Foam Rolling Friday: The Lats

With this blog we will be covering foam rolling the Latissimus Dorsi (a.k.a. Lat). I know, as if that wasn’t obvious by the title. Foam rolling the lats can definitely be a game changer in improving your physical health when performed correctly. Key word here is correctly. It's not enough just to lay on the foam roller and then pat yourself on the back for laying on the foam roller. Would you pat yourself on the back for thinking about putting money in your 401K then go blow it all at Best Buy? I don’t think so.

One of the key pillars to success with everything, in my opinion, is understanding the situation and ultimately the “why.” With this blog, we’re going to address the functional anatomy of the lats and why you should include foam rolling this area in your arsenal.

The Functional Anatomy

If I asked most of you where your lats are you would most likely respond by pointing toward your lower back or the side of your rib cage. Pointing to these two areas is awesome, but it's only part of the answer. The lat is a muscle that starts at the thoracolumbar fascia on your BACK. From here, it wraps around the SIDE of your rib cage, ending in the FRONT part of the shoulder. I capped certain words here to stress the importance that this muscle has a huge role in linking the lower body, core, and upper body together. The lats are powerful muscles that help to stabilize the midsection while helping transmit forces generated from the lower body into the upper body. If the lat muscles are tight, performance with lifting and exercising may hinder while affecting any or all of the above areas listed.

When talking about the lat, the attachment site at the shoulder goes highly and wrongfully ignored. From the side, the lat travels up under the armpit, attaching to the top, front part of the shoulder. When this muscle gets tight, it does not allow the shoulder to move correctly, limiting shoulder flexion and external rotation (see video). At the same time, the lower back will often overarch as the shoulder flexes or elevates due to the lack of flexibility in this muscle.

If tightness is present, it can lead to massive amounts of shoulder pain and lower back pain. Another simple test to help identify if tightness and a potential trigger point is present is to grab the lat muscle underneath your armpit. If pain or a referral pattern is present, then foam rolling the lat may be beneficial. Where we often see limited lat flexibility is with overhead athletes, such as Crossfit athletes, and factory workers requiring heavy lifting and overhead work. If any of the above sounds like you, then get down on the floor and start foam rolling! No excuses!

The Why

Why foam roll the lats? Honestly, the why is simple. It’s a short, two-fold answer. The most direct answer I can give you is to get out of shoulder and lower back pain. Not that hard, huh? The Big Bang comes with the improved long term health! It's going back to last week’s blog. If all it takes to get out of pain, and improve your body’s function (side note: function is what truly drives health) is to foam roll your lats so you can have a long and prosperous life, then do it! It's a huge win! It's that simple!

There is a reason I picked this muscle as the first of my year-long journey into foam rolling. It can be a game changer for your physical health by addressing the shoulder and the back all in one exercise. Life is all about maximizing your time throughout day to get the most out of your efforts. If you’re still on the fence whether foam rolling could be beneficial for you, I will leave you with one final thought and that is, you will never know where you can go until you go.