The serratus anterior muscle attaches to the ribs and is anterior to the shoulder blades. It's often a forgotten, and all too neglected, muscle. The serratus is often referred to as the boxer's muscle because it is responsible for protracting the shoulder blades so the arm can move forward, such as during a jab.
It also creates upward rotation in the should so the arm can move overhead. A weak serratus can lead to pinching known as impingement because the shoulder isn't able to rotate out of the way as the humerus moves inside the shoulder girdle.
The serratus also anchors the scapula to the thoracic while you use your arm. If you have a weak serratus, this can make your rotator cuff work double over time, eventually leading to tendonitis.
Overall, a strong serratus improve shoulder stability and protects it from wear and tear.
Let's dive into some of my favorite ways to strengthen the serratus without over activation the pec minor.
Prone scaption thumbs out
This first one is a prone scaption with thumbs out. If you have good ROM with this you can tuck your thumbs. Make sure you posteriorly tilt the pelvis and depress and retract the scapula. You want your entire back to touch the floor.
Full extension on the elbows is ideal. I have hypermobile elbows, so I keep them slightly bent. Raise the arms overhead while keeping the shoulders pressed to the floor during upward rotation.
Try these are part of your warm up.
Round two of serratus anterior activation. This sounds so sexy, it just rolls off the tongue.
Again we are focusing on scapular depression, retraction, and upward rotation without activating the pecs.
This is a serratus angel or slide. Often you see them standing or sitting near a wall. I prefer lying in the floor so you can get as much ground contact as possible. You want your entire back on the floor.
Tilt the pelvis posteriorly so your back is flat on the floor, and make sure your shoulders have ground contact. No rolling forward. It helps to exhale as you move up if you tend to hang out in lumbar extension.
This one is much more difficult than the first drill. It’s easy to cheat. You need to maintain ground contact with the wrists, elbows and shoulders as your hands slide overhead.
Nothing leaves the floor. If you feel any lift off, reduce your range of motion. Even if you barely move your arms. Over time your ROM will increase.
When I started doing these daily my thoracic region was super sore. More so than heavy lifting. If you do them properly it’s an intense workout.
Go for 3 sets of 5-10 at least 3 times a week to see improvement in overhead mobility.
Prone Serratus Liftoffs
Another exercise I’ve been doing lately to help my shoulders move better.
This exercise does active the pecs. I recommend if you have overactive pec muscles to avoid this until they release and you learn to active the serratus anterior properly without over compensating with the pec minor.
The first two exercises I showed will help with this.
Prone serratus lift offs are similar to scap push ups. However, many find scap push ups difficult as movement through a full range of motion can be inhibited due to core instability. Lying on the floor omits this challenge and allows you to focus on the serratus in an open chain position.
Make sure you posteriorly tilt the pelvis and depress and retract the scapula at starting position.You want your entire back to touch the floor.
From here, protract the scapula by moving your shoulder blade off the floor as much as possible. Nothing should move except your scapula.
Try these are part of your warm up. Do 3 sets of 5 to 10.