At some point, pole dancers and aerialists will begin to see their upper back and shoulders becoming stronger and larger. Racer back tops and sleeveless dresses are now the norm as we cater to our growing lats, shoulders, biceps, and traps. Our bodies are stronger because of pole, yet many women question if their growing lats are something to be proud of or something to cover up.
So, in the spirit of embracing strong women, it is with great pleasure that I introduce #SaturdayLaturday! Show off your lats to the world and support women growing stronger – inside and out!
Just like #sundaybumday, and in the spirit of training safer and stronger, let’s look more closely at our lats, how they work to support us upside down, and how you can keep them injury free.
In the diagram you can see that the lats are the muscles that wrap around the middle and lower spine, extending up through the armpit. They insert on both shoulder blades and the upper arm at the humerus. Their full name is “latissimus dorsi” which basically translates to “broad muscles of the back” – latissimus = broadest, and dorsum = back.
The lats connect and support movement through the spine, ribs, sacrum, and shoulder blades. Every time you lift you arms above your head and engage your shoulders, sit tall with good posture, or twist and bend your torso, your lats are put to work. Having strong lats will stabilise your scapula and upper back and also aid in shoulder stability. The lats pull your arms down towards your body and help with rotation. Try this: hold our your arm out straight and make a “thumbs down” action rotating from your shoulder. You should be able to feel your lats working in this movement. If you are familiar with a twisted grip mount in pole dancing you will also see the similarities and how your lats work to rotate your arm and shoulder for you to turn your arm and grip the pole.
Bodybuilders use exercises such as chin ups, pull ups, and pull downs to strengthen and train their lats. Your inverts, shoulder mounts, and any work on silks and lyra, are going to engage your lats as well. Hence, the surprise when someone snaps a pic of you at the beach and you realise how much your back has changed because of pole!
Aerialists and pole dancers spend lots of time pulling with their arms overhead. Having strong lats will help with these movements and will give you better posture. But if the lats are too tight, you may be at risk of rotator cuff injuries as your shoulder overcompensates. Tight lats also make it virtually impossible raise the arms full over head in a backbend, and may even reduce your ability to create a stable base for a headstand (ref).
If alarm bells are going off in your head as you realise tight lats may be stopping you from reaching your flexibility and aerial goals, then read on!
One way to counter tightness and care for your lats is to foam roll them. Lay on your side with your bottom arm outstretched and the roller perpendicular to your torso. From here you should be able to roll forwards and backwards as well as side to side, being careful to not roll over your ribs. Regular foam rolling will help soothe and soften the lats.
When stretching the lats, ensure that your pelvis and ribs remain stable. If you raise your arms over head from a standing position and you find your ribs popping and lower back arching, your lats will not be stretched effectively. “Stabilise the origins” of the muscle by keeping your pelvis and tailbone tucked under and your core engaged. When you raise your arms, you should feel a stretch at the back of the armpit.
You can see how tight your lats are, and have a great lat stretch by trying this exercise on the floor:
Lie on your back on the floor with your arms by your sides. Feel where the back of your rib cage touches the floor, taking special note of the point of contact that lies closest to your waist. Turn your palms up, then lift your arms up and overhead to the floor, or as close to the floor as they will go without you bending your elbows or separating your arms wider than your shoulders.
For most people, this movement will make the lower ribs lift off the floor in back and jut out in front. Now return your arms to your sides and repeat the same actions, but this time, as you reach overhead, press the lower rib cage—the point closest to your waist—firmly into the floor to prevent it from lifting up at all. This will probably create a sensation of stretch on the outer sides of your armpits and make it harder to reach the floor. The stronger the stretch and the greater the restriction of movement, the tighter your lats are. (ref)
Here are some simple stretches to include after your pole dance or aerial session to balance out your training and give your lats some love –
1- Assisted Squat – Use stall bars or a high bench to offer resistance as you hold on with your hands. Start with a neutral pelvis (pictured) and then sink your hips down towards the floor. Tuck the pelvis and feel free to let the back round and relax, gently swaying from side to side to increase the stretch.
2- Elbows on chair – Use a rolled up towel or something to hold on to, to keep your arms from rotating back in. Sit on your knees in front of the chair and rest your elbows on the chair edge (roll up a blanket or yoga mat to make this more comfortable. Sink your hips down and lower your chin to your chest to feel the stretch.
3 – Eagle Pose – Doing this pose seated on a chair will ensure that you keep your pelvis and ribs in alignment, focusing the stretch on your lats without arching the lower back. Wrap your right elbow inside your left and curl your wrists around so your palms are facing each other (or as far as you can go). Lift your elbows towards the sky until you feel the stretch behind your armpits. Take a few breaths and then change sides.
With all the technical talk out of the way, it’s time to show off your lats! Join the #SaturdayLaturday movement, show off how strong and proud you are of your body and give your lats some love for all they do in your dance practice!