A muscle starts at your shoulder blades and wraps about the front of your ribcage, which plays a vital role in shoulder health and mobility. Do you know what it is? If you guessed Serratus Anterior, you could pick up your check on your way out. If not, don’t worry; stick around and find out why this muscle is vital to shoulder health and mobility.
The serratus anterior spans over the top of your eight or nine upper ribs, and it looks like a serrated knife, hence the name. While it looks great when you can see it — it plays a vital role in shoulder health. This muscle contributes to shoulder strength, stability, and mobility.
Here we’ll geek out on a bit of anatomy, the benefits of training the serratus, and four exercises to substitute for better shoulder health.
Anatomy of the Serratus Anterior
The serratus anterior is a fan-shaped muscle on the lateral wall of the thoracic area (upper chest and back). Most of the muscle lies under the shoulder blades and the chest muscles, with the serrated part visible to the naked eye. The serratus anterior originates from the 1st to 10th rib and inserts at the anterior surface of the scapula.
Serratus Anterior Training Benefits
The serratus plays a vital role in the shoulder blade function. It keeps the shoulder blade attached and moving across the ribcage as it should. When the serratus is not engaged, it can result in scapula winging when the shoulder blades separate from the ribcage, which isn’t great. This muscle is responsible for most upper-body movements, and having a healthy and strong serratus has the following benefits.
Training the serratus combined with low body fat gives you a serrated look underneath your chest and above your abs. You probably don’t care so much if you’re a woman, but it looks fantastic if you’re a man.
Improved Shoulder Mobility
Strengthening your serratus anterior is essential for your shoulder health because this allows the shoulder blades to move across your ribcage in a full range of motion. You lose it if you don’t use it, and your shoulder mobility may become restricted.
Better Shoulder Stability
The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint that can move in multiple directions. The muscles surrounding the shoulder are responsible for providing stability to go with this mobility. A stronger serratus is essential in keeping the scapula against the rib cage to allow this magic to happen.
4 Serratus Exercises For Better Shoulder Health
The ab rollout is an exercise where you extend your torso toward the ground while keeping your spine straight. The ab rollout strengthens the serratus via protraction (coming apart) and upward rotation of the shoulder blades in the extended position. Getting stronger here improves core strength and recruits muscle that would otherwise be untouched. Sounds hard? That’s because it is.
How to do it: Get on your knees and grip the ab roller or barbell apart. Extend your hips towards the floor and let your chest sink toward the ground while keeping your spine neutral. The larger the range of motion, the more difficult it is, so shorten your ROM if you’re new to the exercise. Squeeze the lat and upper back muscles and pull yourself back to the starting position.
Programming Suggestion: Two sets of six to 12 reps at the start of your training will get you rocking.
Unilateral Band Chest Press with Reach
Most pressing exercises train your serratus, particularly at the lockout and when you reach and protract (coming apart) the shoulder blades at the end of the movement. But the band chest presses to create a horizontal force that encourages you to reach further, strengthening your serratus.
How to do it: Anchor a resistance band just below shoulder height, grab it with your right hand, and walk forward until you have tension in the resistance band. Step forward with your left leg to assume a split stance. Press the band until you reach lockout and reach forward. Then pause for a beat, return to the starting position, and reset and repeat.
Programming suggestions: Insert this instead of your usual chest press exercise once weekly for 12-16 reps on each side and two to four sets.
The dumbbell pullover is an old-school exercise that trains the back and chest simultaneously but the serratus anterior too. While reaching back and then pulling the dumbbell over your chest targets the serratus due to the shoulder blades upward and protraction (reaching back) movement.
How to do it: Lay on a bench, side on, with your feet on the ground. Perform a hip extension and press the dumbbell over your chest. Lower your arms back, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Keep lowering until you feel a stretch in your chest and lats. Pause, pull the dumbbell over your chest, reset, and repeat.
Programming suggestions: Do this instead of a chest or back exercise—your choice. Two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps work well.
Scapular Plane Lateral Raises
Lateral raises are a great exercise to give your shoulders a sexier appearance, but when you change the angle, you’ll train the serratus for better shoulder health. You’ll work in the scapular plane, about 20 to 30 degrees in front of your upper body. With your arms at this slight angle, you’ll strengthen the lateral shoulder and the serratus while reducing the stress on your rotator cuff.
How to do it: Hold light dumbbells with palms facing forward. While resting the dumbbells on your hips, raise the dumbbells to shoulder level, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Slowly return to the starting position, reset, and repeat.
Programming suggestions: Do this instead of your usual lateral raise exercise for two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
You can train this small but vital muscle for shoulder health with a slight change in your routine and how you perform specific exercises. Training the serratus will have your shoulders looking good and perform better too. It’s what I call a win-win.