How to Build the Serratus Anterior Muscle


The serratus anterior is a small yet important muscle that helps to stabilize your shoulder blades and move your arms in all different directions. Often referred to as wings, the muscle runs along the outer edges of your back and wraps around your ribs to your chest. Upper-body pushing motions effectively target the serratus anterior, such as pushups or the punch of a boxer. The exception to that rule is the bench press; despite requiring a pushing movement, the support of the bench takes the stress off of the serratus anterior. If you are a bench press enthusiast or want to increase the support to your shoulders, include exercises that target the serratus anterior in your weekly workouts.

How to Build the Serratus Anterior Muscle
(Alexandra Cristina Negoita/Demand Media)

The traditional pushup is an effective way to work the serratus anterior, but if the muscle is currently weak, the exercise should be modified. Starting with a pushup variation, like the wall press, can help to strengthen the serratus anterior in a way that reduces the chance of injuring your rotator cuff, which is located in your shoulder. Shoulders that rise up toward your ears or shoulder blades that stick out when performing regular pushups are signs that the serratus anterior is under developed. Conduct a test by having a certified personal trainer or a friend watch your back as you perform a pushup on the floor; if they see your shoulder blades protrude, then your serratus anterior is lacking in strength. Face a wall that is slightly more than arms-length away. Lean forward so that your body is at an angle and place your hands flat on the wall at shoulder height. Keep your abdominals engaged and your shoulder blades sliding down your back throughout the exercise. Push the wall away to straighten your arms. Bend your elbows to return to starting position. Work your way up to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

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As you become stronger and have some control of your serratus anterior, increasing the stress on the muscle with more challenging exercises can be beneficial. Give the traditional pushup, with hands on the floor, a try. You’ll know your serratus anterior is strong enough for the progression if your body stays straight, your abs do not sink toward the floor and your shoulder blades do not stick out. The seated floor press is another advanced exercise that can help to develop your serratus anterior muscle. While sitting cross-legged on the floor, with palms on the ground next to your hips, press the floor away with your hands and lift your glutes off of the ground. Eventually, with enough strength, you should progress to lifting both your glutes and your feet into the air.

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Performing exercises that target your serratus anterior muscle in your workouts on a regular basis helps to ensure the continual growth and strengthening of the muscle. Your serratus anterior works in conjunction with the muscles of your chest and shoulders so training all three muscle groups on the same day can help to maximize development. Perform three to four sets of two to three exercises per muscle group. Work each muscle at least twice a week, leaving at least 48 hours between workouts for rest and recovery. Always start your workout with a five to 10-minute cardio warm-up, such as jogging or cycling, to increase your heart rate and to get the blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles.

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Spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching after every strength-training session to improve flexibility and help promote healing. Your serratus anterior muscle can be stretched by placing your arms behind your back and taking hold of your right wrist with your left hand. Slightly pull on your right hand as you tilt your head to the left. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch hands and repeat on the other side. Perform three full rounds.

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