How to Use a Lat Stretch to Relax Tense Back Muscles


Tight muscles are not just uncomfortable, they can prevent you from exercising or performing routine daily activities. Tension in your latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats, is particularly troublesome because your lats are involved in numerous shoulder and shoulder blade movements. Try some static stretches to relax your lats if your upper back feels stiff.


  • Warm up before you stretch your lats by doing five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity.

  • Perform jumping jacks as part of your warm-up, which also stretch your back muscles dynamically.

  • Target your lats with a dynamic stretch such as vertical arm swings. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Swing your arms down and back as far as possible, until your arms are behind your back and parallel with the floor. Keep your arms straight throughout the stretch. Swing your arms back up to the starting position to complete one repetition. Perform 10 to 20 reps.

Wall Stretch

  • Stand about one long stride in front of a wall.

  • Bend forward from the waist and rest your palms flat on the wall at hip height and shoulder-width apart. Your fingers should point upward. Adjust your foot positioning, if necessary, so your arms are fully extended.

  • Press your torso downward while you keep your hands in place on the wall and your legs straight. Stop when you feel the stretch in your upper back, toward the sides.

  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

Side Stretch

  • Stand straight with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your hands clasped together above your head.

  • Lean slowly to your left, keeping your arms in the same position, relative to your torso. Stop when you feel the stretch in your upper back and shoulder areas.

  • Hold the stretch for five seconds and then return to the starting position to complete one repetition. Perform 10 reps leaning to your left and then do 10 more leaning to the right.

Bent-Over Stretch

  • Kneel with your shins and the tops of your feet on the floor and the backs of your thighs touching your calves. Position your knees next to each other so they're almost touching.

  • Bend forward from the waist and extend your arms forward as far as possible with your palms flat on the floor.

  • Lower your torso so your abdomen touches your thighs and your head is on the floor or just above it. Simultaneously, push your hands farther forward. Stop moving when you feel a good stretch in your upper back, toward each side. Maintain the stretch for 30 seconds.

Tips & Warnings

  • See a doctor if one or both lats are painful, rather than just tight.

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  • Photo Credit Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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