How to strengthen the serratus anterior muscle
The serratus anterior tends to be a forgotten muscle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often hear people saying, “I’m going to workout my serratus today.”
Now, the serratus anterior is one of those muscle groups that is smaller so you’re not going to dedicate an entire workout to this muscle, but it is good to incorporate a serratus exercise into an upper body day or a shoulder day.
The reason it’s important to isolate muscles like the serratus anterior is that when these muscles are neglected, they tend to get weak.
So although these smaller muscles should be activating when you do more compound exercises such as a shoulder press, if they are weak, larger muscle groups may start to take over and compensate.
When you take the time to add in exercises for these smaller muscle groups, it can be helpful in ensuring that all the muscles in the body stay in balance.
What is the serratus anterior?
The serratus anterior is a shoulder muscle.
It’s located on the outer portion of the ribs and it wraps around to the outer portion of the scapula (shoulder blade). Knowing the location of muscles in the body can be helpful as you will know where you should feel an exercise working.
The serratus anterior protracts the scapula meaning it brings the shoulder blade forward. So if you tried to spread your shoulder blades apart this would be protraction.
The most important part of the serratus anterior’s function is that it helps keep the shoulder joints in good alignment when you reach overhead. For this reason, when the serratus is weak, it can lead to an increased risk of developing a shoulder injury.
How do you work the serratus anterior?
To best isolate the serratus anterior, you need to perform an exercise that protracts the scapula.
Below I will give you two options to strengthen this muscle. Option 1 is more beginner friendly than option 2.
Option 1: Serratus Punches
I recommend starting with this option to really feel how this muscle works.
To use this exercise for strengthening, you do need some type of weight. A light dumbbell works or even a water bottle.
I recommend starting without any weight just to get a feel for the motion first. Once you understand this motion and can isolate the serratus anterior, then go ahead and add weight.
- Straighten your elbow so the dumbbell is aiming up toward ceiling. (Your elbow is straight but don’t lock it out, keep a micro-bend in it.)
- Keeping your arm at this angle, “punch” the dumbbell up to the ceiling. Basically your shoulder blade is lifting off the floor.
- Return shoulder blade back down and repeat.
- Make sure to keep the shoulder down away from your ear and don’t let your torso twist.
- Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps. Reps will depend on the amount of weight you’re using.
This is a super small movement. In the photos above, look at the difference in the shoulder position between each photo. You can see that the movement is slight but that the shoulder blade is lifting off the floor in the second picture.
2. Option 2: Serratus Push-ups (modified or full)
Modified serratus push-ups
- Start in a modified plank. Make sure you’re in good alignment in your plank and that your spine is straight. (You can add cushion under your knees if needed.)
- Press through your elbows and think about spreading your shoulder blades (scapula) apart. You’re just moving the shoulder blades, NOT rounding your upper back.
- Come back to the starting position and make sure to keep back flat and don’t let it “hang down”.
- Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Again, you can see that this movement is super small. This variation will be more challenging than option 1.
Full serratus push-ups
Follow steps from the modified version except perform in a plank on your toes instead of your knees.
For video instructions, check out video below!