When you are creating an upper body workout plan, ensure that you’re making time to work on your lats. The latissimus dorsi also referred to as the lats, connect the thoracolumbar fascia to the humerus, and are integral to any strength training workout routine, preventing injury and creating a developed physique.
The lats have control over multiple movement patterns in the body, due to their location. They are two muscles shaped like wings, starting at the top of your humerus and wrap underneath your armpits and down the back towards your hips. They work with the serratus muscle and the trapezius muscle (traps); connecting to the ribs, spine, upper arm and scapula.
The lats are primarily a pulling muscle - think lat pulldowns and rows, the two most common lat isolation exercises. But that being said, they insert on the bicipital groove of the humerus, so when the humerus moves behind the body, like in the concentric part of a row (i.e. when your lats are contracted) or the eccentric part of a bench press (i.e. when the bar is lowered to your chest), there is some push required to bring the humerus back in line with the body.
The lat pulldown and rows aren’t the only exercises that work the lats, in fact, most exercises require some functional lat strength. Having strong lats helps in any movement pattern whether it’s the bench, squat, deadlift or isolation exercises; any workout for the arms or workout for upper body strength requires the lats.
Lats in the bench press
Any workout routine at the gym will include the staple bench press. Well developed lats are one of the key muscles involved in stabilizing the bench press, a key exercise for any upper body workout. Not only do develop lats provide a wider surface area from which to bench, but they also create stability - when the bar is lowered to your chest your elbows are tucked into the lats. The bench press requires the lats to be a pushing muscle, helping you to drive the bar away from your chest.
Lats in the squat and deadlift
Any workout routine at the gym will include squats and deadlifts. In fact, in any type of compound lift, strong lats are critical for stabilizing the movement. Of course, most of the power will come from the lower body, however upper body strength is required to control that power. This is why compound exercises are also a great workout for the arms and upper body!
For example, when you squat the resistance is on your upper back (i.e. where the bar is), which means your lats are contracted to keep it from moving as you lower down. When you’re deadlifting, your hands are gripping the bar and again, your lats need to be contracted to transfer the force to pick the bar up when your lower body generates it.
This is because the lats are powerful multi-directional stabilizers of the lumbar spine. A stable, strong lumbar spine is absolutely integral to lifting heavy. Without this, you would be unable to control movements and injure yourself.
Building lat strength and formulating specific lat cues like being able to contract them without holding weights will allow you to improve your compound lifts. There are numerous ways you can strengthen your lats but one tip is whatever you can bench press (either 1RM or for a set of reps) you should be able to perform as a bent-over row. If you can’t, you're underutilizing your lats for strength.
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