The serratus anterior muscle, also called the “boxer’s muscle” due to its prominence in any martial artist’s physique, plays a crucial and often underestimated role in various push exercises. This muscle not only contributes to building an aesthetic upper body but also serves as a vital anatomical component in strength, stability, and proper form while performing a range of upper-body workouts such as push-ups, bench press, and overhead presses.
“The serratus anterior is a fan-shaped muscle that originates on the superolateral surfaces of the first to eighth ribs or the first to ninth ribs at the lateral wall of the thorax and inserts along the superior angle, medial border, and inferior angle of the scapula,” says Arati Sunil Halarnekar, consultant physiotherapist at Manipal Hospitals, Goa. “Its main purpose is to abduct the scapula laterally, so the upper limb is also connected and when you’re pressing, the full force of the body also is going through your upper limb and shoulders to the floor.”
Understanding the significance of this muscle will help you take your pushing workouts to the next level, while preventing those nasty shoulder injuries as well.
The functions of the serratus anterior
One of the key roles of the serratus anterior is to stabilize the shoulder blades or scapulae against the ribcage.
“The main action of the serratus anterior muscles is to move the scapula from the spinal column, and it is the main stabilizer for the movements,” says Halarnekar. “The muscles of the upper limbs are connected through the serratus anterior to the ribcage. That’s why during the pressing movements, the load is on the scapular muscles, and the serratus anterior plays a very important role in stabilizing this position.”
This type of stabilization is essential for maintaining proper shoulder mechanics during various upper-body movements. A strong serratus anterior helps stabilize the shoulder blades (scapulae), reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
“It is responsible for pulling your shoulder blades forward and when you’re pressing against a weight that normally happens in a push-up or a bench press, it acts as a stabilizer,” adds Halarnekar.
This action is crucial for push exercises, as it allows the shoulders to move smoothly and helps prevent the “winging” of the scapulae. The muscle also aids in raising the arm overhead by ensuring that the scapulae properly rotate upwards. This is particularly important in exercises like overhead presses or reaching movements. When the shoulder girdle is fixed, all three parts of the serratus anterior muscle work together to lift the ribs, assisting with respiration. It helps in increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity, which is essential for optimal lung function.
Why should you train the serratus anterior?
“Nowadays we all hit the gym,” says Halarnekar. “So, one should also focus on strengthening these muscles because when you’re lifting your arm up the scapular muscles that includes the serratus anterior are the most important and if it is not functioning properly or is weak then the person may have inability or pain while lifting the hand overhead.”
Enhanced pushing performance: When the serratus anterior is well-developed, it can improve your performance in push exercises like push-ups, bench presses, and overhead presses by facilitating smooth scapular movement.
Posture improvement: Training this muscle can contribute to better posture by aiding in the maintenance of correct scapular positioning. This can help prevent issues like rounded shoulders or forward head posture.
Aesthetic benefits: Developing the serratus anterior can add definition to the ribcage area, thus adding more to the v-taper and upper body appearance.
Functional breathing: A strong serratus anterior assists in ribcage expansion during deep breathing, which is crucial for optimal lung function and overall respiratory health.
“We majorly focus on other muscle groups such as the abs or arms, but equal importance also should be given to this because it supports the posture and aids the body in all sorts of exercises that involve the upper limb,” says Halarnekar.
Effective exercises to target the serratus anterior
1. Scapular Pushups: Start in a push-up position with your arms extended. Instead of bending your elbows, focus on protracting (moving forward) and retracting (moving back) your shoulder blades.
2. Overhead wall slides: Stand with your back against a wall and your arms pressed back at shoulder height. Slide your arms up the wall, ensure constant contact with the wall. Lower your arms back down. The focus here is on scapular upward rotation and maintaining contact with the wall.
3. Pushup plus: Begin in a push-up position with your arms extended. Perform a standard push-up, but at the top of the movement, continue to protract your shoulder blades by pushing your upper back toward the ceiling.
4. Prone scapular retraction: Lie face down on an incline bench with your arms extended overhead and holding light dumbbells. Lift your arms off the bench by retracting your shoulder blades (squeeze them together). Lower your arms back down with control.
- The serratus anterior, also known as the boxer’s muscle, is largely responsible for the protraction of the scapula, a movement that occurs when throwing a punch. It is used while performing pushing movements.
- It is essential for scapular stability and proper shoulder function, making it a critical component in various push exercises and overall upper body strength and mobility.
- It helps expand the ribcage during deep breathing. It helps in increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity, which is essential for optimal lung function.
- Training the serratus anterior muscle can improve your performance in push exercises, prevent issues like rounded shoulders or forward head posture, and can add definition to the ribcage area.