Exercise to Cure Serratus Anterior AMNESIA

You may have heard about the importance of the serratus anterior muscle before…

serratus-anterior-muscleIts most commonly discussed function is protraction of the scapula, which is why it’s often trained with the Scap Pushup (aka Pushup Plus), which is when you get into a Pushup position and protract your scapulae by pushing yourself away from the ground without bending your arms.

It’s a great exercise that should be done by everyone, but it trains just ONE of the serratus anterior’s functions.

Likewise, its most commonly discussed dysfunction is winged scapula, which is when the medial border of the scapulae stick out and away from the body and it looks like you could hide stuff in there.

The thing is, there are two other functions that are just as or even more important for maintaining healthy shoulders.

The first is upward rotation of the scapula to maintain proper scapulohumeral rhythm.

Scapulohumeral rhythm is the term used to described how your scapula must rotate as you lift your arms up overhead to ensure the head of the humerus has space to move smoothly.

If the scapulae don’t upwardly rotate when you raise your arms up, a bone-on-bone collision can occur that will stop the movement and cause pain.

Thing is, proper scapulohumeral rhythm is largely unconscious and just requires proper thoracic mobility a low level of strength in the 3 muscles responsible (upper trap, lower trap and serratus anterior) and avoiding doing anything silly when lifting your arms up i.e. trying to pinch your shoulder blades down and back the whole time, then you’re likely ok.

The other function not often discussed but critical to shoulder health is posterior tilting of the scapula.

Posterior tilt of the scapulae should occur during most movements including:

  • Horizontal pulls (Rows)
  • Vertical pulls (Chinups)
  • Horizontal pushes (Pushups)
  • Vertical pushes (Overhead Presses)

All of these movements require your scapula to be tight to your ribcage, which occurs as a result of the ability of the serratus anterior to fire first, then its strength and endurance.

But in most people this muscle is weak, inhibited and/or rarely considered in exercise programming.

The result is our scapulae don’t move how they’re supposed to, causing dysfunctional movement patterns, limited mobility, decreased strength and pain.

But today, you’re in luck because you’re going to
wake up your serratus with a KILLER 1-2 punch.

The first part is to release the pec minor, which is antagonist (opposite in function) to the serratus.

We’ve got to release and deactivate the pec minor because when tight and/or overactive, it fires and will inhibit serratus activation.

After we release pec minor, we immediately perform the serratus activation technique shown in the video, which I’m guessing is one you’ve never seen before.

Unlike the Scap Pushup, we’re activating the serratus in its lengthened position with shoulder extension torque occurring, which is a powerful downward rotator of the entire shoulder girdle and a common dysfunctional movement pattern that occurs during Pushups, Chinups and even Rows!

As with all of the techniques I share, focus on the itty-bitty details as they’ll determine whether the exercise just looks ok or is actually effective.

One more point before we dive in – do your best to breathe in a relaxed fashion and if you’re trying too hard to the point where you’re tensing up, back off and BREATHE.

You won’t effectively reprogram movement patterns while holding your breath.

Now, GO:

Go into and exit the activation slow and smooth, do 10 reps and hold for 5 sec on each rep, so it’ll take you under 2 minutes to complete.

After you give it a try notice your posture and scapulae, then let me know how you feel in the comments below.

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Joe
Joe

Specifically, the lowest point of my scapula feels painful, which I’ve never felt pain in before prior to this. I notice if I rest my elbow on a table and gently rest my head in my hand, the pain in my scapula significantly intensifies. Are there any stretches or exercises you can recommend to recover from this?

Freddy
Freddy

Joe punch in athleanx winged scapula he will guide you in fixing this issue I too have winged scap I bothers me when I foam roll and only reason I was able to put it together cuz I watched 1 of his vids check it he is a physical therapist/strength coach and a personal trainer good luck email me if you have any questions

Joe
Joe

I tried this exercise only once back in November, and it has been in pain ever since. Any idea what went wrong? Or more importantly, how to remedy this?

Eddy
Eddy

This part: “…and avoiding doing anything silly when lifting your arms up i.e. trying to pinch your shoulder blades down and back the whole time, then you’re likely ok.”

Is something I did, unfortunately. About six months ago. I’ve had lots of pain between shoulder blades and traps since. What occurs if you are lifting your arms up and pinching down and back? What have you seen happen?

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[…] Exercise to Cure Serratus Anterior AMNESIA – which occurs as a result of the ability of the serratus anterior to fire first, then its strength and endurance. But in most people this muscle is weak, inhibited and/or rarely considered in exercise programming. The result is our scapulae don’t move … […]

LailaB
LailaB

thanks Eric for this tip. I have been wondering if I was activation my serratus properly these last weeks as I started to practice for handstands and it is an important muscle to activate.
Sometimes I think I contract the lats instead. I have winging scapula, so I picture my scapula being a bottle and I tilt backward to pour liquid backwards. along with this video, it worked magic.

Do you know the kinesiological stretching method ? I work on this too to help loosen/stretch the front of my shoulder.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on combining this too. (look up for EasyFlexibility)

thanks so much..I wish I could share on Instagram.

Daniel
Daniel

Really not sure I’m getting this right, either that or its very fine distinction between squeezing the shoulder blades together and this movement. The only time it feels (tension relief-wise) effective, it feels somewhat like squeezing the shoulder blades together but with a different rotational angle on the shoulders. What I mean by that is it feels like I’m trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together without externally rotating the shoulder joint. Am I doing something wrong?

Maggie b
Maggie b

Hi just been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in R shoulder and a bone spur,there is a bit of space in joint capsule still would this exercise help?

Marti
Marti

Hi Eric,

I don’t really notice any trouble with shoulder movement, but I just tried the tennis ball in the shoulder joint against the wall and discovered it really hurt to do that! both shoulders – is this normal for the first time? maybe the facia is tender? what causes this pain? and is it okay to work the ball into the joint despite the tenderness?

I really appreciate your videos and all the information you share.
Keep up the good work!

Thanks
Marti

Eric Wong

Yo Marti, yeah, it’s gonna hurt a lot. Those tendons are very tender in that area and the pec minor can often develop trigger points that hurt when they’re released. So keep at it, should be easier after 1-2 weeks of daily work then you can drop down to a 2-3 times a week to maintain.

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[…] exercise builds off of the last post I shared on the blog (Exercise to Cure Serratus Anterior Amnesia), which got some great feedback from Mike who […]

Tom
Tom

How often should exercises be done? ‘Should push ups and pull ups be discontinued while doing these exercises or can strength exercises be continued but just after performing the two above exercises as warm ups?

Eric Wong

As I mentioned in the video, do it daily for 2 weeks to wake it up, then taper down as part of your warmup after that.

Yeah you can continue to train Pushups and Pullups, but go slower and focus on technique.

Robert Yip
Robert Yip

Does this exercise solve frozen shoulder issues?

Eric Wong

Hey Robert – it likely won’t hurt as it’s in a neutral position and is more for activation.

I can also see how it would help as it’s going to wake up an important movement stabilizer of your shoulder, so if I had frozen shoulder I would definitely give it a shot.

Robert Yip
Robert Yip

Many Thanks.

Caroline
Caroline

Hi Eric, I have chronic low grade shoulder pain because my costotransverse joints at T4 and T5 are ‘stuck’. I’ve just tried this exercise for the first time and I feel as if I’m arching my lower back rather than moving my scapulae. Am I doing something wrong? Thanks, Caroline

Eric Wong

Yes, you’re arching your lower back and not moving your scapulae!

Don’t try as hard and focus on keeping the lumbar extensors relaxed and only move at the scapulae.

That’s why I say, “Go into it slow” – if you try to get into it too fast or contract too hard, you’ll over-recruit other muscles like the lumbar extensors.

Caroline
Caroline

I find it easier to do correctly if I’m seated and push my elbows into the back of the chair. Is that an effective alternative? Thanks

Eric Wong

Yup that’s fine.

Caroline
Caroline

Thank you!

Mary-Jane Amrein
Mary-Jane Amrein

I own a Pilates business and am a Muscle Activation Techniques Specialist and you talk like us! I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with clear and concise videos . I do also share these with my staff to help them with their clients. Thank you
Mary-Jane Amrein, M.S.
Owner
The Pilates Center for Fitness and Therapeutic Conditioning
Williamsburg , Va

Eric Wong

Haha good to know and thanks for sharing my content and the good words Mary-Jane!

Mike
Mike

I did it and my shoulders feel much looser and almost gave me like a warmed up looseness…

Off relate question about your hip flexibility program (which I highly recommend)…. In week 3 do you still alternate between standing and kneeling routine adding in the mobility stuff

Eric Wong

Good stuff, glad it helped!

For HFS, yes, keep alternating standing and kneeling and add the mobility work before workouts, or you can add it before either standing/kneeling routine if you’ve got the time.

Justin
Justin

You were right that I haven’t seen this exercise published anywhere else but I did figure this one out on my own and used it to teach self treatment to several students! What a good feeling to be on the same thought process as one of the greats. Thank you for the great videos, Eric!

Eric Wong

When you refer to “one of the greats”, who are you talking about?

Definitely not me.

I just love learning and sharing about this stuff. 😉

P.S. Thanks for the kind words Justin.