The lats are awesome, whether they are visible or invisible (albeit for different reasons).
Who doesn’t want a set of lats so large that their arms can’t touch their sides?
I am not here to tell how awesome the lats are.
I am instead going to tell you why your lats are hurting your squat.
In order to smash huge weights on the squat we need our bodies to be able to do a few things.
- adequate ankle mobility
- hip mobility
- thoracic spine mobility
- shoulder mobility
All of these are interconnected in one way or the other.
If we have poor ankle mobility we will get the needed mobility from other joints. In this example, we may see a butt wink in the squat. We lost mobility at the ankles and picked it up in the lumbar spine. When we squat we want to begin in neutral spine and remain that way for the duration of the lift.
Neutral spine has a natural kyphotic curve (slightly flexed) in the thoracic spine. When we place weight near the top of our spine it is going to want to pull us into further flexion, or kyphosis of the thoracic spine. This is due to gravity. We want to fight the weight from doing that to us for a couple of reasons.
One, placing the spine under load in a position of increased flexion can increase our risk of injury.
This places a lot of shear force on the spine and takes away the ability of our passive structures, ligaments and bones, to help stabilize the spine.
Instead it places more stress on our active tissues, our muscles, to stabilize the spine. These muscles can fatigue very quickly and they can also reach a weight that becomes too heavy for them to do their job pretty quickly.
We want to extend our thoracic spine out of the flexed position into a little bit of extension. This gives our passive structures better leverage to assist stabilizing our spine with our muscles. This removes some shear force from our spine and places us at a more advantageous position to lift big weights.
The other reason it is important that we extend our t-spine is because we want to stay upright in the hole. If we begin in a flexed position, the bar will start out in front of our mid-foot.
As we squat the weight will only push that bar further in front of our center of gravity.
Wrong Start Position
Correct Start Position
The goal when trying to squat massive weights is to keep the chest as upright as possible. When the bar is in front of your center of gravity on a squat the force of gravity is no longer being supported by our entire body, including all active and passive tissue structures.
Now, gravity is pushing that weight a few feet in front of our feet.
This will lead to the chest caving and the longest moment arm possible for our hips to lockout the weight.
In other words this is not the most ideal way to lift heavy weights.
Most lifters lose this before the weight is ever un-racked.
They stick their head forward to create a shelf, instead of flexing the back and the rear delts.
When we push our head forward and look down it rounds our upper back. If this is how you un-rack the weight, you are un-racking it in a flexed position, no matter how hard you contract the muscles in your back.
Once that weight is on your back, it is too late to correct it. You can get into a better position than you were you un-racked the weight, but you can’t get into the BEST position.
You need to pack your chin and drive your head back and chest up on the un-rack.
At this point you are probably saying to yourself “He said my lats were hurting my squat, this has nothing to do with my lats.”
In order for us to be able to get into a good position to un-rack the bar we need adequate shoulder mobility, especially external rotation.
Many people have a hard time getting into this position because we sit at desks all day long. Most times people will chalk up this inability to tight pecs. Now, tight pecs may absolutely be an issue. However, from the hundreds or more of assessments that I have completed, I will tell you that the lats are often tight as well.
One of the actions of the lats is internal rotation of the shoulder. If our lats are tight they can pull us into internal rotation, just like the pecs. If you have been attempting to mobilize your pecs with little success, either your choice of “mobility” exercise sucks, or you aren’t addressing all of the issues.
The problem with this, is there is no magic drill on the foam roller to fix this issue with our lats.
The lats are such a critical muscle group due to their various attachments. The lats are part of the posterior oblique chain.
They intersect with the glutes through the thoracolumbar fascia. They can limit the amount of power we can get from our glutes as well as create excessive lordosis of the lumbar spine and they can also alter pelvic position. This could be why your hips hurt when you squat.
The lats also play a role in shoulder stability.
Roughly 40% of people have a fascial attachment of the lat onto the scapula (those that don’t, the lats indirectly effect scapula position by their role on the shoulder joint). The lats also help pull the humerus down in the shoulder joint. This is important so that we do not get impingement issues with our shoulder. However, our shoulders need to be properly externally rotated for our lats to benefit us in this way.
Most people when performing a lat exercise feel the muscle just underneath their armpit. This is due to the fiber orientation of the lats.
They are not perfectly horizontal or longitudinal, but a nice blend of both. Placing the shoulder into internal rotation negatively effects their ability to do their job.
When we engage our lats we want to feel the muscle all the way down into our lower back area. We can’t do this if we are stuck in shoulder internal rotation and thoracic kyphosis.
Here is a quick warmup you can add into your training if you are having a hard time getting into a good start position.
- Soft tissue work to pecs and lats
- Chest flies w/ 5 sec hold at bottom 2-3×10
- Straight Arm Pulldowns w/ Slow Eccentric 2-3×12
- Bottom Up Kettlebell Carries 2-3×30 Seconds
- Wall Slides 2-3×20