6 Best Serratus Anterior Exercises for Healthier Shoulders

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by  Ryan Crawley | Last Updated:  Nov 18, 2020
6 Best Serratus Anterior Exercises for Healthier Shoulders

With strength training, many guys look at working out their shoulders as a chance to put on some muscle mass and even build up the traps as well. 

But if you’ve ever had any trouble with your shoulders, you’d probably settle for just being able to lift without them hurting. 

Take it from someone who has had a torn rotator cuff for decades now (and numerous friends who have suffered the same fate), if you can get your shoulders healthier by performing various serratus anterior exercises, then do it!

What Is the Serratus Anterior?

Serratus Anterior Diagram

Right about now you’re probably kicking yourself for nodding off during science class. 

Admit it. You’re not sure what the serratus anterior really is. And that’s okay. You don’t hear those two words much in the weight room. 

The serratus anterior is located on the sides of your body. It’s stretched throughout the first through eighth or ninth ribs (it can vary) and allows the person to move their scapula forward around the thorax. 

When a person is lean and muscular enough, you can visibly see the serratus anterior on the side of their body. It sort of spreads out like a fan, like so:

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A post shared by Amgad Ragy | Coach (@amgadragy)

Again though, you have to have a low body fat percentage for this muscle to make its presence known. It has a winged-like appearance that is pretty impressive overall. 

I sometimes learn better through strength training videos and you might as well in this situation. Check out this one as it really is a great video about the serratus anterior and can show you the exact location of the muscle:

Why Is a Healthy Serratus Anterior Important?

Before you walk into the weight room and start to lecture your fellow lifters about the serratus anterior, you better know why it’s important in the first place otherwise they’re going to laugh you right out the room. 

This muscle allows you to move your shoulder blade, otherwise known as the scapula, so your arm can reach out forward in front of you and also up above you. (For those in the know, the serratus anterior is known as the boxer’s muscle as it allows the person to throw a pretty solid punch by sticking the arm outward in front with force.)

Furthermore, it helps your posture stay on point instead of your shoulders sagging inward like you often see in the older population.

Or in some cases with a weak serratus anterior, you will actually see the shoulder blade sticking out the upper back as if the person was part of a winged creature, like this:

It’s very noticeable (think Joaquin Phoenix with his shirt off in Joker) and will, unfortunately, get second looks. 

Most of your upper body strength training exercises use the serratus anterior in some form or another, but to really strengthen it, you’ll want to do exercises that focus mainly on that muscle. 

Overall, if you’re experiencing soreness or are in pain and it stems from problems with the serratus anterior, it’s going to greatly affect your performance in the weight room. Much of the time, it can all be fixed with the right exercise movements that will strengthen and improve the serratus anterior. 

6 Best Serratus Anterior Exercises for Men

To ensure your serratus anterior is working properly, here are six of the best exercises you can do to help them get and stay healthy.

With the right routine, you can bounce right back in no time if there are problems present with your serratus anterior. 

Serratus Anterior Exercises with Weights

These three exercises include the use of weights and will strengthen the serratus anterior. If you can keep your serratus anterior strong and with complete movement, you will be able to avoid possibly serious problems later on. 

Front Plate Raise

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you must go heavy on the front plate raise. After all, you don’t want to tear your rotator cuff trying to improve your serratus anterior. It seems kind of like cutting off your nose to spite the face. 

This movement will strengthen your deltoids, pecs, traps, and, of course, your serratus anterior. You only need to go parallel to your shoulders and no higher. Some people will choose to use dumbbells for this exercise as well which is totally fine. 

Dumbbell Pullover

Often thought of as solely a chest exercise, the dumbbell pullover actually trains lats, shoulders, chest, core, and the serratus anterior. While some guys like to approach this movement by laying their upper back across a flat bench in a sort of balancing act, I say why bother. 

Follow the way the Bostonian Scott Herman does the dumbbell pullover. I do it the same exact way because it feels much safer and secure. There’s no need to take any unnecessary risk in the weight room. 

Cable Serratus Punch

Put that cable machine to good use at your gym. The cable serratus punch (you know it must train the muscle well when it’s part of the name of the movement) is definitely an exercise that focuses on this muscle. 

While some people like to do this movement one arm at a time, I always enjoy alternating just like ACSM & ACE certified trainer Mayur Deshpande. Take your time with these punches and do a deliberate follow through. Again, don’t go too heavy. Use a weight that’s comfortable and then after a while, you can work your way up from there. 

Serratus Anterior Exercises at Home

Sometimes you just can’t get to the gym because of work, family issues, or you’re just plain too tired. Here are three serratus anterior exercises you can easily do at home without any special equipment. 

Dip Shrug

Find two chairs of equal height and perform dip shrugs (also known as the serratus shrugs) by keeping your arms mostly straight and allowing your traps to go up and down in the shrug-like motion. These will build some mass on your upper shoulders and back as well. 

Bear Crawl

Bear crawls have always been a favorite of gym teachers everywhere. What is it with naming exercises after animals? Bear crawl, dead turtle, crab walk… 

While you may get a few strange looks from your neighbor if you’re actively doing these across your driveway, bear crawls are a great upper body workout. They don’t just stop there either as they train the legs as well. 

Serratus Plank

Besides working the core, the serratus plank focuses on strengthening the serratus anterior. It differs a bit from the regular plank and it’ll give you good results in the comfort of your own home. 

Think of It As Like a Tune-Up

Just like with your car, your body needs some general maintenance and by doing these serratus anterior exercises, you’re preparing it to work efficiently without breaking down. 

When discussing with your training brothers the muscles you need to improve on, you usually do not hear anyone bring up the serratus anterior. After all, it’s not going to be a “show” muscle that can be seen easily by others.

But it’s still an important one to focus on. The old saying that you need a strong base to grow from is entirely true. The serratus anterior is part of that strong base that is needed to support your upper body. 

If you’re not training it as you should, count on experiencing some time on the shelf with discomfort and injury.

FAQs

What causes a weak serratus anterior?

There are numerous things that may lead to a weak serratus anterior. For one, you may have been born with the condition. Or, more likely, any number of injuries at some point in your life could have affected the long thoracic nerve and caused weakness to happen so gradually over time that you didn’t realize it quickly enough. However, for many people, they only really notice after their shoulder blade starts to protrude from their upper back.

Do push-ups work the serratus anterior?

Push-ups really are one of the very best strength training movements you could ever do. I know guys that walk around ripped and they mainly do only push-ups. 

If you are counting on push-ups to strengthen your serratus anterior, go with wide push-ups. A 2016 study showed that these work the best of all for getting the results you want. Work smart and work hard and these will help you out.