If you’ve ever seen someone with well-defined abs, you’ve seen the serratus anterior. It’s not the “6-pack” muscle, but the serrated-like muscle under your chest, to the side of the lats, and under your armpit.
Unfortunately, the serratus anterior is an often forgotten muscle. Many people have never heard of it and don’t know where it is. Because of this, they miss a lot of the benefits of developing the serratus. Don’t let that be you!
These are the best 9 serratus anterior exercises:
- High bear crawl
- Scapular push-up
- Foam roller wall slides
- Dumbbell pullovers
- Dumbbell uppercuts
- Ab rollouts
- Single-arm landmine press
- Stability ball stir the pots
- Stability ball body saws
Broadly speaking, including exercises that specifically target your serratus anterior will help scapular function. This improves both the overall appearance of symmetry if aesthetics are your main training goal and shoulder function and capacity.
If one of your muscles isn’t firing properly, that work has to be made up by the other supporting musculature. This can lead to muscle imbalances, pain in the neck, back, or shoulders, as well as diminished upper body capacity.
For those reasons, it’s crucial to include serratus anterior exercises in your training.
What Is the Serratus Anterior?
The serratus anterior has a multitude of functions and works in harmony with your rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder. The most notable functions of the serratus are in scapular stability and the prevention of scapular winging.
In other words, the serratus helps stabilize the shoulder, especially during overhead movements. It is a crucial muscle for the overall balance of shoulder function.
Furthermore, the serratus anterior is also known as the “big swing muscle,” or the “boxer’s muscle.” This helps illustrate the serratus’s function in helping you reach your arm forward (like throwing a punch).
Why Is It Important to Train the Serratus Anterior?
Training your serratus anterior helps your core look shredded. But beyond your appearance, if you have an undertrained serratus anterior, other musculature like your chest and neck muscles take over, and muscle imbalances typically occur. This can happen in the shoulders, neck, chest, or back and can even lead to worsened posture and breathing.
The serratus anterior is also heavily responsible for shoulder stability in the overhead position. It works in tandem with your rhomboids to add stability to an unstable position. To avoid injury and help your shoulder function optimally, you need to know how to train your serratus anterior!
What Happens If You Have a Weak Serratus Anterior?
One of the worst things that can happen if you have an underdeveloped serratus is a condition known as scapular winging. This means the muscles responsible for stabilizing your shoulder blade don’t fire correctly, and your scapular will actually protrude and ‘wing’ out.
You don’t want this condition because it can lead to pain in the back, neck, or shoulders and reduced arm function. It’s also not a good look if aesthetics are your main goal for training.
An easy way to tell if you might have a weak or inactive serratus anterior is your arms shaking or feeling really unsteady when doing overhead presses and other overhead exercises.
Basically, if your serratus anterior is weak or firing improperly, your shoulder will not function optimally.
The good news is that if you’re not dealing with an active injury, the most common cause of weakness in the serratus anterior is simply inactivity of the muscle.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the best exercises for the serratus anterior to activate that elusive muscle.
9 Best Serratus Anterior Exercises
1. High Bear Crawl
I put this exercise first because it’s great for beginners! The bear crawl position forces the serratus to activate, and it keeps the serratus under tension as you move through the exercise.
The most common mistake with this exercise is simply just moving too quickly or taking too big of steps. Take small steps, and take them slowly to maximize the benefit.
How To Do High Bear Crawls
- Start on all four, with your knees lifted just above the ground.
- Initiate the movement by crawling your hand and the opposite leg forward.
- Do your best to keep your back neutral as you crawl forward.
If you’ve mastered the standard bear crawl, it might be time to take it up a notch! To do this, you can either perform this same exercise backward or sideways. The same rules apply — go slow and take small steps.
2. Scapular Push-Ups
There are no 100% isolation serratus exercises, but the scapular push-up is pretty close! This is an easy-looking exercise, but it can actually be pretty challenging your first time trying it.
There are a couple of things to pay attention to. Most notably, there should be no movement in your arms. You want to isolate the movement to only the shoulder blades. Because of that, there should only be 1-2 inches of movement during the exercise.
How To Do Scapular Push-Ups
- Start in a traditional push-up position or with the knees down to regress.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together so that your chest drops toward the ground.
- Then spread the shoulder blades and push through the top of the push-up.
Remember, the serratus anterior is most activated when you press forward or overhead. So, make sure to ‘push through’ the top of each rep. If you’re looking to level up this exercise, try it with only one hand down.
No equipment? Here are 12 more exercises that focus on your triceps that would pair nicely with either of the above two exercises: 12 Best Bodyweight Tricep Exercises (At Home & No Equipment).
3. Foam Roller Wall Slides
Time to bust out that foam roller that’s been sitting in the corner of the gym! This exercise is fantastic because it engages the two functions of the serratus anterior — going overhead and forward with your arms.
Remember to actively press into the wall, and this exercise should get harder the further you go overhead. Fight the natural tendency for your traps to get over-involved. Keep your shoulder blades tucked down and back.
How To Do Foam Roller Wall Slides
- Place a foam roller against the wall at about eye level.
- Your arms should be about shoulder width.
- Initiate the movement by protracting the shoulders, then press your forearms into the foam roller. This should slightly round your upper back.
- Keep pressing into the foam roller as you slide up and down the wall.
If you’re looking to add a little more spice, throw a mini band around your wrists. Then proceed with the exercise, but keep tension on the band and force your hands OUT as you press up the wall.
4. Dumbbell Pullover
An old-school bodybuilding staple! Most people think of pullovers as a chest or lat exercise, but they are also a great serratus anterior workout. It’s also a great exercise because all you need is a bench and one dumbbell.
How To Do Dumbbell Pullovers
- Lay flat on a bench while holding one end of the dumbbell head above your chest with your arms straight.
- Keep a soft bend in your elbows as you move your arms back until you feel a stretch in your chest and lats.
- Exhale as you reset and bring the dumbbell back over your chest.
There are several pullover variations to incorporate. Try this exercise with two dumbbells instead of one. Keep smashing the dumbbells together as you follow the same steps outlined above. Or you can use a cable machine!
If you can’t or don’t want to do dumbbell pullovers, you can also try one of these dumbbell pullover alternatives.
5. Dumbbell Uppercut
This exercise is a great way to work the serratus anterior under load. Your dumbbells should be comparable to what you would use for shoulder presses. So don’t be afraid to grab some weight!
There are several ways to do this exercise, but I’ve outlined the steps below for my favorite way to do it.
How To Do Dumbbell Uppercuts
- Start with two dumbbells at shoulder height, using an underhand grip (palms should be facing yourself).
- Keep your elbows close to one another as you press your dumbbells overhead.
- Don’t lock your arms out, just clear your forehead and come back down.
This isn’t a movement with a ton of range of motion. Focus on keeping your elbows close and just passing your forehead as you press. You should NOT lock your arms out.
In addition to the uppercuts, check out these three cable shoulder workouts for mass if you’re looking to add more mass to your shoulders.
6. Ab Rollouts
This exercise will light up your entire core, but it’s great for the serratus, in particular. The muscle works both as you roll out and as you come back in.
Most commercial gyms have an ab roller hiding somewhere. If you can’t find one, you can use a barbell with small weight plates.
How To Do Ab Rollouts
- Start on your knees with your hands on the ab wheel handles.
- Before you move, squeeze your abs and round your back (like a cat).
- Lead with your HIPS, then extend your arms out as far as you can.
- If you’re new to this exercise, that might mean you don’t extend all the way, but that’s fine.
- As you come back in, keep your core engaged and back rounded.
Lead with your hips, don’t just reach the wheel forward. To take this to the next level, start this exercise on your feet instead of on your knees. But be warned, that is a VERY advanced exercise variation.
7. Single-Arm Landmine Press
The landmine attachment has grown in popularity, and most commercial gyms have one. If not, you can place a barbell in the corner of a wall (you can place a towel between the barbell and the wall to avoid damaging the wall).
The landmine press is more effective for working the serratus anterior than a bench press because the landmine press allows a lot more scapular movement. That scapular movement and stability are driven and supported in large part by the serratus anterior.
How To Do a Single-Arm Landmine Press
- Place your landmine in the attachment or set one end of a barbell in the corner of the gym.
- Start with your feet square.
- Grab the free end of the barbell with one hand.
- Squeeze your core and keep your hips forward as you press forward and overhead.
- Control the barbell as it comes down to the top of your shoulder.
Make sure to reach forward at the top of each rep to fully activate the serratus anterior. There are a ton of landmine press variations.
If you’re looking for more landmine exercises, check out the best landmine core exercises.
8. Stability Ball Stir the Pots
This is an exercise that not only stimulates the serratus anterior but will light up your whole core!
Be mindful not to over-arch your low back during this exercise. There should be no pain.
This is one of the most difficult exercises on this list, so I recommend doing it only if you’ve progressed through the first seven and are looking for more of a challenge. You may need to start with your knees on the ground.
How To Do Stability Ball Stir the Pots
- Start off with your forearms on the stability ball.
- Take a plank position and push your forearms into the ball.
- Slowly rotate the arms, making a circle in a clockwise fashion.
- Then, do the same thing but rotate counter-clockwise.
Remember, the serratus anterior is most active when going overhead and pressing forward. So, to emphasize the serratus, make sure you’re actively pushing INTO the ball.
9. Stability Ball Body Saws
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a sneaky core challenge and a great exercise to light up your serratus anterior, look no further! It involves the two motions that the serratus supports — extending your arms overhead and moving them in front of your body.
This is a great exercise to pair with the stir-the-pot exercise, as the starting position is essentially the same.
Like the stir the pot exercise, the stability ball body saw is an advanced exercise. You should only attempt it once you’ve mastered the other movements on this list.
How To Do Stability Ball Body Saws
- Start with your forearms on the stability ball, then step back to a plank position.
- Keep your hips and core locked in as you reach the ball forward a couple of inches.
- Control the ball and move slowly as you bring it back to the starting position.
Here’s a sample finisher to add to the end of your workout if you were to pair this exercise with the stir-the-pot exercise:
- Stability Ball Stir the Pots x 8-10 rotations EACH way
- Stability Ball Body Saw x 8-12 reps
Rest for 30 seconds between rounds and complete 3-4 sets.
If you don’t have access to a stability ball, that’s okay. Check out these 12 exercises that will work the chest, shoulders, and serratus anterior: 12 Best Pike Push-up Alternatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Exercise Works the Serratus Anterior?
Examples of serratus exercises include bear crawls, scapular push-ups, foam roller wall slides, dumbbell pullovers, dumbbell uppercuts, ab wheel rollouts, landmine presses, stability ball stir the pots, and stability ball body saws.
Do Push-Ups Work the Serratus Anterior?
The serratus anterior is worked during push-ups. But to overemphasize its activation, make sure to press through the top of your push-up, adding a little round to the top of your spine.
What Are the Benefits of a Strong Serratus Anterior?
Most importantly, keeping your serratus strong will reduce the chance of upper body pain, help your posture and breathing, and allow you to lift your arms through their full range of motion.
The serratus anterior is, unfortunately, an often under-trained muscle but one that is crucial for optimal shoulder function! Having a defined serratus anterior will give your core a more chiseled look, but more importantly, the serratus is paramount for shoulder stability.
If you’re unsure where to start with the serratus anterior muscle exercises above, start at exercise #1 and work your way down. As you make your way down the list, generally speaking, the exercises get harder. Only give exercises #8 and #9 a go if you’re advanced!
If you feel shakiness when you press overhead or are currently dealing with scapular winging, including these 9 exercises in your workout routine will be crucial to returning to optimal performance.
About The Author
Kurtis Ackerman is a personal trainer residing in Southern California. He is the owner and head trainer of KB Fitness. Kurtis competed in powerlifting and Strongman in his younger years but has shifted to more endurance-focused events, completing his first marathon in 2020. He trains a wide variety of clientele but specializes in working around injuries.