The latissimus dorsi or Lat is a much bigger and more powerful muscle than people realize. It runs from the anterior superior portion of the humerus down to the low back connecting at the pelvis, and is greatly used to accelerate the arm and create pitching velocity. Although it is important for the lat to be strong and powerful, a stiff or overactive lat can create a lot of problems and limit shoulder flexion.
It goes without saying that a baseball player needs to effectively be able to get their arms over head. Not being able to get full shoulder flexion is a huge red flag for injury.
Testing for Tight Lats
Two tests I’ll use in our assessment process are standing shoulder flexion and a supine shoulder flexion. A good test will have full range of motion without any compensation (head poking forward, lumbar hyperextension, elbows bent). If you’re lying supine both arms should be able to get down to the table.
An athlete that lacks full range of motion will compensate and find other ways to get there leading to injured lower backs, shoulders, and elbows. It is very common for baseball players to fail these tests and the biggest culprit for a lack of shoulder flexion is almost always the lat.
Managing Tight Lats
These athletes’ upper body training days should have a large emphasis on properly getting overhead while avoiding exercises such as pull ups or farmer carries that are going to be pulling their shoulders down. Their rowing exercises should be horizontal variations while adding in vertical pressing like landmine presses, yoga push-ups, or kettle bell carries that will safely get them up over head.
Some modifications should be made to their lower body training as well. For example, anterior loaded strategies (front squat set up) are going to be better options than say a DB loaded reverse lunge because it will force them to shut down their lats and get more upward rotation.
One way we combat over active lats in our athletes is to have a large focus on lat stretching and mobilization during their warm ups and cool downs. This allows them to get repeated exposure to lat lengthening exercises multiple times a day, every day.
If you’re one of those guys that consistently feels like your lats are tight, especially after throwing, give these drills a try and you’ll likely feel a lot better.
Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion
Can be harder than it looks, especially if you haven’t done them before
Keep spine neutral & back flush against the wall the entire time
Bring arms up over head & thumbs to wall without compensation (arms bent, forward head, lumbar extension)
2. Bench T-Spine Mobilization
Great option if you also lack T-Spine mobility
Center your elbows on the bench, sink your butt to the heels and bring dowel behind your head
Should feel a big stretch in the lats and the triceps
3. Overhead Lat Stretch
If you’re sore this will light up your lat right away
Go into a split Stance & grab onto anything sturdy over your head, then lean/fall away
Take big deep breathes to increase the stretch even more.