsible for keeping your back upright and also prevent slouching.
Being the biggest muscle in your upper back, it is critical that you do activities that involve movement and stretching, so as to maintain healthy movement and avoid the development of any age-related issues to the spine   .
The lats exercises and stretches can help strengthen the latissimus dorsi, thereby improving your upper body strength, and thereby the overall body strength. That is, it is critical that one's latissimus dorsi is maintained well so as to carry out physical activities and basic movements.
Benefits Of Strong Latissimus Dorsi
In order to be healthy and strong, it is necessary that you possess a healthy body and form. Let us take a look at the benefits of having a strong set of back muscles  .
- Maintains strength in the upper back, shoulders and arms.
- Provides stability through the core (critical for posture, balance and preventing falls).
- Aids in exercise and sports performance.
Having a strong core is essential, especially if you are involved in sports and activities such as tennis, golf, gymnastics, swimming, rowing, football, wrestling or basketball. Now, let's get to know the injuries affecting your lats, in the event of lack of physical activity and movement (resulting in weakness of the latissimus dorsi muscles  .
Injuries Affecting The Latissimus Dorsi
One of the major parts of your body, the muscles can get negatively affected by lack of movement. The major reasons for having a weak latissimus dorsi are mentioned below  .
- Not lifting the arms overhead enough, resulting in weak and stiff arms and shoulders.
- Back pain that restricts you from rotating, exercising, engaging the back muscles.
- Poor posture.
- Sitting continuously for long hours.
- Shoulder and lower back injuries.
- Latissimus dorsi muscle tears related to physical activities such as wrestling, body-building, rock climbing etc.
The back pain affecting the proper functioning of your lats can be caused due to being overweight, pregnancy, lack of sleep, muscular tension due to stress and anxiety, tobacco usage and a history of back injuries  .
These lat injuries can result in the development of shoulder pain, back pain, muscular instability and muscular imbalance  .
Exercises For Latissimus Dorsi
Specifically focused on developing and improving the strength of your lets, practising these exercises can help improve the core strength  . These exercises can be practised at the comfort of your home as well.
1. Lat pulldowns using exercise bands
This exercise is similar to that of lat pulldowns using a machine. But, lat pulldowns using a band can be done in the comfort of your home. Doing this exercise can help strengthen your latissimus dorsi without tiring your biceps or triceps  . It also helps strengthen your shoulders and core.
- First, anchor the band to a stable point - such as on the door handle or a pole.
- Grab each end of the band using your hands.
- Begin with your arms straight and in front of your head.
- Pull your arms back to bend your elbows.
- Bring your hands closer to the front of your chest.
- Release and repeat for 12-16 times.
Also termed as pull-ups, this exercise can be a bit difficult. However, it is one of the most effective and beneficial exercises for your latissimus dorsi. Regularly doing chin-ups can help build your upper body strength. There is another variation for the exercise which involves placing a chair or bench underneath and using it to pull yourself up  .
- Start by putting a chair or sturdy stool under the pull-up bar.
- Position your hands so that it is wider than your shoulders.
- Keep your torso as straight as possible as you lift and pull.
- Then, prop one foot (or both feet if needed) on the chair and pull your body up.
- Breath and repeat for about 5-10 times.
3. Seated rows
Like lat pulldowns, this exercise can also be done using a machine. Seated rows involve your lats to move in a rowing movement, working your lats in a different way. The force applied to the bands works your back muscles, improving your score strength  .
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out.
- Wrap a band around a sturdy object in front of you and hold the ends of the band in each hand.
- Move back far enough to create enough tension on the band.
- Keeping the shoulder down, squeeze the back to row the elbows in.
- Stop at your torso level.
- Release and repeat for 12-16 times.
4. Dumbbell one-arm rows
Effective in strengthening your core and your shoulder muscles, doing this exercise is extremely beneficial for your latissimus dorsi  .
- Stand near one side of a bench or a flat chair.
- Place your opposite knee and palm flat on the top of the flat surface.
- Keeping your arm on the flat surface straight and torso horizontal, bend over.
- While doing so, hold a dumbbell in your hanging hand.
- Lift the dumbbell up toward your torso while bending the elbow.
- Lower and repeat.
- Squeeze your belly in and try to use strength and go slowly in both directions.
- Repeat for 6-7 times.
5. Superman lift
Also termed as laying trunk lifts, this exercise help improve your core strength as well as strengthen your lats  .
- Lay down the floor with your hands extended in front of you.
- Lift your chest and shoulders off the ground to engage your back.
- Lift your toes lightly, resembling a flying position.
- Raise and lower about 5-10 times, going slowly and breathing in and out.
- Do not overextend your neck.
6. Chair pose
Also called as the held squat, doing the yoga chair pose can help improve and strengthen the lowest muscles in your latissimus dorsi  .
- Place your feet together so your big toes touch.
- Lift your arms above your head bringing the palms to face inward.
- Bend your knees and sink your pelvis down and backwards.
- Tuck your tailbone down and keep your arms extended overhead.
- Try to maintain a straight back.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Repeat 5-6 times.
Stretches For Latissimus Dorsi
Apart from the above-mentioned methods, there are other ways to improve and strengthen your latissimus dorsi.
7. Standing overhead reach
A simple stretch exercise, this involves stretching out your arms over your head. In most exercises, the lats are often ignored due to the muscles' positioning. Doing a standing overhead reach help engage and stretch your lats  .
Stand upright with your arms reaching above your head.
Slightly bend side to side.
Hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds.
Also called as the kneeling arm stretches, this stretch help in stretching out your back so as to release any tension, and also to avoid any muscle tensions  .
Reach your fingertips overhead to touch the floor as you extend your shoulders.
Engage your back muscles and keep your hips down and near your heels.
Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds while breathing deeply.
- If the exercise is causing pain in the back for a period of more than 3 days, stop the exercise.
- If you feel throbbing, stiffness or notice swelling extending up to the upper body - avoid the exercises.
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