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3 Serratus Anterior Exercises for Stronger Shoulders

<article> <section> <p>According to ancient Greek mythology, the god Atlas had a set of shoulders strong enough to hold up the Earth and the sky at once. Thankfully for us mere mortals, we typically only need our shoulders for simple movements such as lifting objects over our head, giving a big bear hug, and doing exercises like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">pushups</a>.</p> <p>Still, if we want a strong, stable pair of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">shoulders</a>, we need to give attention to all the muscles that help the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">arms</a> perform these functions—not just the big recognizable ones like the deltoids. Here we’ll narrow in on a particular set of muscles you need to work to improve all-around shoulder strength and prevent injury: <i>the serratus anterior</i>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Muscles Cover Your Ribs?</header> <p>The serratus anterior are a set of fan-like muscles that link your top eight ribs to your <i>scapula</i>—also called the shoulder blades<sup>1</sup>.</p> <p>These muscles allow us to rotate our arms forward and pull the scapula around the ribcage—known as <i>protraction</i>. The serratus anterior is sometimes called the “boxing muscle” because you need this protraction to throw a punch. The serratus anterior also allows the scapula to move laterally. That lateral movement is necessary for elevating and raising our arms above the head.</p> <p>A strong serratus anterior will make these actions a breeze. Unfortunately, a weak or injured serratus can lead to some serious problems…</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Causes Winging of the Scapula?</header> <p>Although somewhat rare, <i>scapular winging</i> is a painful and debilitating condition. It’s caused by an injury to one of the main muscle groups that link to the scapula. The most common cause for scapular winging is a weakened serratus anterior muscle. Or it could be damage to the <i>long thoracic nerve</i> that activates the serratus anterior<sup>2</sup>.</p> <p>Blunt force trauma to the area, damage to the long thoracic nerve from a virus or other illness, or injury from repetitive movements involving the serratus anterior can cause winging. This injury is most often documented among athletes in sports from boxing to ballet to baseball. But it can also arise from household activities including: washing the car, digging in the garden, and even holding a book up to read for too long<sup>2</sup>.</p> <p>Your primary care physician can easily diagnose scapular winging by looking at your shoulder blades. If one or both scapula stick out rather than lying flat against your back, it could be scapular winging. Other symptoms include:</p> <ul> <li>Pain or weakness in the shoulders, neck, and back</li> <li>Difficulty lifting, pulling, or pushing heavy objects</li> <li>Limited range of motion or pain during protraction or elevation of the arms</li> </ul> <p>If you have any of these symptoms, winged scapula could be the culprit, so consult your doctor.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>How Do You Treat Winged Scapula?</header> <p>Having winged scapula isn’t the worst thing ever. Mild cases usually heal on their own within a few months, though some folks may need a year or more to recover<sup>3</sup>. It’s one of those injuries that just takes time. A combination of rest, a little patience, and the right course of treatment will have your scapula as good as new! </p> <p>You should always speak with your primary care physician before choosing a plan of action. They might suggest physical therapy or <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">at-home</a> exercises—like the ones we’ll show you here—to ease scapular winging and improve shoulder <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">mobility</a>. You can use braces to help stabilize the muscles as well. Ask your doctor what they think and follow their advice—they’re the pros after all! </p> <p>With that in mind, let’s move on to…</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>3 Best Exercises for the Serratus Anterior</header> <p>Here are three of our best exercises for strengthening and stabilizing the serratus anterior. These exercises are gentle enough for beginners and provide a nice <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">stretch</a> to the muscles around the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">shoulders</a>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jp2"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="fit-women-plank-shoulder-0219"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>#1 Scapular Pushups on Elbows</header> <p>Scapular pushups will help you zero in on the serratus anterior to build strength.</p> <ol> <li>Start in an elbow <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">plank</a>, propped up on your toes with your forearms flat on the floor.</li> <li>Without using your biceps, lower your torso toward the floor until your shoulder blades squeeze together.</li> <li>Press back up. Repeat for 10-15 reps.</li> </ol> <p>If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also try regular scapular pushups by beginning in a full plank position. Only lower yourself far enough to feel your shoulder blades activate—do this by not allowing your elbows to bend during the pushup.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jp2"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="woman-practicing-yoga-bird-dog-0219"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>#2 Bird Dogs</header> <p>The bird dog is often thought of as a core move, but it activates the shoulder and scapula as well. </p> <ol> <li>Come into a table top position on all fours on the floor.</li> <li>At the same time, raise and extend your right arm in front of you and left leg behind you. Stop when your arm and leg are each parallel with your torso.</li> <li>Return to the starting position. Switch, this time extending your left arm and right leg.</li> <li>Continue to alternate for 10-15 reps on each side.</li> </ol> <p>As you extend each arm, keep your shoulder blades pulled back. Done correctly, you should feel a strong squeeze in the shoulder blade.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jp2"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="man-wall-press-stretch-0219"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>#3 Wall Shoulder Protraction and Retraction</header> <p>This move gives a great stretch to the serratus anterior while gently building strength.</p> <ol> <li>Stand in front of a wall at arm’s length. Place both hands on the wall around shoulder-width apart.</li> <li>Without bending your elbows, move your chest toward the wall.</li> <li>Once you feel a squeeze in your shoulder blades, press your torso back to the starting position.</li> <li>Continue for 10-15 reps.</li> </ol> <p>You can easily make these moves into a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">circuit</a> workout by performing a set of each with a brief rest between. Do this circuit three times in a row a few days per week to prevent and alleviate pain in serratus anterior and scapular winging. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Putting It All Together</header> <p>A strong, stable serratus anterior can do far more than keep scapular winging at bay. </p> <p>Training good shoulder and scapular control increases the stability and function of your shoulders. This improves your <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">posture</a> and reduces pain-causing pressure on your neck. Keep your neck and spine tall while performing scapular pushups, bird dogs, and wall protraction and retraction to get the best results.</p> <p>Working on your serratus anterior doesn’t have to be a pain in the posterior! Incorporate these moves into your routine to keep those shoulders nice and strong. </p> <p>And while you’re here, take a minute to head over to our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Fitness page</a>. There you’ll find evidence-backed advice like this, full-body workout plans, and more!</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Serratus anterior</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Scapular winging: anatomical review, diagnosis, and treatments</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Scapular winging recovery</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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