Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 10:17 am
Anyone else find their lats sore after push ups?
It’s a common complaint, and even one that I’ve experienced before.
I generally perform a lot of push ups on a weekly basis, but I don’t usually feel any soreness or discomfort.
With that being said, every now and then I’ll really go for it with push ups on a particular day.
And once I get above say 300 reps, I find that my lats pretty much ache for a day (or two).
So, what’s going on here?
Surely, push ups don’t work the lats, or do they?
Lats Sore After Push Ups
The reasons your lats are sore after push ups include – the lats are worked during push ups as they are a stabilizing muscle. Your lats and other pulling muscles are weak compared to your pushing muscles. Plus, it may be your serratus anterior that is sore and not your lats.
1. The Lats Are a Stabilizing Muscle During Push Ups
We typically view the push up as a chest exercise.
I guess that we all know that the push up works the shoulders and triceps as well.
So, having sore lats after performing push ups just seems plain weird.
That being said, there’s actually far more going on during push ups than we give them credit for.
I know that the push up is often compared to the bench press, but in my mind there really is no comparison.
The push up is far more of an athletic move, and I wouldn’t consider lying on your back to push a weight as “athletic”.
Firstly, your entire body weight is being supported by your hands and your toes.
Then you have to consider that you are pushing approximately 64% of your body weight during a standard push up.
That’s a lot of weight to push when you’re balancing on your hands and toes.
Remember you don’t have the benefit of lying down on your back, as you would with the bench press.
So, in order to push that amount of weight while “balancing”, a lot of other muscles come to the party during push ups.
There are plenty of stabilizing muscles activated during push ups, and the lats happen to be one of these.
You won’t specifically be working your lats that hard while performing push ups, but they do provide plenty of support.
The same could be said for the core, hip flexors, and quads if you’re doing your push ups with perfect form.
But, I’d be very surprised if your lats are sore after just a few sets of push ups.
However, if you really push yourself in terms of volume or intensity, then the lats will have a lot more “support work” to do.
How to Do a Real Push Up
2. You Have Weak Lats
Something that is extremely common for many of us is weak pulling muscles in comparison to pushing muscles.
I think this is because there is far more concentration on the “showy muscles” when we train.
Basically, the muscles that you can see in the mirror typically get worked much harder than the muscles you can’t.
I would hazard a guess that many of us perform bench presses and push ups far more often than we do rows and pull ups.
However, the latissimus dorsi happens to be the largest muscle in the upper body.
So, surely it makes sense that we should work the lats more than the pecs, or so you would think.
In truth, you could also say the same about the lower body as well.
The quads tend to get a lot more work than the glutes and hamstrings.
In reality, the muscles of the posterior chain should be getting the same, if not more work.
In fact, there is a concept that we should be working the pull muscles twice as much as the push muscles.
Modern Life is More Anterior Than Posterior
There’s actually a lot more “anterior work” going on in everyday life than you would think.
And this is especially true in the modern-day-and-age.
Many of us spend many hours a day sitting.
Whether this is hunched over a desk at work, during your commute in the car or on public transport, and even while you’re at home watching TV or texting.
Every single one of these activities will tighten the muscles in the front of the body.
Basically, the front of the body is overactive and in constant use throughout the day.
However, at the same time we lengthen the muscles in the back of the body, while leaving them extremely inactive.
This in turn leads to muscle imbalances, which can cause bad posture or discomfort.
So, the front of the body is getting much more of a “workout” than the back of the body in everyday life.
And then we make these potential imbalances even worse by training the front of the body more when we hit the gym or during our home workout.
9 Exercises to Build a Big Back
Work the Lats and the Posterior Chain More
So, if your lats are sore after push ups, there’s a good chance that you have weak lats.
Not only do you need to counterbalance the effects of daily life, you should also be working these bigger muscles much more anyway.
I think a ratio of 2:1 is about right when it comes to training pull versus push muscles.
So, if you’re going to be doing a lot of push ups during a workout, consider doing twice as many pull ups and chin ups.
I would also consider using pulling exercises to fire up the lats and other back muscles during your warm up.
How often do you complete band pull-aparts?
Do you perform face pulls or straight arm pulldowns?
If not, you need to start working those pulling muscles much harder than you currently are.
Lat Activation Exercises
3. It’s Not Actually Your Lats That Are Sore After Push Ups
Did you know that it may not actually be your lats than are sore at all?
It’s a common misconception when performing plenty of push ups, but it’s more likely to be your serratus anterior.
Often described as one of the most neglected muscles ever, this could be the cause of your soreness or discomfort.
The serratus anterior is a group of muscles that aids in the movement of your arms and shoulders.
This group of muscles spans the 1st to the 8th ribs on the side of the chest.
It’s also interesting to note that thes muscles provide support for the neck and the back too.
The serratus anterior muscles are directly in front of the lats and this is generally why we mistake it for lat soreness.
That being said, the soreness you feel could also point to a weakness in this area.
However, it does at least prove that you are performing your push ups correctly.
So, well done for that.
I would suggest performing various scapular exercises in order to strengthen this overall area of the body.
This could include shoulder blade protractions, scapular push ups, and even plank variations.
Weak serratus anterior muscles could also lead to various body dysfunctions and injuries.
These may include forward head posture, sticking out scapula, rotator cuff tears and shoulder impingements.
The serratus anterior is definitely one of the least activated muscles in the body
Therefore, this is one of the more likely reasons for soreness after push ups.
How to “Sculpt” Your Serratus Anterior
So, hopefully you understand the soreness in your lats after push ups a little better now.
As long as you’re performing push ups correctly, there will be a fair amount of lat activation going one.
It could just be that your lats are weak, so you may need to work on strengthening your back muscles in general.
I would suggest that you perform pulling exercises twice as much as pushing exercises.
Plus, aim to do some lat activation work during your warm up.
Finally, and perhaps the most likely cause – your soreness has nothing to do with your lats, but rather the serratus anterior muscles.
This often neglected area of the body will typically be left feeling sore after push-based exercises, especially if the muscles are weak.
Strengthening the serratus anterior will not only alleviate soreness after push ups, but can also be of great benefit when performing a wide variety of exercises.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.