Locate Your Lats

To understand what's going on here, you first have to knowwhere the latissimus dorsi attaches to your body The latissimus is a broad, flat sheet of muscle whose lower end connects to your back in several places, including the vertebrae

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of the middle and lower spine, the sacrum (the bone that joins the spine to the pelvis), the upper rim of the pelvis alongside the sacrum, and the back of the lower four ribs, (In some people the muscle also attaches to the lower tip of the shoulder blade, making the shoulder extra tight.) The muscle fibers of the latissimus dorsi run upward and forward around the side of the trunk, where they hunch together and twist into a large bundle that forms part of the rear wall of the armpit. From there, the fibers run toward the front of the body (between the upper arm bone, or humerus, and the upper rib cage ifyour arms are by your sides), then wind partway around the arm bone to attach on the front of it, where it meets the shoulder. (You can't sec this attachment to the front of the arm in our illustrations because the armsare overhead and externally rotated.)

This physical arrangement of muscle attachments explains why the reclining arm-elevation exercise stretched your lats and pulled your ribs upward. When you were on your back and turned your palms up, you also rotated your upper arm bones outward. This rotation moved the attachment points of the lats on the upper arm out to the side, further winding the muscle around the bone, like rollingup thread on a spool. When you then lifted your arms overhead, you pulled the wound-up top ends of the muscles upward, away from the lower back. This caused the musclc fibers to tug on their lower attachment points on the bones of the back rib cage, pelvis, sacrum, and spine.

The first time you did the exercise, you probably allowed this tug to drag those bones upward along with the arms, and this tilted the pelvis, arched the back, and lifted the lower ribs off the floor. The second time, when you held your ribs down, you kept all of the muscle's lower attachment points stationary, creating a stronger stretch. So one key to lengthening the lats is to stabilize the pelvis, lower back, and lower ribs as the arms move up and backward.

Another crucial action when stretching the lats is to rotate your arms firmly outward before you begin to lift them up, and to keep turning them the same way,

To create space for the supraspinal, externally rotate your arms before you reach up.

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