June 10, 2021 9 min read
The serratus anterior muscles are a vital part of your core system. This muscle is also called the “boxer’s muscle” since it is largely responsible for your ability to punch. However, you don’t have to be a boxer for this muscle to be of high importance.
For those who lift, dance, or play most any sport, a strong serratus anterior muscle is imperative. In addition to sports performance, the serratus anterior also plays a large role in proper posture and adequate shoulder strength, which affects the daily lives of both athletes and nonathletes.
The serratus anterior is a fan-shaped muscle that runs down the rib cage starting at the scapula, passing underneath the armpit, and ending around the 8th rib bone. In more technical terminology, the serratus anterior can be found on the thoracic wall.
The functions of the serratus anterior are plentiful, but the main purpose of the muscle is the movement of the scapula, including rotation, flexion, and protraction, as well as the stabilization of the shoulder muscles. More specifically, the serratus anterior helps the shoulder in external rotation and upward rotation of the scapula, allowing you to seamlessly perform overhead actions.
As part of the core, which is the center of your body and is the driving force behind most movement, the serratus anterior needs to be of proper strength in order for your body to function at its full potential.
A weak serratus anterior can cause many issues in and outside the gym, including a condition known as scapular winging, resulting in some serious back and shoulder pain.
Scapular winging occurs when muscles other than your serratus anterior have to compensate for a lack of strength and mobility. In the case of weak serratus anterior muscles, the scapular muscles and bones rotate and tilt in order to support the back. This results in the medial border of the shoulder blades protruding from the back like wings, thus giving the condition its name.
The imbalances of the scapular muscles and bones cause major changes in surrounding muscles. For example, in one certain type of scapular winging, the pectoralis minor can become shortened, leading to a smaller available range of motion. This shortened range of motion results in less than ideal gym sessions and even fewer results.
Basically, without a strong serratus anterior, your shoulder cannot move efficiently. If you continue to work with subpar serratus anterior, your gym sessions may start doing more harm than good. Weak boxer muscles will likely result in poor form, which can quickly lead to shoulder injuries, such as a rotator cuff injury.
While the serratus anterior muscles remain vital to many of your favorite overhead movements, like the overhead press, these are muscles that are often highly neglected.
In addition to the importance of the muscles with inner body functions, strong serratus anterior muscles can also look aesthetically pleasing and complete the look of any muscular core. T here are many strengthening exercises to discourage serratus anterior dysfunction, shoulder impingement, and a winged scapula.
Push-ups are an underrated and often avoided bodyweight exercise. Despite the torture you might have endured with push-ups during your school gym class days, this movement is very efficient and requires no extra equipment. Most importantly, push-ups are a killer way to shred those serratus anterior muscles.
While push-ups may feel like second nature for some people, we can all use a brush-up on our form. Without proper push-up form, your muscular gains may be diminished. To do a push-up, you will need to be on the ground, so find a yoga mat or softer floor.
First, get on your hands and knees. Then, walk your legs out behind you so that they are fully extended. Keep your hands firmly planted on the ground right below the shoulders. At this point, only your palms and toes should be in contact with the mat or soft surface. Engage your abdominal muscles to support and stabilize your body.
Begin the movement by lowering yourself down towards the floor. Your back should be straight and in-line with your lower body throughout the movement. Lower your body so that you are barely off the floor, then use your upper body and core to push yourself back up to the starting position.
While you’ll feel engagement in several areas other than the serratus anterior, this movement can be a simple and easy way to get core gains. If you find a bodyweight push-up to be too easy, simply add a weighted plate to your back for extra resistance.
A push-up plus is exactly what is sounds like: a conventional push-up with a little extra movement. This can be a great option for those who have issues feeling strong core activation or who just need more of a challenge. To do this exercise, follow the push-up form instructions from the previous exercises.
However, at the top of the push-up, you will pause for a brief second before extending even more. In order to do this, simply push the ground again to lift the torso slightly more. Your shoulders will become rounded rather than the tightly squeezed position we often strive for.
Lower back down to the conventional push-up height, pausing briefly before lowering the body back down to just above the floor. Be sure to maintain a straight body line throughout.
Wall slides are a good option for those who are unable to do strenuous exercise but still wish to work on shoulder health and core stability. To do this exercise, you will only need a wall. To prepare for the movement, stand facing away from the wall with your feet together and about ten inches to one foot away from the wall.
Then, slowly lean back until your back comes in contact with the wall, feet still planted in front of you. Your knees should bend slightly. Keeping good posture, be sure your entire lower back and upper back is in contact with the wall. To do the movement, raise your arms to the wall and bend at the elbow.
Then, slowly slide both arms up above you, straightening them out as you go. Keep your arms and back in contact with the wall for as long as possible. Once the form begins to break down, you have reached the end of your range of motion. Repeat this movement several times, focusing on form and muscle engagement.
If you are like the majority of the population and a full push-up is just way too hard for you, don’t lose hope. There are still many ways you can use push-up variations to get the serratus anterior of your dreams. Scapular push-ups are most related to the push-up plus movement.
However, this exercise does not involve the entire push-up. Instead, scapular push-ups only require the top portion of the push-up plus, or the rounded shoulder movement. To do this exercise, simply get in the position you would be in for the fully extended part of a conventional push-up.
Then, push up and round the shoulders downward in order to get more scapular engagement. If a scapular push-up is still too hard, you can always use your knees in place of your toes, which will result in the use of less body weight.
High bear crawls can be a fun and effective addition to any core or upper body routine. For this movement, you will once again be on the floor, so a soft area like a mat or carpet may be best.
To do this exercise, get on your hands and knees. Next, lift your glutes up in the air by removing your knees from the ground and using your feet for support instead. Keep your palms intact with the floor. Your glutes should be the highest part of the body.
Keeping the knees straight at the shoulder blades down, move forward with your right hand and your left foot. This movement should be small and controlled. Next, crawl forward with the opposite limbs. Continue this alternating pattern while engaging the abs, lower body, and shoulders.
While it may seem easy, this exercise is all about form and weight placement. Moving too quickly can result in a loss of form. Keep the majority of the weight in the legs while maintaining an engaged core for best results.
Ab rollouts: we dread them and they’re super hard. However, the hard work of an ab rollout pays off well. If you, like many others, have tried them before and promptly gave up, there may be some hidden tricks in form and execution that can help you successfully complete an ab rollout.
For this exercise, you will need a piece of equipment called an abdominal wheel, which can be found in most gyms but is relatively cheap to purchase for yourself. To do this exercise, get on the ground on your hands and knees. Next, hold the ab wheel with both hands using the handle.
To begin the exercise, squeeze in your abdominal muscles and round out your back slightly. This is to protect the lumbar spine, which can be put under a lot of stress during this movement.
Next, allow the ab wheel to roll out in front of you using your core for stability. Stop at a point that feels comfortable to you as you will also have to roll the wheel back up to the starting position. For beginners, this distance may be much shorter than a fully extended rollout.
To return to the starting position, roll the wheel back up, maintaining the slightly rounded back and an engaged core. When you feel the abdominals are no longer driving the movement and your lower back is tilting inward, stop the exercise as you have reached your available range of motion.
Ab rollouts can be a very complex and difficult exercise, but keeping your core the focal point of the movement throughout is key. Using your back or hips to help at any point in the exercise will have little impact on the core, therefore taking away the point of the exercise and potentially leading to injury.
Dumbbell pullovers have long been used for chest gains, but you can also build back mobility, core stability, and get a killer serratus anterior pump. For this exercise, you will need a bench and one dumbbell. To start the exercise, lay back on the bench.
Hold the dumbbell up over your chest at your full arm extension using a triangular hold on one end of the dumbbell head. The bar of the dumbbell should be perpendicular to your chest. Position yourself so that your head hangs off the bench slightly, but not enough that your neck becomes unsupported.
To start the movement, lower the dumbbell back behind your head keeping the elbows straight. Maintain a slow and controlled movement, keeping your core engaged throughout. You can vary this exercise by bending at the elbows slightly rather than keeping the arms straight. This will shift a bit of the muscular focus to your back, which can be good for posture and scapular mobility.
Resistance bands are an amazing and widely under-used tool. While we often associate them with physical therapy and rehabilitation, resistance bands can actually provide a highly effective workout for any muscle group and for any level of fitness.
To use bands for serratus anterior building, you will need a power band or tube band with handles. Anchor the band around a stable structure, such as a pole. Facing away from the anchor, grab the resistance band in either hand, or you can hold only one end and focus on one side at a time.
Next, move away from the anchor slightly to create a bit of tension in the band. Stand in a stabilizing way. For some people, having your feet shoulder-width apart is enough, but for others taking a staggered stance with one foot in front of you provides the most stability.
Hold the bands at your chest with your elbows bent. Check-in with your back posture, being sure to maintain a neutral spine. Keep a forward gaze to ensure proper neck positioning.
Next, using your chest, shoulders, and core, press the bands out in front of your chest to the full extension of your arms. You can experiment with hand placement, either facing your palms down towards the ground or inward towards your body.
The serratus anterior muscles are important stabilizers to the shoulder muscles, shoulder joints, and pecs. The serratus anterior muscles also aid in movements of the thoracic spine, which is vital to core movement and stability. Above we listed some of the best exercises for building a strong serratus anterior, which can boost your overall performance in the gym.
If you have shoulder pain or find your lifts are lacking, a weak serratus anterior may be to blame. If you are aware of your less than ideal serratus anterior muscles and find yourself struggling with serratus anterior activation, there are several high-quality pre-workout supplements to help you get on top of your game.
Of course, in any case of pain, seeking professional medical advice is advised. Ignoring pain can result in further damage being done and thus more time away from the gym. This is especially true of injuries that can potentially affect the back, as posture and back health is a vital part of your overall health.