Fitness

9 Serratus Anterior Exercises That'll Boost Your Shoulder Mobility

They also play an important role in lifting and pulling.

Here's why serratus anterior exercises are so important, according to trainers.
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The serratus anterior muscles are often overlooked during a workout. In fact, they might just be one of the most forgotten muscles, especially compared to favorites-to-work like the biceps and glutes. On the plus side, though, it’s super easy to add serratus anterior exercises to your fitness routine.

For a quick rundown, the serratus anterior is the muscle located under your arms near your rib cage, says certified personal trainer Rachel MacPherson, CPT. “It acts to protract the shoulder, which means it helps it pull forward,” she tells Bustle. “It plays a role in overhead lifting by rotating the shoulder blade upward [and also aids] in your ribcage movement to make room for your lungs to expand as you breathe in.”

However overlooked it may be, the serratus is a super important muscle that plays a role in everyday movements like pushing and lifting. If it doesn’t get enough attention in a workout, these simple motions might start to feel more difficult. It’s also possible to experience shoulder issues or bursitis (painful swelling that affects fluid-filled sacs that cushion your bones), MacPherson says, as a result of muscle weakness in this area.

You might already be training your serratus by default if you do compound movements that work your entire core, like bench presses, pull-ups, shoulder presses, or deadlifts, MacPherson says. These moves include the serratus in the mix and help keep it strong. If these exercises don’t make an appearance in your routine, you can start doing more pull-ups or shoulder presses — or target the serratus anterior with the trainer-recommended ones below.

1

Band Chest Press

MacPherson recommends this press exercise as an easy way to work your serratus.

- Anchor a resistance band behind you on a fixed point.

- Hold an end of the band in both hands.

- Step one leg forward in a staggered stance, about hip-width apart.

- Move both arms forward at the same time to press the band out and away from your body using your chest muscles.

- Protract your shoulder blades and squeeze them at the end of the motion.

- Slowly reverse to start and press again.

- Repeat 15 to 20 reps.

2

Decline Push-Ups

This next move from MacPherson may look tricky, but it’s worth it for hitting that oft-overlooked muscle group.

- Place your feet on an elevated surface, like a weight bench.

- Place your hands on the ground to get into a push-up position.

- Slowly lower your chest closer to the floor by bending your elbows.

- Your elbows should point backward at an angle so your arms form an arrow shape.

- Raise up by pushing through your hands, using your chest muscles.

- Protract your shoulders fully and squeeze before lowering again.

- Aim for 8 to 10 total reps.

3

Boxing

Boxing is another good option to work your serratus anterior — and it happens to be fun. “It works the serratus as you protract your shoulder to throw punches,” MacPherson says. “That’s why the serratus muscle is usually very noticeable in boxers.”

- Get into a boxer’s stance with one foot stepped slightly forward.

- Begin to throw punches like a jab, cross, or uppercut.

- For a challenge, hold onto a light set of dumbbells or wear weighted gloves.

4

Serratus Punch

For another punch-based move, try this one. “This exercise targets the serratus anterior by isolating its movement,” says Rafi Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, a physical therapist and owner of ProActive Rehabilitation & Wellness.

- Lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand.

- Start small with a 2 to 3-pound weight, then move up to 5 to 10 pounds.

- Reach your arms straight up overhead.

- Keep your arms straight, elbow locked.

- Lift just your shoulder blade off the ground as you push one weight a few inches higher, keeping the other arm raised.

- Lower your shoulder blade back down and repeat.

- Aim for 2 sets of 15 reps on each arm.

5

Dumbbell Pullover

For this move, all you need is a dumbbell and a bench. Here, MacPherson breaks it down.

- Sit with your back facing the long side of a weight bench with a dumbbell in your lap, feet flat on the floor.

- Place your upper back on the bench and lift your hips.

- Hold the dumbbell in both hands.

- Bring the dumbbell over your chest.

- Slowly lower it behind your head.

- Keep a slight bend in your elbows.

- Once you feel a stretch in your sides — including your serratus anterior — lift the dumbbell back up above your chest.

- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

6

Plank Knee Taps

Weight-bearing moves are an effective way to activate the serratus, says Lara Heimann, PT, a physical therapist and creator of the LYT Yoga Method. And that’s why a plank will do the trick.

- Start on all fours.

- Slide your shoulder blades together and then apart for one minute to warm them up.

- Hold your shoulder blades in a neutral position.

- Step your left foot and then your right foot back into a plank.

- Engage your core.

- Hold the plank as you lightly tap your knees to the floor one at a time.

- Aim to feel the heat in your shoulder blades.

- Move your knees down and up for 30 seconds without collapsing your shoulders or ribs.

7

Bear Crawl

For another weight-bearing move, try the bear crawl. “Building up the serratus anterior with this move will not only help build upper and lower body strength but will increase your overall stability,” says Cat Kom, the CEO and founder of Studio SWEAT onDemand.

- Place your hands and feet on the floor about shoulder-width apart.

- Facing the ground, crawl forward moving your right leg while simultaneously moving your left arm.

- Make sure your knees don't touch the floor and that your back stays flat.

- Switch sides and move your right arm and left leg in unison.

- Repeat 2 to 3 sets of 10.

8

Wall Slides

“This move activates the serratus anterior muscles while improving shoulder strength and back stability,” Kom tells Bustle.

- Start by facing a wall standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.

- Place your forearms on the wall with your thumbs facing you and your elbows parallel to your chest.

- Bring your shoulders closer together in the front and engage your abdominal muscles.

- Begin to slide your arms up the wall as far as you can reach.

- Slide your arms back down, making sure to engage your serratus anterior muscle.

- Do 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps.

9

Ab Rollout

If you have an ab roller, MacPherson recommends doing some slides to work your serratus.

- Get on the floor on your knees behind a rollout device.

- Grasp the roller handles.

- Tuck your tailbone under to brace your abs.

- Start to roll it away from you while keeping your core tight and back straight.

- Once you roll out as far as you can while remaining stable, use your abs and serratus to pull yourself back to the starting position.

- Repeat 5 to 10 reps.

Studies referenced:

Conduah, AH. (2010). Clinical management of scapulothoracic bursitis and the snapping scapula. Sports Health. doi: 10.1177/1941738109338359.

Lung, K. (2022). Anatomy, Thorax, Serratus Anterior Muscles. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.

Sources:

Rachel MacPherson, CPT, certified personal trainer

Rafi Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, physical therapist, owner of ProActive Rehabilitation & Wellness

Lara Heimann, PT, physical therapist, creator of LYT Yoga Method

Cat Kom, CEO, founder of Studio SWEAT onDemand