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3 Best Exercises to Sculpt Your Serratus Anterior Muscles

Learn how to strengthen these highly important and often under-trained upper body muscles.

Learn how to strengthen these highly important and often under-trained upper body muscles.

What are the Serratus Anterior Muscles?

The serratus anterior muscles are a group of muscles located on the sides of the rib cage, originating from the outer surface of the upper eight or nine ribs and attaching to the inner border of the shoulder blade (scapula). They are named “serratus” due to their saw-toothed or serrated appearance. The serratus anterior muscles are primarily responsible for the protraction and upward rotation of the scapula, playing a crucial role in various movements of the shoulder and arm.

The serratus anterior muscles are important for stabilizing the scapula against the rib cage, allowing for optimal positioning and movement of the shoulder joint. They work in conjunction with other muscles, such as the trapezius, rhomboids, and pectoralis muscles, to coordinate movements like pushing, punching, and reaching overhead.

pull up back workouts The Real Reason Why Your Pull Ups Suck How to Double your Max Pull Ups in 22 Days You CAN Do More Pull UpsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

When the serratus anterior muscles are weak or dysfunctional, it can lead to a condition called scapular winging, where the inner border of the scapula protrudes from the back and fails to maintain proper contact with the rib cage. This can result in shoulder instability and decreased shoulder function.

Strengthening exercises for the serratus anterior muscles often involve movements that emphasize protraction and upward rotation of the scapula. Examples of exercises that target the serratus anterior include push-ups with a plus (protracted) position at the top, scapular punches, and overhead reaching exercises.

It’s important to note that while the information provided is based on general anatomical knowledge, individual variations may exist. If you have specific concerns or conditions related to your serratus anterior muscles, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified physical therapist for a proper evaluation and guidance.

What are the Advantages of Having Stronger Serratus Anterior Muscles?

Having stronger serratus anterior muscles can provide several advantages:

Shoulder Stability: The serratus anterior muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the scapula (shoulder blade) against the rib cage. Stronger serratus anterior muscles help maintain proper alignment and positioning of the scapula, reducing the risk of shoulder instability and potential injuries.

Improved Shoulder Function: The serratus anterior muscles are involved in various shoulder movements, such as protraction (bringing the shoulder blades forward), upward rotation (lifting the shoulder blades), and stabilizing the scapula during arm movements. Stronger serratus anterior muscles enhance the coordination and efficiency of these movements, allowing for smoother and more controlled shoulder function.

Enhanced Arm Movements: The serratus anterior muscles assist in the initiation and execution of movements involving the arms, such as pushing, reaching, and punching. Stronger serratus anterior muscles provide a solid base of support for these actions, generating more power and precision during arm movements.

Optimal Scapular Mechanics: Proper scapular mechanics are crucial for maintaining a healthy shoulder joint and minimizing the risk of impingement or other shoulder problems. Strong serratus anterior muscles contribute to optimal scapular movement patterns, ensuring that the scapula moves smoothly and synergistically with the rest of the shoulder complex.

Injury Prevention: Weak or dysfunctional serratus anterior muscles can contribute to shoulder instability, impingement, and other shoulder injuries. Strengthening these muscles can help prevent such injuries by providing better support, stability, and control to the shoulder joint.

Postural Benefits: The serratus anterior muscles, along with other muscles in the upper back and shoulder region, play a role in maintaining good posture. Stronger serratus anterior muscles help counteract rounded shoulders and forward head posture, promoting a more upright and aligned posture.

amrap workouts

It’s important to note that developing strength in the serratus anterior muscles should be part of a well-rounded exercise program that includes strengthening other muscles of the shoulder and core, as well as incorporating mobility, flexibility, and proper technique.

Serratus Anterior Exercises

Jeremy Ethier explains.

“This muscle plays a role in improving the aesthetics of your core by improving abs definition, obliques definition, and lower chest definition (for boxer abs). But more importantly, it plays a critical role in stabilizing and facilitating proper movement of our scapula. When weakened, it can lead to unwanted movement within the shoulder joint and the shoulder blades, such as scapular winging. To mitigate this, I’ll show you 3 of the best serratus anterior exercises to add to your ab workout to develop your serratus anterior and get it to start firing properly.”

Exercise 1 – Push Up Plus

By performing a “plus” component, where you protract your shoulder blades at the top of the pushup position by pushing your hands into the ground and slightly rounding your upper back, the activation of the serratus anterior increases by about an additional 50%. And of all the serratus anterior exercises in your workout for abs, the push-up plus elicits the lowest upper trap to serratus anterior activation ratio, which is important because most people with a weak serratus anterior can’t properly activate it; they will tend to overcompensate with their upper traps.

Exercise 2 – Serratus Jabs

“Since the push-up plus can’t account for the upward rotation of the scapula (another serratus anterior muscle function), you’ll need the serratus jabs. To start, set up the resistance by either using a band looped around a fixture or a cable system, and you want to set it up at a low angle. Then, get into the starting position with your arm by your side and all you’re going to do now is perform an upward punching motion which can be broken down into 2 distinct phases.”

“Phase 1 simply involves you punching forward, and then phase 2 involves the active protraction of your scapula at the end of the punch. Then, come back to the starting position with your elbow stopping by your side, and then repeat the movement. Gradually increase the repetitions and/or weight used to continue to further develop your serratus anterior as it gets stronger overtime.” 

Exercise 3  – Wall Slides

“The last of the serratus muscle exercises is the wall slides. It involves even greater arm elevation than the previous exercises, meaning that it helps strengthen the serratus anterior in overhead positions which will again more effectively carryover to your overhead lifts and can help with the common symptom of shoulder pain when the arm gets in overhead positions. A helpful cue is to think about bringing your shoulder blades out and around you as you slide up the wall. But you want to avoid shrugging your traps up excessively and letting the upper traps takeover. To progress this exercise overtime, you can simply stand further out from the wall and lean into the foam roller more.”


If you currently experience overhead shoulder pain or scapular winging for example, what you’ll want to do is progress from exercise 1 to exercise 2 to then to exercise 3, since the overhead demands increase throughout each of these exercises.

If there’s no pain and you simply want to better target this muscle, simply throw in a couple sets of each of these exercises 1-2 times per week into your current ab workouts or after your main workouts. Doing so will not only drastically improve your core strength and abs definition, but will also have a host of benefits in terms of improving your overhead stability, strength, and long term shoulder health.

Jermey Ethier is an experienced personal trainer, kinesiologist, and fitness educator. Jeremy’s YouTube channel focuses on providing evidence-based information, workout routines, and nutrition advice to help viewers improve their fitness and achieve their goals.

Video – 3 Best Exercises to Sculpt Your Serratus Anterior Muscles

What are the Best Reps and Sets for Building Muscle?

The optimal number of reps and sets for building muscle can vary depending on various factors, including your training experience, goals, and individual response to different training stimuli. However, there are some general guidelines that can be useful:

Repetitions (Reps): For muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), a commonly recommended rep range is 8-12 reps per set. This range is often associated with moderate to high intensity and places sufficient stress on the muscles to promote growth. Performing 8-12 reps allows for a balance between mechanical tension and metabolic stress, both of which are important factors in muscle development.

Sets: The number of sets you perform for each exercise is typically in the range of 3-5 sets. This range provides enough volume to stimulate muscle growth while still allowing for adequate recovery. However, it’s worth noting that the total number of sets per muscle group per week is also important. The overall weekly volume, considering both sets and reps, is a key factor for muscle hypertrophy. As you progress in your training, you may need to gradually increase the number of sets to continue challenging your muscles.

Intensity: The intensity of your training refers to the amount of weight you’re lifting relative to your maximum capacity. To build muscle, it’s generally recommended to work with a weight that allows you to complete your desired number of reps with proper form while still challenging your muscles. A weight that leads to muscle fatigue within the targeted rep range is effective for stimulating muscle growth.

chest workoutsSource: RX'd Photography

Progressive Overload: Regardless of the specific rep and set ranges you choose, incorporating progressive overload is essential for muscle growth. Progressive overload refers to gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles over time, either by increasing the weight, reps, sets, or a combination of these variables. This progressive challenge encourages the muscles to adapt and grow stronger.

Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest and recovery are crucial for muscle growth. Between sets, rest periods of around 1-2 minutes are often recommended to allow for partial recovery of energy stores. Additionally, ensuring proper sleep, nutrition, and sufficient recovery time between workouts is important for maximizing muscle-building potential.

It’s important to remember that individual responses to training can vary, and what works best for one person may not be optimal for another. It can be beneficial to consult with a qualified fitness professional or personal trainer who can tailor a training program to your specific needs and goals. Additionally, listening to your body, monitoring your progress, and making adjustments as needed are key to optimizing your muscle-building efforts.

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