You may have seen some of my recent posts on yoga, the art of relaxation and improving mobility. Yoga is something I am looking to include into my training regime in order to improve overall flexibility, it’ll be somewhat of an active recovery day for me. Interestingly, many movements you might use when lifting weights are heavily reliant on flexibility and agility (flexibility at speed). Consequently it makes absolute sense for somebody serious about lifting weights to incorporate some flexibility training into their routine, and yoga ticks all of the boxes.
Tightness in the Latissimus dorsi (lats)
The lats as they’re commonly known, are the wing like muscles in your back. Their name means ‘broadest of the back’, therefore implying that they are the largest group of muscles in the back. The lats are responsible for extension, adduction (movements away from the body), tranverse extension aka horizontal abduction (movements towards the body), flexion when arms are extended out, and medial internal rotation of the shoulder. So the lats play more of a part in everyday movements than people may first think, and this includes the front squat. The front squat insists that the athlete is able to bring their elbows forward and through in order to ensure that the bar is resting on the front delts. Keeping the bar high on the front delts is key to ensuring the bars weight is distributed linearly i.e. straight down the body. However, tight lats will severely inhibit flexion of the shoulder (the movement involved in bringing the elbows forward), therefore it pays to stretch them out properly before performing a front squat.
Shoulder tightness and stiff wrists
It is commonly assumed that reduced mobility in bringing the elbows forward is down to tight shoulders and wrists, and the majority of time this is true. However, the shoulders will only inhibit it so far…try to bring your elbows out in front of you the same way you would during the positioning for a front squat without recruiting the lats. You can’t. In fact, if you do this movement with one arm and feel the lats during the movement you will clearly feel it contracting, therefore it seems completely logical to stretch the lats in order to make the movement easier.
So the next time you come to perform a front squat, thruster, or even just a plain old simple lat pull down, be sure to loosen those lats up. Some of the best Olympic lifters and weight lifters out there (Dmitry Klokov and current Mr Olympia Phil Heath for example) all perform structured stretching routines as part of their overall periodised plan. The frequent contraction of muscles under heavy loads places a lot of strain on the muscle, the micro tears you inflict on the muscle fibre results in some inevitable bleeding which can stagnate and cause stiffness. This stiffness could, and probably is holding you back if you’re not stretching as you should!
Francis, P. (1999). Applied anatomy and kinesiology, supplemental materials. KB Books., p 19-25.
Brown J, M, Wickham J, B, McAndrew D, J, Huang X, F. (2007). Muscles within muscles: Coordination of 19 muscle segments within three shoulder muscles during isometric motor tasks. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 17(1):57-73. PMID 16458022 doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2005.10.007