Imagine your shoulder blades as wings embedded in your back. They’re not made of wax or wood, but flexible bone and tissue. To give someone a bear hug, your blades will spread and wing out. To stand tall, tuck your shoulder blades down. To reach behind you, squeeze your blades together. A little muscle, the serratus anterior, keeps your shoulder blades flat against your back so you're not galumphing around like a hunchback. Located on the upper ribs and the side of your shoulder blades, this muscle controls the movement of your blades. When it’s weak, your shoulder blades can’t move properly. To build the serratus anterior, you can perform variations of pushups.
A Weak Serratus Anterior
Doing a pushup properly involves scapular abduction, or the movement of your shoulder blade toward the sides of your body and away from the midline. If your serratus anterior is inactive or weak, your shoulder blades can’t move or wing. You can still perform the pushup, but you’ll use other muscles to compensate for a weak serratus anterior. These shifts will impact how other parts of your body are working. For example, you may not be able to fully bend your elbows, or you may have to use an excessively wide hand position.
Pushup with Stability Ball
You can target your serratus anterior muscle for a rigorous workout by performing pushups with a stability ball. Assume a standard pushup position with your hands on the ball and arms positioned directly under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and point your thumbs forward. Lower your body until your chest brushes the ball, and then push back up. At the top of the pushup, try and lift yourself as far away from the ball as possible, so your shoulders separate and glide toward the sides of your body. Research from the University of Minnesota indicates that the stability ball pushup works your serratus anterior 38 percent more than a regular pushup, according to Scott Quill’s article “More Power to the Pushup” in “Men’s Health.”
Pushup with a Soccer Ball
You can also strengthen your serratus anterior by performing a pushup with a soccer ball or basketball. Assume the position of a standard pushup with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart. Push your body up. At the top of the position, put one hand on top of the ball with your fingers spread like a suction cup. Perform 10 to 12 reps in this position. Switch sides to perform a set with the other hand on the ball. Perform three to four sets, pausing 30 seconds to rest between each set.
You can build improve the endurance of your serratus anterior muscle by doing modified pushups. Lower the intensity and difficulty of a standard pushup in one of two ways: Reduce the lever length or shrink the decline angle of your body. A modified pushup, which you perform on your knees, shortens the lever and therefore the amount of body weight you have to press up. If you place your hands on a bench, it makes the exercise even easier. Aim to perform continuous pushups with correct form and without stopping for 30 to 60 seconds. Begin with a narrow grip, slowly widening the grip as you grow stronger.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.