Want less back pain, better posture and to look great wearing your clothes? Stretch those lats.
Clothes don’t wear you, you wear the clothes. It’s an old saying but one that holds true. You can take the nicest garment in the world, fashionable and well-fitting and still make it look bad if you don’t wear it like it truly belongs on you. Assuming a particular top in question fits properly and is appropriately matched, two main issues dictate whether you end up looking great or like a schlub.
The first is what I refer to as “ownership” of the item. You have to wear the item as if it was meant specifically for you. You can take the most current, fashionable piece but if you don’t feel comfortable in it, if you don’t feel like it makes you look good, that you are a master of universe in it then it’s going to look out-of-place on you and be a complete failure. Not every style works on every person. Some individuals can wear just about anything and make it look good. The latest trend. Crazy prints or patterns. Unusual cuts. For others it appears as a sad attempt to follow the latest fashion and look like everyone else but ultimately comes across as lame, desperate and out-of-place. Knowing what you are comfortable in is key and understanding that sometimes less is more is what makes you look like a million bucks. Classic, simple, understated styles consistently look great and stand the test of time for a reason. If they are what is suited to you embrace it and look your best. It doesn’t mean you can’t push the envelope a bit here and there and try new things but knowing what doesn’t work for you is key.
The second element that dictates if something looks great on you is how you carry yourself. Do you have great posture, stand tall and create a presence that allows your new favorite top to highlight what is noticeable about you? When you carry yourself well, people will pay attention first to you as a person and secondarily to how your top looks, and that is exactly what you want. Nothing will make an article of clothing look better than wearing it with presence and you can not have presence if you are slumped over, twisted and sticking out your head. If you are short this is an even more critical issue. No article of clothing can fix this problem. You have to do it with hard work and time in the gym. Strengthening your core and back musculature while stretching tight muscles that have adapted over time to pull you into improper alignment and poor posture. One of the most common but constantly overlooked problem muscles are the latissimus dorsi. Better know as your lats.
The lats are large fan-shaped muscles the run from your low back to your shoulder. In the low back there is a broad attachment that runs from your mid-lower thoracic spine, down through the fascial connections to your lumbar spine and onto your posterior pelvis. This large attachment means that the lats have a critical function in stabilizing and transmitting forces through your lower back/core. At the shoulder your lats pass up under your armpit and onto the front/medial side of your upper arm bone, the humerus. They actually attach right next to your large chest muscle, the pectoralis major. At the shoulder the lats are utilized in pulling motions. Because of their attachment site if the lats are shortened or tight they can contribute to rotating your arm inwards and pulling your shoulder into a rolled down and forward position. The exact opposite of good posture.
The good news is that this is a correctable problem. All it takes is a little time and attention. There are multiple ways to stretch and lengthen the lats including foam rolling, massage and good old-fashioned stretching. Below are three basic stretches that can be done anywhere without any equipment or help. You don’t even need to change into your exercise wear. Just stand up and find a door frame or piece of heavy furniture that will not easily move if you gently pull on it. Each stretch should be held for about one minute. You can hold them longer if you like but if you do them regularly, one minute will to the trick.
Stretch 1: Stand next to a door frame or other heavy object, your feet about one foot behind it. Soften your knees and with the hand furthest away from your anchor point reach over and grab it at approximately waist level. Then grab with the closest hand just above the first one. You can adjust the stretch by reaching lower or higher on the anchor point. You will feel the stretch along your lats, from your armpit, along your side and down to your lower back. It is common to feel the stretch primarily in one particularly tight area. This is entirely normal and as your flexibility increases will change. You can also adjust the stretch by twisting the hip farthest from the anchor point further away, as if you were trying to stick your back pocket to the wall behind you.
Stretch 2: Stand facing a bar, table or other horizontal object that you can either grab hold of or lay your hands flat on top of. The height can vary from belly button to shoulder level and will depend on how flexible you are. The more flexible, the lower the anchor point. Step back, both feet next to each other with soft knees while bending over at the waist. While keeping your arms straight allow them to lift forward at the shoulder while you bend over so that they are aligned with your head. Your biceps should be next to or slightly behind your ears. You should maintain a neutral spine (the same natural curve in your lower back that you have when standing up with good posture). To increase the stretch on one side, straighten the knee on that side while allowing the opposite knee to bend more.
Stretch 3: This stretch is a variation on the first version and you can choose to do either one. Stand facing an anchor point, a vertical bar of any sort, a door frame or heavy piece of furniture work well. Step back with one leg approximately one foot while bending over at the waist and reaching forward with the arm on the same side as the foot you stepped back with. Grab the anchor point at about knee height. Try to roll the hip of the back foot away from your hand to increase the stretch.
Try performing two of these three stretches for one minute each, three to six times a week and after a month you should begin to notice some improvement in your shoulder position and posture.