When you do shoulder or back exercises, chances are you’ll engage your rhomboids, traps and delts. But one crucial shoulder muscle you should also be working is your serratus anterior. “It gets its name from its serrated shape, like a knife blade, as it attaches to the ribs, and is anterior (forward to) the shoulder blade,” says Phoenix Carnevale, Daily Burn 365 trainer and martial artist.
As the most flexible joint in your body, your shoulders rely on the serratus anterior for upward rotation of the arms and protracting the scapula. Think: front raises, chest presses, rowing or doing a push-up. “The serratus anterior anchors and stabilizes the shoulder blade, aiding in an open chest and lifted posture,” Carnevale explains. “The serratus anterior is also occasionally called the ‘boxer’s muscle’ because it assist in the action of punching.” So if you want to put more power behind your jabs and crosses, strengthening your serratus anterior is key.
The catch? Because the serratus anterior is located on the underside of the shoulder blade near the inner ribs, it’s hard to target and is often a neglected muscle. “When the serratus anterior muscles are weak, they contribute to neck problems, rotator cuff issues and scapular winging (damage to the long thoracic nerve of the shoulder),” Carnevale says.
Here are three moves to help you improve your serratus anterior strength.
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3 Shoulder Exercises to Strengthen Your Serratus Anterior
We’ve got your back (and your shoulders, too). Try these three shoulder exercises from Carnevale that target the serratus anterior. Perform eight to 10 reps each.
1. Serratus Push-Up
You won’t feel like you’ve moved much with this shoulder exercise, but you should feel a retraction of your “wings,” Carnevale says.
How to: Get into a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders (a). Lower your body between your shoulders without bending your elbows. Keep your elbows soft as you slide your shoulder blades back (b). Bring your shoulder blades forward and then squeeze them together as you engage your core and push away from the ground.
2. Wall Angels
The key part of this exercise is to keep your hands against the wall. If your hands aren’t able to touch the wall, don’t force it. But some common mistakes you want to avoid are bringing the chest forward or extending the lower back off the wall.
How to: Stand with your back against a wall with your arms in cactus position at head height (a). Slide your arms upward with your shoulders down. Start with your thumbs touching the wall, and your elbows pressed as far back as you can reach (b). Lower your arms back to head height, while keeping your back against the wall.
3. Accordion Breathing
People with asthma or breathing issues experience problems with the serratus anterior, Carnevale says. This breathing technique helps you engage your serratus anterior for a more effective workout.
How to: Place your hands on each side of your rib cage and breath in by pulling your shoulder blades out, and then back and down.