How Tight Lats and Kipping May Cause Shoulder Pain (Subacromial Shoulder Impingement)

Oh the Lats!  Easily one of the internet’s favorite muscles.  Can’t reach overhead?  Gotta be the lats.  Can’t do pull-ups?  Better train those lats.  On a trip to bat wing...


Oh the Lats!  Easily one of the internet’s favorite muscles.  Can’t reach overhead?  Gotta be the lats.  Can’t do pull-ups?  Better train those lats.  On a trip to bat wing swole town?  Gotta hit those lats!  I must say, these muscles get a lot of attention.

Latissimus_dorsi_muscle_backHowever, one area where I think they also play a role is in shoulder pain.  Before I explain, a little anatomy about the lats, also known as latissimus dorsi:

  • The lats attach from the humerus (upper arm bone), down to the thoracolumbar fascia, which inserts directly into the pelvis.  You can see this in the picture of the lats in red.
  • The lats function to extend and internally rotate the arm as well as to extend the lumbar spine (the latter being a lesser known thing I find)
  • When restricted, the lats have the potential to limit shoulder flexion (bringing the arms overhead), external rotation (rotating the thumb back) and lumbar flexion.  We’ll be focusing more about what is limited in the shoulder specifically.

I’ve always stated that trying to perform overhead exercises with largely restricted overhead motion is a bad idea.  Well, it makes sense.  If you’re lacking overhead mobility and you force your way into more overhead mobility under load, that doesn’t seem like a good idea right?

That’s a bit of a no-brainer, but why is it bad?

 Think of it this way.  Let’s take an athlete with restricted overhead mobility due to lat shortness and have them perform a kipping motion:

There is a lot of momentum forcing additional overhead mobility in the backswing (arch) of this kip huh?  Well, what is going to happen with our athlete with stiff lats?  For one, your body will compensate in the backswing of a kip.  Compensation can be seen in several ways:

  1. The hands get much wider
  2. The elbows will bend
  3. The lumbar spine will arch excessively
  4. The backswing will be limited in motion
  5. The shoulder will internally rotate

#5 is what interests me.  Watching Mike Reinold’s video the other day on lat and teres major restriction got me thinking:

If the lat (and teres major) are limited they will force the shoulder into more internal rotation at end range shoulder flexion.  We’re doing this same thing in the back swing of kipping movements (just under a lot more load).  Now, this situation reminds me of one of my favorite orthopedic assessments.  The good old Neer’s Test for Shoulder Impingement Syndrome:

All kidding aside, bringing the arm into forceful full flexion with the shoulder in internal rotation causes compression of the biceps tendon, supraspinatus and subacromial bursa by the coracoacromial arch.  This forceful compression could be causing subacromial impingement syndrome of the shoulder.

To learn more I’ve beaten subacromial impingement to death in an article series you can find HERE:

Take an athlete with limited lat mobility and ask them to perform loaded movements at end range and you might be giving them some hearty subacromial impingement syndrome.  To make matters worse, if the athlete has decreased thoracic extension, decreased rotator cuff control, decreased scapular posterior tilt and scapular upward rotation then we’re probably getting even more compression of those tender subacromial structures.  Good luck rotator cuff, it was nice knowing you.

We always knew that training overhead motion with severe overhead restrictions (Like tight lats) was a bad idea, this is my best guess at the mechanism of injury for why it is happens.

Want to learn more about how to assess overhead motion and find the best exercises to correct it?  Check out Dr. Dave Tilley and my product:

Monkey Method – Movement Essentials

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding and Fixing Technical Flaws in the Handstand, Muscle-up and Olympic Lifts

Let’s get those lats swole and flexy,

Daniel Pope DPT, CSCS


  • Woodward, T., & Best, T. (2000). The Painful Shoulder Part 1: Clinical Evaluation.American Family Physician. Retrieved June 5, 2016, from
kippingpainrotator cuffscapulaScreening and AssessmentShoulder
18 Comments on this post.
  • Karin
    6 June 2016 at 10:26
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    So why the circles on the two body builder images?

    • djpope
      6 June 2016 at 10:26
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      Ha, I think the circles are just pointing out small differences in the muscles of Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath. The circles don’t have anything to do with the article, sorry!

  • Ryan
    7 June 2016 at 10:26
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    I enjoyed your article. I get great results from stretching the lats for should pain. It can also helps with cervical pain.

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    10 June 2016 at 10:26
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    12 June 2016 at 10:26
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  • Michael
    15 June 2016 at 10:26
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    Do you have maybe a directory of docs/PT’s that you recommend in different regions? Say Alexandria, VA?

    • djpope
      19 June 2016 at 10:26
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      Have you checked out from Quinn Henoch? Zach Long and Don Reagan are another 2 virginia therapists I know but not sure how close they are to alexandria.

  • Scott Tesoro dc
    19 June 2016 at 10:26
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    Never forget seven years ago when learning to kip in Crossfit. We were all newbies and didn’t know much. Came through on my kip and felt that oh so yucky feeling in my R shoulder. Tore the cuff and initiated a nasty long head tendon irritation. When I train and work on my athletes, (I’m a Crossfit coach and DC) I always screen for overhead mobility. It’s also a good idea for them to be able to easily do dead hang pull-ups while demonstrating scapula stability (not hanging off their soft tissues) before even dreaming of kipping. PS Enjoy your stuff! You should consider chiros as part of your audience. There’s a lot of us out there doing good work!

    • djpope
      19 June 2016 at 10:26
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      Thanks for the response Scott! I definitely consider chiros as part of the audience here at FPF and know several smart ones I regular follow and recommend! I’m writing a mega article series for train heroic right now for the kip. Should be a fun one when it launches.

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  • national chiropractor
    28 December 2016 at 10:26
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    Great article you have here. As what Scott said, you should definitely have a chiropractor present to check the form and to even guide you on how much extension for certain movement is still safe and what can be dangerous for the body.
    -Dr. Ben Green

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