10 Best Serratus Anterior Exercises to Strengthen It

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 25, 2024
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Many personal trainers will agree that bodybuilders tend to spend too little time on exercises that specifically target the serratus anterior muscle.

These are the glorious muscles that connect the shoulder blade and rib cage. When you are ripped and shredded, they can make your upper body appear a lot bulkier.

Our team here at Total Shape has come up with a set of 10 different exercises that you should be able to easily add to your upper body training days.

Aim to add three or four of these and see how much of a difference you will feel.

Quick Summary

  • The best serratus anterior exercises are bear crawl, chest press, wall slide, punch bag, plank-ups, uppercut, and overhead reaches, among others.
  • Start off with the serratus anterior workout routines you are comfortable handling then progressively incorporate others.
  • The National Institute of Health states that a weak or injured serratus anterior may cause a winged scapula, characterized by an unusually protruding shoulder blade with a recovery period of 6 to 24 months, emphasizing the need to train and strengthen them.
  • In my opinion, these exercises are essential for athletes, especially boxers and swimmers, to enhance shoulder stability and overall upper body strength.

Our Best Serratus Anterior Exercises

These are the ten best serratus anterior exercises we came up with.

1. Bear Crawl

Bear Crawl

I love starting a training session with bear crawls as they don’t tend to put a lot of pressure on joints and tendons.

It’s kind of like a mini warm-up, but you can increase the intensity very quickly.

What I would suggest doing is starting with a high bear crawl where you go forward for 10 yards and then backward for the same distance.

If there’s more space at your gym, then try to extend the distance a bit. And if you’re doing these at home, then circular bear crawls can work just as well.

One thing I would say is that this shouldn’t be an exercise where speed is a priority.

Try to keep a nice and smooth movement where you feel the burn from your lower core all the way up to your shoulder blade.

2. Chest Press

standing chest press resistance bandAny chest press machine will engage your serratus anterior, but there’s a little trick you can use to really make sure you get some more intense muscle activation in your shoulders and serratus anterior.

What’s my trick?

A plain and simple set of thick exercise bands.

Secure the band to a wall hook and stand upright, facing away from the wall. Slowly bring your hands together in front, mimicking a wing motion.

This slow pace intensifies the workout for your serratus anterior, shoulders, and chest. You'll feel a solid burn at the top of the movement, highlighting the exercise's effectiveness.

The benefit of the slow activation is that when you get to the top of the position, you should start feeling a good burn in your muscles.

You can also work out your chest with these resistance band exercises.

3. Wall Slide

Wall Slide

This is another good option for warming up as it doesn’t involve a huge amount of strain on your shoulder blades or rotator cuff.

Stand far enough from the wall to allow you to slightly lean against your hand with your arm stretched out and your hand on the wall above your head.

Use a towel to help avoid friction between your hand and the wall.

While keeping a bit of pressure on your hand, you need to slide your hand up the wall with your shoulder moving up and slightly rotating.

For the more serious bodybuilder, this move will be a bit easy, so what I’d suggest after a short warm-up is to use some exercise bands.

With one end attached to your foot and the grip in your hand, perform the same movement as above and even try to hold the tension at the top for a few seconds.

4. Punch Bag

Even if you’re not into boxing, you’ll probably find that this can quickly become one of the more fun serratus anterior exercises.

And if you look at professional boxers, you might notice that they have prominent serratus anterior muscles. It’s where a lot of their power comes from.

My personal recommendation is to put on a pair of gloves and throw some punches at a heavy bag. Ideally, get a personal trainer to show you the best form and body position to make it more straining while not causing any shoulder damage.

Take it easy for 30 seconds to get used to it, but don’t be afraid to get your weight behind it. And if you want to train harder in less time, then try using some wrist weights to make the movement a bit more difficult.

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5. Plank-Ups

plank-up

People favor these exercises as they're gentler on shoulder and elbow joints. Plank-ups effectively work your serratus anterior muscles because they don't heavily rely on triceps.

Start in a push-up position, then lower into a plank, alternating arms. Do it slowly, keeping shoulder blades tight to your back to activate the correct muscles.

Now, as your body grows stronger, I would suggest spicing this up a bit.

Do 30 seconds of plank-ups, immediately followed by as many diamond push-ups as you can do.  And if you plan to take it to the ultimate level, then strap on a weighted exercise vest and see if you can keep up the muscle burn.

“The serratus anterior is a multi-segmented muscle that originates at the upper eight or nine ribs, and runs all the way to the medial side of the scapula. First, it plays a role in protracting the shoulder blades (moving them away from each other). It is also responsible for stabilizing and holding the shoulder blades against the rib cage.”

- YogaInternational.com

6. Elbow To Ceiling

Elbow-To-Ceiling

Setting this up might be challenging initially, but it's excellent for easing back pressure, especially if you have spine issues.

Lie on a mat or bench with a thick exercise band under your back. Position your elbow to point upwards, forming a right angle, similar to an uppercut punch.

Loop the band over your elbow, extend it along your forearm, and hold the handle.

At this stage, you’ll start moving your arms up and down while pushing your elbow up towards the ceiling.

It’s almost an isolation exercise for the serratus anterior, and I recommend doing it slowly.

7. Protracted Push-Ups

protracted push up

Push-ups may not be everyone’s favorite, but I want you to keep an open mind with this type.

I suggest that you start in a push-up position with your arms just slightly further than shoulder-width apart.

In a nice and smooth motion, let your weight slowly force you towards the ground until your elbows reach a right angle before pushing back up again.

The main difference here is that you want to round out your back and shoulder blades once you get to the top.

It’s kind of like you’re pushing your shoulder joints forward to the ground.

You can improve the strengthening effect by adding a holding position to the bottom of each push-up.

Calisthenics exercises are probably the best way to strengthen your body without weights.

8. Dumbbell Rotational Punches

Dumbbell Rotational PunchesI was introduced to this exercise by one of the physiotherapists I work with.

Start off with your body in a position as if you’re about to punch a heavy bag. With a dumbbell in each hand, raise your arms to about chest high and throw some alternating punches as if you're shadowboxing.

The important thing is that you need to rotate your first by 90 degrees with each punch to gain full muscle activation in your shoulders, upper back, and serratus anterior.

Not only will it help with strengthening your serratus anterior, but it may promote better upper back posture and strength as well.

This is one of those exercises where you can start with a relatively small weight as you can quickly find that it doesn’t take much to feel the burn in your shoulders.

9. Uppercut

uppercuts

After your dumbbell rotational punches, you can continue training in a similar way with an uppercut move.

But don’t just go for a standard technique with your elbows close to your chest.

This tends to activate and strengthen the pecs more than the serratus anterior.

Instead, aim to force your shoulders into an external upward rotation. This disengages the pecs and forces the serratus anterior to do all the heavy work.

Just keep in mind that this upward rotation may put some heavier strain on the shoulder joint, so you need to go easy at first on the weights.

Alternatively, you could do this with an exercise band and even hold the top position for a couple of seconds.

It’ll work the stretched muscle harder, which some people find may help to gain more bulk.

10. Overhead Reaches

Overhead ReachesThis is another floor exercise, and you can aim for quite a thick band. Lay down on a mat with the band behind your back.

Grip each end of the band, making sure it crosses in front of your body. Position your elbows slightly outside your body and hands a bit further out again.

Now, raise your arms while maintaining the hand and elbow alignment until you reach over your head and your arms are stretched.

You should feel the pressure from the bands gradually increase the strain on your serratus anterior, especially around the top of the motion.

Other types of exercises:

The Serratus Anterior Muscle

The serratus anterior is a crucial muscle located on each side of your upper rib cage, stretching from the upper ribs to the shoulder blade's front.

It resembles a serrated knife, hence its name. This muscle plays a vital role in shoulder and arm movements, particularly in lifting the arms and stabilizing the shoulder blades.

It's essential for activities like pushing and punching. According to the National Institute of Health, weakness or injury in the serratus anterior can lead to a winged scapula, where the shoulder blade protrudes abnormally [1].

Strengthening this muscle is key for athletes, particularly boxers and swimmers, and for overall shoulder health.

FAQs

What Is the Most Powerful Part of the Serratus Anterior?

The most powerful part of the serratus anterior is its lower portion, which plays a crucial role in rotating the scapula and stabilizing the shoulder during movements like pushing and punching.

Do Push UPS Hit Serratus Anterior?

Yes, push-ups effectively target the serratus anterior, especially when performed with proper form and full range of motion, engaging these muscles to stabilize the shoulder blades.

What Are the Symptoms of a Weak Serratus Anterior?

Symptoms of a weak serratus anterior include difficulty in lifting arms overhead, winged scapula, shoulder instability, and pain, reduced shoulder mobility, and compromised breathing due to its role in rib movement.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684151/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
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Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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