When hearing the word “push-up”, sore lats might not be the first thing that comes to mind but it’s clear that this is a common occurrence — as shown here and here.
So, why do your lats get sore after push-ups? Your lats get sore after push-ups as they contract during the exercise (called muscle co-activation) to oppose the work of your pectoral muscles for greater stability. Higher-than-normal reps and different hand positions can also contribute to lat soreness while doing push-ups.
Although the lats are active during push-ups, how much do they actually provide to the lift itself? In this article, we’ll cover the role of the lats and why they can actually get sore during the push-up.
Let’s dive in and get some answers!
The Role Of The Lats In The Push-Up
Without a shred of doubt, the push-up falls into the “push” exercise pattern. This means that the “pushing” muscles (pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, front delts, triceps) are significantly recruited during this movement.
The number one reason why lifters experience sore lats in the push-up is that they’re a stabilizing muscle group during the “push” exercise pattern, a phenomenon called “muscle coactivation”.
According to a review by Latash (2018), muscle coactivation is when other muscles around a joint contract to provide joint stability and stiffness. This occurs because when both muscles contract at the same time, there is a degree of compression applied to the joint that is provided from multiple directions — enhancing joint control.
Basically, the lats are an antagonist (opposing) muscle group to the pectorals. They’re recruited during the push-up as part of the coactivation process.
Check out my article on How Do Powerlifters Train Back? for 3 must-do workouts to build your back muscles.
5 Reasons Why The Lats Get Sore During Push-Ups
Here are the 5 reasons why the lats get sore during push-ups:
• Your lats are stabilizing
• It’s actually serratus anterior soreness (not the lats)
• Your soreness is from a prior pull day
• It’s actually teres major & teres minor soreness (not the lats)
• Your hands are positioned high and/or rotated inwards
1. Your Lats Are Stabilizing
As explained above, the lats are an important muscle group for stability during the push-up.
However, the lats don’t only provide added stability. Muscle coactivation also allows for better precision in large and fine motor movements. Whether it’s picking up a pencil or performing a push-up, neither would be possible without muscle coactivation.
So, your lats are actually contracting throughout every push-up rep that you perform. And if you’re experiencing sore lats, it could be because they’re stabilizing your shoulder joint for a long time.
After all, many lifters can do at least 15 push-ups or more — it’s possible that the increased volume is just a new stimulus that results in muscle soreness for the lats.
You can also read about Is It Better To Do Push-Ups Fast or Slow?
2. It’s Actually Serratus Anterior Soreness
Another reason that you might be feeling muscle achiness in your lats after push-ups is that it’s actually your serratus anterior that is sore.
The serratus anterior is a muscle group that spans across the ribs and links to the outer edge of your shoulder blade. When it contracts, the serratus anterior pulls the shoulder blade forward around your chest cavity.
In fact, the serratus anterior is often called the ‘boxer’s muscle” because it’s highly recruited to pull the shoulder blade forward whenever a punch is thrown. That said, protraction of your shoulder blades also happens on the ascending phase of the push-up as you approach the lockout position.
So, it’s quite common for lifters to mistake soreness in the serratus anterior for tender lats due to their proximity to the lats themselves.
Related Articles: Is It Better To Do Push-ups With Handles? and Diamond Push Up: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
3. Your Soreness Is From A Prior Pull Day
Some lifters also jump to the conclusion that their lats are sore because of push-ups, without considering the lat-focused exercises they’ve done in the previous 1-2 days.
For example, let’s say that you carry out a “pull” workout on a Tuesday. Your workout includes a variety of exercises: deadlifts, chin-ups, and a seated row variation.
The next day (Wednesday), you conduct your push workout consisting of push-ups, chest flies and cable tricep pushdowns.
On Thursday, you notice that your lats are so sore that you can barely lift your arms above your head… what gives?
In this case, the majority of the soreness in your lats might have actually been spurred on by your Tuesday pull workout but the soreness didn’t reach its peak until 48 hours later — plus, the “push” day was your most recent workout and it will be top of mind.
While your lats are co-contracting during the push-ups you did on Wednesday, it’s possible that your lats wouldn’t be nearly so sore if you didn’t have a pull workout within the same 48-hour window as your push workout.
Are your hamstrings sore after doing deadlifts? Check out my article to find out if this is good or bad.
4. It’s Actually Teres Major & Teres Minor Soreness
Similar to the serratus anterior, you might think your lats are sore when it’s actually your teres major and minor that are experiencing muscle soreness.
The teres major muscle is found above the lats and its primary actions are to help extend your upper arm (bring your upper arm backwards), along with rotating it inwards.
On the other hand, the teres minor causes outward rotation and adduction (bringing it to your midline) of your upper arm, along with stabilizing your shoulder joint.
Considering the actions that the teres major and minor perform, they’re also active during push-ups. Whether they’re assisting your “pushing” muscles (pecs, front delts, triceps) or strictly helping to stabilize your shoulder joint, they’re recruited to some degree.
In turn, the increased time under tension that these muscles experience during push-ups (which tend to be higher in reps than other comparable “push” exercises) can cause muscle soreness because of the novel stimulus of multiple higher-rep sets. Like the serratus anterior, soreness in the teres major and minor is often lumped together as “lat soreness” because they exist so close to the lats.
Related Article: Do Push-Ups Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How)
5. Your Hands Are Positioned High And/Or Rotated Inwards
The last reason why your lats get sore after push-ups could be due to your hand position during the exercise.
Typically, your hands will feel most natural when they’re positioned on the floor directly under your shoulders. However, some lifters naturally change their hand position to one that places them slightly in front of the shoulders (when looking from the sides) or rotating them inwards toward the midline.
Whether these changes are intentional or not, these hand placements will encourage more extension and abduction of the upper arm. As a result, your lats get worked more than usual and are more apt to being sore — since they play a more active role in this style of the push-up.
Related Articles: Is It Better To Do Push-Ups In Sets Or All At Once? and Dips vs Push Ups: Pros, Cons, Which Is Better?
Is It Bad That The Lats Get Sore After Push-Ups?
No, it’s not bad that your lats get sore after push-ups.
Recall that the phenomenon of muscle coactivation between the pectoralis and the latissimus dorsi muscle groups is required to stabilize the shoulder joint throughout the push-up exercise. Without this simultaneous contraction, there would be a serious lack of stability during the descent and ascent.
Additionally, this stability achieved by the lats results in more precise large and small motor movement. Clearly, the lats getting sore after push-ups is quite normal and to be expected.
Training your back muscles is a key component of GPP workouts for powerlifters. Click here to find out what GPP is, how to do it, and the benefits.
Push-Up Variations That Target The Lats More
If you’re looking to hammer your lats even harder, here are 4 push-up variations to try.
Push-Up to Renegade Row
This exercise combines a “push” and a “pull” pattern by pairing the standard push-up with a dumbbell row.
With the TRX Push-up, this variation causes extra work for the lats because they must stabilize the rings and keep your arms locked-in close to your torso.
If you don’t have access to a TRX strap, then check out my Top 5 TRX Alternatives.
The Hindu Push-Up combines a couple of yoga progressions (downward dog and upward dog). This dynamic movement targets the lats more due to the additional extension requirements for the upper arm.
Push-Up with Overhead Reach
Performing a Push-Up with Overhead Reach is a surefire way to help stimulate more of the lats, by isolating one arm and forcing it to complete a significant amount of extension.
If you feel push ups too much in the shoulders, check out my article on Why Do You Feel Push Ups In My Shoulders (4 Reasons)
The lats are an antagonist (opposite) muscle group to the pecs, which are the main mover during the push-up. To promote more stability and motor movement control, the lats contract throughout the exercise — this is called muscle co-contraction.
It’s common for soreness in other muscle groups to be mistaken for lat soreness, like achiness in the serratus anterior, teres major and teres minor. Further, the soreness you experience could be due to a previous “push” workout or from an inwardly rotated hand position.
For the reasons listed above, sore lats after push-ups is a natural occurrence — embrace it!
If you liked this read, you might also enjoy this article on Quads Sore After Squats: Is This Good Or Bad?
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.