Sunday, May 25, 2014

The DBCB Mobility Project: Lats [Video]

Last week we covered the shoulder rotators. This week, we'll move directly down from there to the latissimus dorsi muscle, better known as the lats. Improving your lats mobility will help in overhead positioning, i.e. getting your arms extended overhead. "Why is he talking about overhead positioning for dragon boat?" you may be asking yourself. Well if you think about it, the A-frame setup is essentially an overhead position. We tend to focus on getting more extension by rotating more, but we can also get extension by getting better in the overhead position and reaching our arms as far out as possible. Some paddlers actually bend their top arm in an effort to compensate for poor overhead mobility.  So work on your lats and you may lose your bent elbow!

A quick anatomy lesson

Lats highlighted in red. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The latissimus dorsi muscle extends from under your armpit all the way down to your back. The muscle is responsible for the adduction, extension and internal rotation of the arm. In other words, it's damn important for dragon boating. The bottom and top arms should have the lats firing on the stroke as the bottom arm has an adduction movement, and the top arm has a slight internal rotation on the down drive. Without realizing it, you've been getting a lats workout every time you dragon boat. Chances are you haven't done much at all to stretch your lats, and tight lats can contribute to poor extension into an overhead position and even shoulder pain.

The test

Lats Test
Not sure if you have tight lats? There's a way to test it out. The results may surprise you.
First lie down (on your back) on the ground. Bend your knees at 90 degrees and plant your feet to the ground. Adjust your back so that your lower back is on the floor; you shouldn't see or feel a gap between your lower back and the floor. Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling. Keeping your arms completely locked out, slowly drop them overhead as far as them will go without forcing (and remember to keep your lower back on the ground the whole time!). If your hands can reach the floor, then you have pretty good lats mobility. If your entire arm can lie flat on the floor, then you have outstanding lats mobility. If your arms are floating in the air, then you have tight lats but the following exercises will help you with that.

The exercises (4 options)

There are multiple ways to work on those lats and I'm going to go through 4 different options: 1 with a foam roller, two with a lacrosse ball, and one with just your body.
Foam roll on lats
The first method is to lie down on the ground and roll onto your side. Position the foam roller at your lats (starting from the arm pit and moving down to your back). From this position, you can just smash it (apply weight into the foam roller), contract & relax your lats as you smash, or roll the muscle. You should do this for about 3 minutes on each side.
Lacrosse ball smash
Your second option is a small variation of the first, but will work the muscle much better. Instead of using a foam roller, place the lacrosse ball on your lats (starting from the arm pit) and slowly move it down while smashing. You won't be able to roll the full muscle with the ball, but since it's a smaller and harder material, you will be able to dig much deeper into the muscle. This method will hurt a lot if you have tight lats.
Standing lacrosse ball smash and roll
Third option is a variation of the second option but with a little less pain. Instead of lying on the ground (which puts a lot of your body weight into the lacrosse ball), stand up against a wall. Raise your arm and place the ball on your lats and lean into the wall. You can adjust how much pressure by leaning more or less into the wall. You can also get a little bit of a roll by moving up and down. If your overhead position is too limited to raise your arm and get onto the wall, then use a yoga block (or similar object) to give yourself a little more distance from the wall.
Modified triceps stretch
The last option is actually a stretch for your triceps and lats. Go into the regular triceps stretch (lift one arm, bending at the elbow and grab the elbow with your other hand). Now get back next the to wall (facing sideways), and place your raised elbow against the wall. Lean into it to get a good stretch in your lats. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and switch sides.

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