Muscle of the-month serratus anterior

by Hadyn Luke 

The serratus anterior is found along the side of your rib cage on both sides layered underneath the latissimus dorsi (lats), and can often be seen prominently in punching athletes like boxers, according to Meghan Braun, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist of Body Mechanics Physical Therapy. The muscle has a fan-shaped appearance and attaches to many of the upper ribs.

Turns out, this little muscle is a multi-tasker. “It functions primarily as a scapular abductor and protactor, meaning [it] pushes the shoulder blade forward,” Braun says. It also helps your shoulder blade rotate upward, which happens when you lift your arms over your head. When the shoulders are working properly, the serratus anterior also assists in rib cage expansion for breathing.

THE ACTION AND BASIC FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT OF THE SERRATUS ANTERIOR

The action of the serratus anterior is largely connected to movement of the scapula, helping to stabilize it, abduct and rotate it, and draw it forward and upward.

Its functions include:

  • Lifting the arms above the shoulders
  • Moving the arms in different directions
  • Aiding pulling and pushing
  • Elongating the arm when punching
  • Lifting weights or other items above the head
  • Holding the shoulder blades in place during certain movements and exercises
  • Spreading and supporting the ribs when inhaling
  • Stabilising the area and improving posture

To work your serratus, try these three exercises:

Straight Arm Pulldowns: “Using a cable machine and a straight bar, stand in ready position (hips slightly hinged, knees slightly bent, core engaged) with the bar attached above your head,” Novak instructs. “With the palms pressing on the top of the bar and thumbs wrapped around the other side if needed, pull the bar straight down to the thighs.” Keep your arms straight (without locking your elbows) as you pull the bar down, then let them come back up to the starting position slowly and under control.

Pushup Plus: “This is much like a regular pushup, only it adds protraction of the shoulder blades by pushing the back toward the ceiling at the end of the ‘up’ portion of the pushup,” explains Jennifer Novak, MS, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of Peak Symmetry. “If needed, you can practice that portion of the move alone, either in plank position on the ground or even on a wall.”

Cable Deltoid Raises: “Stand with the cable behind you, using an adequate amount of weight to challenge yet maintain proper form, palm neutral,” Novak says. “Lift the cable up and out (away from midline) about 25–30 degrees, slowly. Hold at shoulder level for approximately 2–3 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.”

Exercises that will work the serratus anterior include:

  • push-ups and reverse push ups
  • lean back push-ups and scapular push-ups
  • wall presses
  • shoulder blade protractions
  • plank
  • rhomboid pulls
  • oblique punching
  • straight arm push downs

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