Dryland Tip: Evaluating and Treating Lat Muscle Stiffness

By Dr. G. John Mullen, PT, DPT, CSCS of Swimming Science, Owner of COR PT , Creator of Swimmer’s Shoulder System, Swimming Science Research Review, Swimming Troubleshooting System , and Mobility for Swimmers System, Swimming World correspondent

SANTA CLARA, California, April 21. THE latissimus dorsi (lats) are distinct muscles in swimmers. Hypertrophy or excessive muscle mass gives swimmers the traditional V-shape with wide shoulders and narrow hips. Unfortunately, tight lats cause havoc in many swimmers’ biomechanics, especially Masters swimmers.

Allan Phillips wrote about a few stroke flaws associated with tight lats:

1. Hula hooping – Stiffness, or asymmetry in stiffness, may contribute to wiggling hips during long axis swimming. Though some spinal side bending may occur (perhaps more than once thought), poorly-controlled side bending may trigger hula hooping.

2. Dropped elbows – Lat stiffness may also make it difficult for swimmers to create an early vertical forearm during the catch. The shoulder is most commonly analyzed in the catch, but as noted in the literature, the shoulder may be directly affected by lat conditions.

3. Ineffective body undulation – Because the lat connection is within the pelvis, it plays an important role in undulation during short axis and during underwater kicking. Though not often discussed in lower body stroke correction, consider lat length when addressing low back and pelvis function during the stroke.

Determining if you have tight lats requires proper evaluation, intervention and re-evaluation.

The “hands over head” wall test is a simple test for assessing lat stiffness. Have your athlete against a wall, tuck their chin and flatten their back. Next, have them raise their arms overhead. If stiff, their lats will prevent the arms from reaching the top of the wall.

An intervention is a simple self-myofascial release (SMR) of the lats with a foam roll or heavy bar. After performing this intervention, re-check the assessment test.

Remember, just having enough lat length doesn’t ensure proper swimming biomechanics, but simply gives the athletes the tools for improvement. Proper coaching and motor learning help shape the swimmer’s biomechanics, ensure you’re providing proper cues for the newly acquired range of motion!

Dr. Mullen demonstrates the “Hands Over Head” stiffness test in this video:

Learn more troubleshooting techniques today!

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Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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