10 Little-known Exercises to Define the Serratus Anterior Muscle

There are several exercises that can help to develop and mark the Serratus Anterior muscle. This article explains what they are.
10 Little-known Exercises to Define the Serratus Anterior Muscle

Last update: 26 September, 2023

When talking about physical activity, you may not hear the name Serratus Major very often. However, this muscle is of utmost importance in some sports disciplines where strength movements are performed above the shoulder. In this article, learn more about the serratus anterior and the best exercises to target and strengthen it.

What is the serratus anterior?

The serratus anterior muscle, also called serratus major or serratus, is a muscle that’s located in the thoracic cavity between the armpit and the area that makes contact with the arm when closing it.

Its name is due to its saw-like appearance.

It originates at the edge of the scapula or shoulder blade. It’s made up of 10 muscle bundles: the first two are ascending, the third to fifth are more or less horizontal and the last ones are descending, being the only ones that can be seen superficially.

In terms of its function, it helps to fix the scapula, preventing its lower edge from sliding towards the back. In particular, the upper and lower fibers allow a slight upward rotation.

Thus, it helps in the elevation of the ribs, so it’s complementary to breathing. Similarly, it participates in the movement of lifting the arm beyond the horizontal line, working in conjunction with the trapezius.

Although for many people it may be a somewhat forgotten muscle, it’s of utmost importance in the case of:

  • Sports where throwing is involved (such as the shot put or discus);
  • Situations where there are thrusts (such as judo);
  • When punches are thrown (like in boxing).

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How to tone and define the serratus major muscle with exercises

There are several ways to exercise and develop this muscle. In general, it’s recommended to perform scapular abduction work, both concentric and eccentric, in an open or closed kinetic chain.

In turn, the design of the routines should include exercises that work the adductor musculature of the scapula and lower trapezius, in combination with the serratus anterior.

Exercises with weights and machines

First, let’s take a look at some routines using dumbbells, discs, weights, and machines to strengthen the serratus major.

1. Pullover with a dumbbell

This exercise is among the most used exercises to mark this muscle, making them also work the latissimus dorsi. Let’s take a closer look at how to do it.

  1. Lean your back on a bench so that your body and bench are in a cross shape. Your feet should remain on the floor.
  2. Pick up a dumbbell – the heavier the better, as long as it’s a weight you can safely handle.
  3. Drop the dumbbell backward while stretching to the maximum, but leaving your elbows slightly bent.
  4. Then, bring the weight forward, to the center of your chest.
3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

2. One-arm cable pull-up

This is done with a pulley or elastic bands.

  1. Position yourself with your back to the machine, if applicable, and grab the handle.
  2. The exercise consists of stretching the arm and bringing your hand from chest height forward.
  3. In the case of working with garters, the movement can also be taken a little upwards.
3-4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

3. Dumbbell scapula abduction

  1. Start on a mat while lying facing the ceiling.
  2. Use a dumbbell whose weight you can safely handle.
  3. Bring your arm up while lifting the weight as high as possible.
  4. Then, change arms.
You should do multiple sets of 15 repetitions – three or four should be enough.

4. Dumbbell triceps extension

This exercise can be performed seated or standing.

  1. Take a dumbbell and raise it above your head.
  2. From there, drop it towards the nape of your neck while bending your elbow.
  3. Then,  bring it back to the initial position while trying to fully extend your arm.
Three sets of 15 repetitions for each arm.

It’s important to move only the forearm and not the humerus. Therefore, you can help yourself by using your free hand to prevent the working arm from moving backward.

5. Landmine Press

A long barbell is used in this exercise, but with a single disc. Your free side rests on the floor and the one with the weight is the one you should focus on.

  1. First, place yourself on your knees or standing with your legs a little apart.
  2. If you’re standing, your knees can be slightly bent.
  3. The end of the bar where the disc should rest on your hand and this, in turn, on the shoulder.
  4. From there, you should push upwards while controlling your weight and maintaining for a few moments the maximum extension of the arm.

Although not very popular, this exercise also provides many benefits, both for the rectus abdominis, as well as for the serratus anterior.

Exercises without weights

There are other exercises that you can do without weights or using implements such as elastic bands. Let’s take a look at them.

6. Abdominal wheel or roller

An abdominal roller or wheel can be used at home without the need for large workout equipment.

  1. Start by kneeling with your feet aligned with your hips.
  2. From that position, bring your body forward while using the wheel as an aid.
  3. As you do this, try to stretch your arms as much as possible, but without forcing them.
  4. Then, return to the starting position. The movement should be done slowly, both when stretching and when lifting.
Do 15 repetitions of this exericse.

7. Shoulder flexion with a band

Start in the position of an elbow flexion or push-ups – however, in this case, you should place an elastic band on your back at the level of your shoulder blades.

  1. Take the ends of this band with your hands so that it also passes through your arms.
  2. Then, start leaning on your hands and on the tips of your toes.
  3. Your hands go in line with your shoulders.
  4. Instead of doing the push-up by lowering your torso, you should try to stretch your arms more.
  5. It’s important to keep your back well aligned and not to drop your hips.

8. Scapular contraction

This exercise is similar to the previous one, although a band isn’t necessary to do it.

  1. Place yourself in the position you would use to perform push-ups.
  2. Instead of dropping, however, you should stay at the highest point – that is, with your arms stretched out.
  3. Them, we contract your shoulder blades, as if you were trying to make them touch.
  4. This exercise should be done slowly.
There are 4 sets of 15 repetitions.

9. Pull-ups

When it comes to toning the serratus anterior, the natural exercise par excellence is the pull-up.

  1. This exercise is performed by grabbing a fixed horizontal bar while making the effort to lift your whole body.
  2. The same can be done with different types of grips – either prone, supine, or neutral.
  3. Also, when reaching the maximum lifting point, the bar can be in front, at the level of the clavicle or behind your head.
The number of repetitions depends on the strength to do the pull-ups.

10. Stretches and trunk rotations

Exercises such as planks and crunches can also help to define his area.

  • Planks can be done isometrically, normal, lateral, and even with rotation.
  • Russian twists: in addition to the serratus, the obliques are worked with this exericse. They can be done with a ball and keeping the feet on the floor or raised.
  • Lateral crunches: these are performed in various positions, with your feet raised or resting on the floor by bringing your elbow to a high knee position (among other varieties).

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Why strengthen the serratus anterior muscle?

These serratus anterior exercises can be combined with biceps or general back exercises. Although it’s not recommended to do them on the same day as the routines with dumbbells for shoulders or chest since this can cause fatigue.

Everything we describe isn’t only done to show off a toned serratus major. These are also important exercises in the case of people who practice certain sports disciplines where there are throws, blows, or pushes.

On the other hand, this muscle is related to the maintenance of a correct posture. In fact, a weakness, deficit, or atrophy of the musculature of this area not only compromises the joint, but can cause what is known as a “winged scapula.”

Now, although we must strengthen the serratus major with exercises such as those just seen, it’s always a good idea to go to a medical checkup before taking on any new routine. Also, it’s highly recommended to work under the supervision of a professional trainer.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.