Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Active Lat?

I know y'all have heard one of your coaches describe the "active shoulder" that is so vital to a properly performed overhead squat.  And I know that *everyone* has read my blog post on the active hip when squatting.  Now, I am going to blow your mind again with the "Active Lat"!
Before we figure out what is so "active" about the Lat and the benefits of that activation, we may want to dive into what the lat actually is, right?
So, Lat. is short for Latissimus Dorsi, which in Latin means, "broadest muscle of the back".  It is an easy muscle to see - it's the muscle that gives the illusion of having wings or having a turtle shell.

The Latissimus Dorsi has two main actions on the arm. It functions in adduction (pulling the arms to the sides of the body from an out-to-the-side position) and extension (pulling the arms down from a horizontal position straight out in front of the body.

So, right off the bat...looking at the actions, you should be able to see the importance of the Lat in many of the movements that CrossFitters do.  Pullups are probably the first exercise that comes to mind, but the Lat is involved in so many more...either as a primary mover, or many times as a stabilizing muscle.  Pushups, overhead presses, back squat, and deadlift are just a few.

Now that we know where it is and what it does, we can start to discuss what it means to activate it, and the benefits of that activation in regards to performing a solid deadlift.
If you guys remember, I have posted several times about the mechanics involved in a proper deadlift.  One point I emphasized was that the bar must stay tight to the body as it travels through it's range of motion, otherwise, you are doing more work for the same end...hopefully.  This is where the "Active Lat" comes into play!

As you can see from the pictures above, when we activate the Lat we force the arm into extension.  To apply this action to the deadlift, think about your start position.  When you are in the correct start position, typically you are concentrating on simply keeping your back tight as you stand up, right?  Well, now picture yourself in that same start position, but now your goal is to squeeze the bar back in to your body with your active Lat.  Not only does this improve the path of bar as it travels, but it will actually improve your ability to fully lock in your back to ensure spinal support and energy translation...resulting in big gains in your deadlift!!!

Obviously, deadlifting more will improve your deadlift, but what are some other ways to improve your Lat strength, and therefore, your pulling strength?  Some supplemental exercises that I recommend are:
1.  Dual KB Deadlifts - Controlling two separate weights and keeping them tight to the body and pulled back slightly is a great way to train the "Active Lat".(picture two KBs rather than the hex bar handles.)
2.  DB/KB BentOver Rows - Using a box or bench to bend over and support yourself, pull a DB or KB from the floor to your armpit.

3.  Strict Pullups - These are a time-proven, effective exercise for developing amazing Lat strength.  Try to eliminate your kip to further isolate the Lat recruitment.

4. Band Pullbacks - This exercise is a great way to isolate that specific muscle action.
Start.  Use proper DL position.
Finish. Maintain proper DL position.

 So there y'all go!  One more thing to activate...One more way to get STRONGER!  Go get it!

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