Your serratus anterior muscles connect your shoulder blades to your ribs. Looking somewhat like a serrated knife blade and located along the sides of your chest, this muscle helps keep your shoulder blades flat against your rib cage and prevents scapular winging -- when your shoulder blades stick out of your back. To keep your scapulae fixed firmly to your ribs where they belong, perform serratus anterior pushups and other serratus anterior exercises.
Serratus Anterior Pushups
Serratus anterior pushups are sometimes called "pushups plus," as they add an extra movement to regular pushups. Place your hands on the the floor, a bit less than shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back until your weight is supported on your hands and feet only, while your hips, shoulders and knees form a straight line. Bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor. Push yourself back up to full arm extension. Next, shrug your shoulders forward to slightly round your upper back and push yourself up another 2 to 3 inches. Lower your shoulders and repeat. For a less demanding workout, rest on your knees or place your hands on a stability ball. This exercise can also be performed using a narrower hand position, but this may be a little too hard on the elbows for some exercisers.
Pushup Plus Variations
The pushup plus is an effective serratus anterior exercise. Nevertheless, as variety is the spice of life, you may want to use some alternative exercises in your workout. If you're not good at pushups but still want to work the serratus, you can do the "plus" part of the pushup alone. Keeping your arms straight in the standard pushup position, shrug your shoulders forward and forget about lowering your chest to the floor. You can also perform a serratus pushup using a barbell or dumbbells while lying on a bench, as though you were going to perform bench presses. Simply perform the bench press movement as normal and add a forward shoulder shrug as you extend your arms. Any exercise that involves shrugging your shoulders forward can be considered a serratus anterior exercise.
Other Serratus Anterior Exercises
As well as shrugging your shoulders forward to activate your serratus anterior muscles, you can also work these muscles isometrically to keep your scapulae flat against your rib cage. Isometric exercises can be thought of as static exercises because little or no movement occurs in the target muscles. Plank holds, pot stirrers, hand walkouts, ab wheel rollouts and the dolphin pose in yoga all provide effective isometric serratus anterior workouts.
A winging scapula may be a symptom of a muscular or neurological issue, so if you notice your shoulder blades sticking out you should seek medical advice. Once you receive the go-ahead to commence serratus anterior strengthening exercises, start easy, and build the intensity and duration of your workouts gradually, to minimize the risk of injury. Report any exercise discomfort or pain to your physician. Always warm up before any kind of strenuous workout by performing five to 10 minutes of light cardio plus dynamic stretches for the muscles you're about to work.
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.