Serratus Anterior

Serratus Anterior

Serratus Anterior, which is also known as the โ€œBig Swing Muscleโ€ or โ€œBoxerโ€™s muscleโ€ due to its effectiveness of protracting the scapula. Not only does this muscle have a cool name, but it is also needed for a plethora of arm movements; weather open chain (punching/grabbing something out of the cabinet) or closed chain (pushups, planks, downward dogs, or handstands). Due to its large role in stabilizing the scapula, ย inadequate strength here is often the culprit of Scapula Winging.ย This article will demonstrate a few exercises to improve activation and control of this Scapula Stabilizer in open kinetic chain.

Serratus Anterior


The Serratus Anterior runs from the lateral surface of the ribs to the medial border of the scapula. Due to itโ€™s large role in stabilizing the scapula, when weakness is present it often manifests with scapula winging or poor scapular control.ย 



When performing any exercise, make sure that it is in line with your intent! People often compensate when performing wall slides with excessive scapular elevation. If strengthening the scapular elevators โ€“ upper trapezius and levator scapula โ€“ is the goal such as in patients with TOS (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome), then performing the wall slide with scapular elevation is not a problem. That being said, the wall slide shown here is designed to target the serratus anterior by maximizing scapular upward rotation, NOT elevation!

Excessive activation of the deltoid and upper trapezius muscles could be counterproductive for scapulohumeral rhythm during shoulder elevation (Ellenbecker et al 2016).

Increased upper trapezius and anterior deltoid muscle activity can cause reduced strength and coordination in the force couple between the lower trapezius and serratus anterior. Excessive upper trapezius and anterior deltoid muscle activity have also been linked to sub-acromial impingement. In order to achieve full overhead motion, you need to ensure that you have adequate mobility at the glenohumeral joint, scapulothoracic joint, and thoracic spine. For many of those who lack shoulder mobility, it often isn’t the actual glenohumeral joint that is limited. Rather, itโ€™s lack of full scapular upward rotation or full thoracic spine extension that is to blame.

Check This Article on “How to Improve Overhead Mobility”

In this video of a Wall Slide the black blob here represents the scapula:

1๏ธโƒฃPlace pressure into the wall to ensure you are engaging your scapula, which will make it easier to avoid excessive elevation of your shoulder girdle.
2๏ธโƒฃThere is roughly a 2:1 ration of glenohumeral joint to scapulothoracic joint motion. With 180 degrees of total shoulder flexion, will ideally have about 60 degrees of scapular upward rotation.
3๏ธโƒฃYou have the option of externally rotating your shoulder as you elevate, this will help inhibit the pecs which often take over during shoulder elevation.
4๏ธโƒฃA progression of this exercise is shown with a resistance band + a Wall life (which emphasizes the lower trapezius)

3 Serratus Anterior Exercises

These 3 exercises will help to improve upward rotation of the scapula during shoulder elevation. These movements allow you to find the serratus anterior muscle, which often does not fire appropriately.

1๏ธโƒฃElbow to Ceiling: Anchor the resistance band around your back. I use a CLX TheraBand in the video.
-Place the band over your elbow and trace it down your forearm to your hand.
-Begin by pushing your elbow up towards the ceiling while focusing on protraction of the scapula.
Option: Elevate the shoulder to 120 degrees of shoulder flexion and 30 degrees of horizontal abduction to maximize activation of the serratus anterior.

2๏ธโƒฃSerratus Anterior Uppercut: Using the pectoral muscles is a common compensation when performing an uppercut. If your intent of this exercise is to target the serratus anterior here is a quick tip: externally rotate your shoulder as you elevate your arm. Your pectoralis major is an Internal rotator at the shoulder. External rotation will reciprocally INHIBIT the larger pectoralis musculature!

3๏ธโƒฃBall in Pillow Case Swings: As crazy as this exercise seems, it is a great way to get the scapular muscles firing. Really exaggerate the scapular motion during these movements:
-Frontal Plane Circles
-Figure 8 Swings
-Sagittal Plane Circles

Check this Free Shoulder Prehab Program

Supine Serratus Anterior Overhead Reach

Here are 2 very simple yet effective Serratus Anterior Exercises

-Lay on your back with a thera-band wrapped around your back
-Keeping your elbows straight and reach overhead, focus on the extra scapula pushout when you are overhead, this will help with Serratus Anterior Activation!
-Notice how the theraband is pulling across, this will help with rotator cuff and serratus anterior activation, and minimize the Pec muscles from doing the work.

Exercise 2๏ธโƒฃ
-Focus on a hip hinge while you are standing.
-Raise your arms overhead.
-Notice how I rotate my shoulder EXTERNALLY, but pointing my thumbs towards the ceiling? This is very subtle but can make all the difference in recruiting ๐Ÿ‘†Serratus Anterior and ๐Ÿ‘‡Pec
๐Ÿ“ With both of these exercises do NOT arch the low back. One can make this more functional by elevating the shoulders in the scapular plane of movement, by horizontally abducting your shoulders 30 degrees.

Bear Hug- Serratus Anterior Exericses

1๏ธโƒฃ Anchor resistance bands BELOW shoulder height to promote upward rotation/elevation
2๏ธโƒฃ Crisscross the bands behind your back and have the bands between your body and your arm to promote ABDuction/protraction
3๏ธโƒฃ Get into a split stance position and punch your arms forward above shoulder height to promote upward rotation/elevation
4๏ธโƒฃ Rotate your hands/thumbs OUT โ†”๏ธ in efforts to bias the pecs less

Used here in this exercise is aย Cross Over Symmetry Unit



The Shoulder [P]Rehab Program is on our very own [P]Rehab app that is a 16-week long program to maximize your shoulder health for life. The program is for anyone looking to bulletproof their shoulders for life! Whether youโ€™re an average Joe, fit Fiona, weekend warrior, athlete, or superhero parent, you can benefit from this program. We make it easy and teach you how to strengthen your shoulders and keep them healthy for anything life throws at you.ย Learn more here



When performing an uppercut, often times one will overcompensate with the Pectorial muscles! If your intent of this exercise is to target the Serratus Anterior here is a quick tip: Externally rotate your shoulder as you elevate your arm. Your Pectoralis Major is an Internal rotator at the shoulder; external rotation will be reciprocally INHIBITING these larger pectoralis musculatures! Make sure to keep the elbow medial to your wrist during this exercise, this will ensure external rotation at the shoulder. This is one of my favorite Serratus Anterior Exercises.

Banded Wall Slide

This video depicts a great way to strengthen the Serratus Anterior; when performing this focus on the upward rotation of the scapula in a controlled manner. A progression is using the resistance band, which will increase the demand of the rotator cuff, which is essential for overhead athletes.



Serratus Anterior weakness has been shown to cause scapula winging. Does scapula winging cause pain? Click here for more. ย This muscle is often implemented in Prehab and Rehab routines. This article is intended to demonstrate a few different open kinetic chain variations of improving activation and strength through Serratus Anterior Exercises.


Learn More Serratus Anterior Exercises

Click the photo and go to the muscle tag and click ‘serratus anterior’ to gain access to dozens more exercises like this!



-Anderson, CH, Zebis ME, Saervoll, CH, et al. Scapular Muscle Activity from Selected Strengthening Exercises Performed at Low and High Intensities: Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. September 2012: 2408-2416.


  • David Dorenfeld
    Posted at 07:44h, 28 October Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing! There’s some really helpful info in this article.


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