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Lats, The Super Muscles

January 11, 2011 01:08 PM

At any given RKC the Chief likes to ask the candidates how many have hurt their?shoulders? Many hands usually go up(if their shoulders will allow it)? He then asks " how many have hurt their lats?"

Usually not a hand goes up. "The lats" the Chief says," are strong, tough muscles, they are Super Muscles".

I got the title of my DVD from Pavel, who I first heard call the lats' Super Muscles'. And indeed they are. They are also the most misunderstood, underutilized and neglected muscle group for most of the trainees I have met. The fact that they are on the back of the body and can't be easily seen in the mirror does not help.

That they are, despite being the second largest muscle in the body, pretty hard to activate makes getting into training and using them correctly them even tougher.
But that's not been the case for me.

In fact, I have had a great lat connection from the very beginnings of my training. Starting out as a gymnast pretty much guaranteed that. EVERYTHING a gymnast does, even the simple act of getting up onto the apparatus to START the training gets the lats into play immediately.

This is especially true for still rings work and you will NEVER see a good ring man without the requisite set of wings that he will call his back. If you know the anatomy and kinesiology of the lats you will understand why this is so, but the bottom line is training in gymnastics builds the lats like almost no other sport, except for, perhaps, my next training endeavor?

My next incarnation as an athlete was competitive bodybuilding, and as all bodybuilders know, one of the tell tale signs of a "weak" or amateurish trainer is the lack of a good solid back with not only lat width but depth as well. This can only come from basic movements such as deadlifts, rows, pull-ups and chins done heavy over long periods of training.

The other sign is weak leg development from not understanding that the barbell squat is not a suggestion, but a requirement if one is to become big and strong with the iron.

So I made sure I trained my lats and my back as hard, or harder than I trained anything else.

After bodybuilding for me came powerlifting, another sport where the lats dominate the training and the competition lifts. From the squat to the bench to of course the deadlift, a strong and powerful back, including the lats, is crucial to holding your arch in the squat, getting those big benches started without killing your shoulders and keeping that heavy barbell in close the legs as one deadlifts real weight(whatever that might be for you), and helps the hips do their job locking out the lift.

So feeling, training and using my lats has always been second nature to me, but, as my wife Tracy pointed out one day as I was helping her train her KB military press (and how to use the lats correctly) it wasn't for most. Most people had NO IDEA, she said, of where they were, what they did or how to train them. We should do a seminar on that, she said, and she, as usual, was right.

Thus Lats: the SuperMuscles seminar and subsequent DVD was born. And, as we all know, the lats play a heavy roll when we kettlebell swing, snatch, press, getup, deadlift windmill and just about ALL of the other movements.

The Lats are the Bridge. They are the bridge between the arm and the shoulder, between the shoulder and the hip, the arm to the hip, the upper body to the lower and the core of the body to both the upper and lower extremities? Simultaneously.

The lat creates a link between arm and the shoulder as we pack the shoulder in the overhead position of the getup, snatch or press. It links the shoulder to the hip in movements such as the deadlift (any version) , a swing or the windmill. They provide a connection from the center of the body where they originate to the extremities of the arms where they insert on your upper arm and through the thoracolumbar fascia next to the spine to the opposite side glute, making that upper lower body connection as well.

The forward arm motion as you walk links the arm to the opposite side hip/glute and leg via your lats.

Wow, talk about a workhorse muscle!

And they really get a workout in the most basic of KB exercises; the swing. From connecting to the bell to combine your and the bell's center of gravity, to the hike pass to get the bell started, to keeping the shoulder linked to the body as you ascend to using them to hike the bell back during regular reps of swinging the lats are used and get trained seriously during this most basic movement.

In fact, one of the coolest things that happens to new trainees that pay their dues with the kb learn to swing drills of the HKC and RKC is that they get lat and back development they never had before, Without doing any direct lat work! What the heck effect indeed.

Add in the shoulder packing work of connecting the fragile shoulder to the torso in the getup and you get a complete lat workout just origin to insertion with just the program minimum!

But the lats are not just performance enhancing muscles, they are also hugely protective of the shoulder and the back.

The lats keep the shoulder in the socket as you press and snatch and as Master RKC Brett Jones says "a shoulder disconnected from the body will be punished." Ain't that the truth. Take it from someone who has dislocated their shoulder on the still rings, you NEED to keep the shoulder connected to the body. That injury finished me as a gymnast and still causes me problems 34 years later.

They also help the back create a solid lordotic curve (the arch of the lower back)
?A straight spine has four curves, one of which is the lumbar curve.

The lats contraction, especially when the insertion point is fixed (think hanging from a bar) helps tilt the pelvis anteriorly (again think arch), which is key to keeping the lumbar spine from going into flexion under load, a key cause of disc injury.

But they ARE also performance enhancers and nothing will make your kb Military press numbers go up faster and more safely than knowing how to use the lats to not only keep the shoulder in the socket but how to use them to get the lift going!

I rarely see a person press who knows how to activate their lats at the start and when I see someone who can, inevitably they have a good press. So many, despite us teaching for years that the kb press is not a shoulder isolation move, approach it in that manner and rarely see the progress they should.

If you use the lats correctly at the start of the KB Press they act as a launching pad for the arm as it makes its way overhead. You can literally bypass the most delicate part (and the most dangerous part) of the press by using your lats correctly.

It's not cheating, it's just good mechanics and technique.

The same thing goes for using the lats on the negative portion of the press. You can use the lats to increase your press AND you can use your press to increase the lat's strength and size and get one heck of a transfer to all your overhead pulling movements!

The nice thing about kettlebell training and your lats is that even if you don't give one second more thought to your lats, where they are and what they do you still will get stronger, more developed and more powerful lats and back muscles as well as safer and more stable shoulders and hips just by swinging, pressing and snatching your kettlebell.

As the Chief writes about in the RKC Principles in the Course Manual:" incidental cardio, incidental flexibility". We should also add in incidental lat development.

Yes, Lats, the SuperMuscles indeed.

Mark Reifkind, Master RKC
Owner - Girya Kettlebell Training, Master Russian Kettlebell Instructor.?
136 Hamilton Ave.Palo Alto Ca.