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 glory muscles that connect the shoulder blade and rib cage, and when you’re 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’ll feel.
Our Best Serratus Anterior Exercises
These are the ten best serratus anterior exercises we came up with.
1. 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
Any 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.
Anchor the band to a wall hook and stand up straight with your back to the wall. In a slow and smooth motion, bring your hands together in a wing-like motion in front of you.
I can’t stress it enough that you need to go for a slow movement as that will gradually increase the strain on your serratus anterior, shoulders, and pretty much all of your chest.
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
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.
Many people like these because they are less straining on the shoulder and elbow joints.
And performing plank-ups should help engage your serratus anterior muscles a lot more.
The reason is that the movement doesn't rely on your triceps to get back into the starting position.
To start, get your body into a standard push-up position and then move down into a plank position one arm at a time.
Do this slowly and focus on your shoulder blades to ensure they remain close to your back as this tends to activate the right 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.”
6. Elbow To Ceiling
This is a tricky one to get set up the first few times, but it’s a great way to reduce pressure on your back if you have any problems with your spine.
Lay down on a mat or exercise bench with a thick exercise band under your back. Raise your elbow to point at the ceiling with the elbow joint at a right angle.
It’s like an uppercut punch position.
Run the band over your elbow and then along your forearm and grip onto 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
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
I 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.
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
This 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:
Are You Going To Try These Serratus Anterior Exercises?
If you’ve looked at pro bodybuilders and wondered how they bulked up their serratus so much, then targeted exercises are the answer.
Best of all, these are very effective exercises that you can easily perform on your back and chest days.
Make sure you only pick three or four of them each time, as it shouldn't take that much to gain more muscle strength.
And if you’re brave enough, then connect with us on social media and send us some before and after photos.