Prized by bodybuilders for the V-shaped taper they give the torso, your latissimus dorsi, or lat, muscles run from the back of your pelvis and lower back to your upper arms. Tight lats can restrict movement in the shoulders, limiting your ability to perform everyday actions, such as reaching your arms overhead.
The latissimus dorsi muscles form a broad sheet of muscle that covers a large area of your back. They arise from the upper rim of the back of the pelvis, or ilium, and from the spine and connective tissue of the lower back, and attach to the upper arm bone, or humerus. When the lats contract, they pull your arms backward, downward and inward toward the side of your chest, as in the action of a pullup.
Side bending while reaching your arm overhead will stretch the lat muscle on the opposite side. You can perform these stretches either standing or sitting. For the standing variation, place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your right hand on your right hip and raise your left arm overhead. Bend to your right side, reaching your left arm to the right. Lift your left shoulder toward your ear to increase the stretch. Repeat, switching sides. For a seated version of the stretch, sit cross-legged on a mat. Place your right hand on the floor behind you and reach your left arm overhead. Lean to your right, again lifting your left shoulder to intensify the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Bent-Over Lat Stretch
The bent-over lat stretch resembles the Child's pose in yoga. Kneel with your shins resting on a mat. Place the tops of your feet on the mat, with your toes pointed. Lower your hips toward your heels and rest your forehead on the mat. Lengthen your arms alongside your ears, with your forearms on the floor. Reach your hands as far forward as possible, until you feel a stretch along the sides of your chest.
Warm muscles stretch more easily and safely than cold muscles. Warm up your entire body with light aerobic exercise before stretching. To warm up the lats, include dynamic movements of your arms and shoulders. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching at least two to three days per week. Ideally, stretch daily. Hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat stretches two to four times. Only stretch to the point of tightness, never to the point of pain.