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Are you looking to improve your shoulder health and overall upper body strength?
One area to focus on is serratus anterior exercises.
The serratus anterior is a large fan-shaped muscle which is located on the side of your rib cage.
It connects from your first and ninth ribs and plays a key role in stabilizing the scapula and helping with movements that involve reaching, pushing, and pulling.
There are various exercises you can do to target the serratus anterior muscle and improve its strength and function.
Recommended Reading – 6 Easy Infraspinatus Exercises For The Rotator Cuff
These exercises range from bodyweight movements such as bear crawls to more targeted exercises like scapular push-ups and wall slides.
In this article we’ll look at some of the best serratus anterior exercises that can effectively target this muscle, helping to prevent shoulder injuries whilst improving your overall upper body strength and mobility.
It’s important to note that while direct work on the serratus anterior may not be necessary for everyone, it can be beneficial for those who have weak or imbalanced shoulder muscles.
As with any exercise program, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting and to listen to your body to avoid injury.
What Does The Serratus Anterior Muscle Do?
Your serratus anterior muscle plays a crucial role in maintaining good posture, shoulder stability, and scapular movement.
It’s sometimes referred to as the “boxer’s muscle” or the “big swing muscle” because it is responsible for the protraction and upward rotation of the scapula during punching and throwing movements.
A weak serratus anterior can lead to an increase in back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain, especially to the rotator cuff tendons.
This is because the muscle helps stabilize the shoulder joint and prevents impingement of the rotator cuff tendons.
A strong serratus anterior is essential for maintaining good posture.
It helps keep your shoulders back and down, preventing the rounding of the shoulders and the development of a hunched posture.
This, in turn, can help reduce neck and shoulder pain and improve your overall appearance.
In addition to its vital role in posture and shoulder stability, the serratus anterior also plays a huge role in upper body strength and power.
It’s involved in pushing and pressing movements, as well as in exercises that require overhead reaching and lifting.
How Does The Serratus Anterior Affect The Shoulder
When the serratus anterior muscle is weak, it can cause a chain reaction of problems throughout the shoulder girdle.
Weakness in this muscle can lead to altered scapulohumeral rhythm, which can cause impingement of the rotator cuff muscles.
This can lead to pain and weakness in the shoulder joint.
Weakness to the serratus anterior can also result in scapular winging.
Sometimes referred to as a winged scapula, this is a condition that is characterized by an abnormal protrusion or ‘sticking out’ of the shoulder blade from the back of the rib cage.
Aside from performing serratus anterior exercises, It’s also important to target other muscles that contribute to shoulder stability, such as the rotator cuff muscles, pectoral muscles, trapezius muscle, and latissimus dorsi.
What Are the Benefits Of Serratus Anterior Exercises
Training the serratus anterior muscles offers several benefits as listed below.
Better Shoulder Stability
The serratus anterior helps to stabilize your shoulder joint by anchoring the scapula to your rib cage.
When you perform anterior strengthening exercises, over time, this can help improve shoulder stability, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries whilst enhancing performance in various upper body exercises and sports.
Improved Shoulder Mobility
The serratus anterior is responsible for scapular protraction and scapular retraction.
Scapular protraction is to move your shoulder blades forwards and to the sides and would occur during such movements as pushing upwards during a push up exercise.
Scapular retraction is the opposite and is when the shoulder blades move back and together, think of pulling yourself up during a pull up exercise.
The serratus anterior also assist with scapular upward rotation.
Upward rotation of the scapula occurs during overhead movements such as shoulder presses and throwing activities.
All of these movements are essential for proper functionality of your upper body and when you strengthen your serratus anterior muscle, this can ensure correct mobility and full range of motion to your shoulder joints.
When your serratus anterior muscle becomes weak, this can cause your shoulders to round, meaning that they hunch forwards.
This can also result in your trapezius muscles to become weak and lead to problems such as neck pain and stiffness.
Strengthening your serratus anterior can help correct this posture and promote better alignment of the shoulders and upper back.
Helps To Prevent Injury
Training the serratus anterior can reduce the risk of shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries by optimizing scapular movement and shoulder mechanics.
Increased Athletic Performance
Strengthening the serratus anterior can enhance upper body strength and stability, leading to improved performance in sports that involve throwing, pushing, or overhead movements.
Specific Exercises for Serratus Anterior
If you want to strengthen your serratus anterior muscles, there are many exercises that you can try.
Below are some of the best exercises that can help you improve the strength and function of your serratus anterior muscles.
Bear crawls are a full-body functional exercise that mimics the crawling movement of a bear.
It engage multiple muscle groups and is a great way to improve core strength, shoulder stability, and overall body coordination.
You can modify this exercise by crawling in different directions such as backwards and sideways or by raising your hips towards the ceiling, known as the high bear crawl.
Here’s How To Perform Bear Crawls:
- Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your back should be flat and parallel to the ground.
- Lift your knees a few inches off the ground, supporting your weight on your hands and toes.
- From here, move forward by stepping your right hand and left foot forward simultaneously, followed by your left hand and right foot. The movement should be similar to a bear’s crawling motion.
- Throughout the exercise make sure you don’t arch your back.
- Coordinate the movements of your opposite hand and foot as you crawl forward.
- Continue Crawling: Keep crawling forward for a set distance or time.
Scapular push-ups, sometimes called push-up plus, are a modification on the regular push and a simple but effective exercise for the serratus anterior muscles.
The exercise, when performed correctly, places more emphasis on the stability and movement of your shoulder blades.
How To Do Scapular Push Ups:
- Start in a standard push-up position with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your body in a plank position, resting on your toes (or knees if this is easier).
- Keeping your arms straight, lower your body by retracting your shoulder blades, so squeeze them together. This creates a slight “hollow” or depressed position in the middle of your upper back.
- Pause briefly before protracting your shoulder blades. Doing this should result in your upper back to arch slightly and spread your shoulder blades apart.
- It’s important to keep your arms straight throughout and just concentrate on moving your shoulder blades.
- Repeat for your chosen number of reps.
Scapular Wall Slides
Scapular wall slides, sometimes called forearm wall slides, are an easy at home exercise that can be done by most people.
It’s quite similar to the standard wall slide where you have your back positioned against the wall.
However, this modification is good if you have limited overhead mobility as it can help to increase your range of motion with overhead movements.
How To Do Scapular Wall Slides:
- Start by facing the wall and placing elbows against the wall. They should be shoulder width apart and shoulder height.
- Position the sides of your hands and arms so they also rest against the wall.
- Your palms should be facing each other, and your hands should be directly above your elbows. This is your starting position.
- From here slide your forearms up and lower yourself towards the wall keeping your core engaged throughout.
- Go as high as you can and pause at the top of the movement.
- Slide your arms back down to the starting position and repeat.
When you perform a side plank, your serratus anterior is activated to maintain the stability of the scapula as you support your body weight on your forearm and side of the foot.
The muscle works to prevent the scapula from winging (where the inner border of the scapula lifts off the ribcage) and assists in keeping the shoulder girdle steady.
How To Do The Side Plank:
- Begin by lying on your side on an exercise mat and proper yourself up on your forearm whilst keeping your legs stacked. Keep your elbow under your shoulder.
- Raise your hip up so that your body forms a straight line from head to heel.
- Engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
- Hold this position for around 30 to 60 seconds, longer if you like. Be sure not to let your hips sag and keep your body straight throughout.
- Once complete, switch to work the opposite side.
Cable Serratus Punches, sometimes called serratus jabs, are a great exercise for targeting the serratus anterior muscle.
They can enhance scapular stability and improve the function of the muscles involved in protraction and upward rotation of the scapula.
You’ll need access to a cable machine to perform this exercise.
How To Do Serratus Jabs:
- Attach a D-handle or similar attachment to a cable machine and set it to shoulder height.
- Stand with your back to the machine and take hold of the handle with your right hand.
- Adopt a split stance with your right foot at the back for stability. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
- Hold the cable handle close to your right shoulder, elbow bent at around 90 degrees, and your forearm parallel to the ground. Your elbow should behind your body. This is your starting position.
- Now punch upwards and slightly towards the ceiling, your arm should be on a slight angle.
- Rotate your torso round slightly to the left and continuing punch forwards aiming to get as much range of motion as you can.
- Pause briefly and then return your arm back to the starting position.
- Perform the desired number of repetitions on one side before switching to the other side.
It’s important to note that while the suggested exercises target the serratus anterior, they should be performed with proper form and control to avoid strain or injury.
If you’re new to these exercises or have any existing shoulder issues, consider seeking advice from a personal trainer or similar.
In conclusion, incorporating serratus anterior exercises into your fitness routine can yield significant benefits for both your upper body strength and overall shoulder health.
As a muscle vital for scapular stability and mobility, the serratus anterior plays a pivotal role in ensuring proper shoulder mechanics, reducing the risk of injuries, and enhancing functional movement patterns.
By engaging in a variety of serratus anterior exercises, such as wall slides, scapular push-ups, cable serratus punches, and more, you can strengthen this often-overlooked muscle group.
These exercises not only target the serratus anterior directly but also synergistically engage surrounding muscles, leading to improved posture, enhanced scapular control, and a more resilient shoulder complex.
Through consistent practice and focus on form, you can empower your body with a foundation of strength that supports both daily activities and more demanding athletic pursuits.
Whether you’re an athlete seeking to optimize performance or an individual striving for better posture and overall well-being, integrating serratus anterior exercises into your training regimen is a meaningful step towards achieving your fitness goals and cultivating a robust, functional physique.