How Swimmers Can Strengthen the Serratus Anterior Muscle

Photo Courtesy: G. John Mullen/YouTube

By Dr. G. John Mullen

The Serratus anterior (SA) isn’t the easiest muscle to work on. That’s mainly because its function doesn’t exactly revolve around contracting and moving a joint through range of motion. Its main job is to hold the scapula in place against the rib cage to stop the scapula from winging out when doing other movements such as push ups, or swimming for example (it is also involved in protraction and upward rotation).

Video: Anatomy and function of the serratus anterior

SA is often called the “Boxer’s Muscle,” due to the repeated load that it is put under to maintain scapula position as punches land. The force is transferred back up the arm and through the shoulder makes for great exercise of the SA muscle. Also, boxers are often quite lean, helping to accentuate the rib attachments.

In swimming, the shoulder is highly at risk area for injury, as I’ve discussed. If a swimmer is weak in the SA, they likely compensate with scapular elevation, reducing subacromial space and increasing shoulder injury risk.

Here are simple progression exercises of the serratus anterior muscle, specifically for those with scapular winging or poor control/awareness of this muscle. As you do other exercises that rely upon your scapula being fixed to your rib cage to provide stability throughout the movement (such as push ups/bench press/punching etc.), your SA is active. If you can do a simple wall push-up, without any scapula winging, your SA is strong. However, being strong at the beginning of practice is only strong enough. Instead, test your wall push-up after a difficult practice and see if you maintain your scapular position.

Wall Push-up Test for Serratus Anterior Weakness

Serratus Anterior Strengthening Progression for Swimmers and Overhead Athletes

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar
    TM

    How many reps of each step in the progression and should each step occur for a set amount of time before ascending to the next step. Also, is this progression does as part of a regular dryland routine or specific to shoulder strength routines.

  2. avatar
    G. John Mullen

    Typically the training volume depends on their weakness, some require strength of the serratus anterior, so a harder version with lower repetitions (4-8) should be performed. However, proper form must be maintained, no matter the difficulty of the exercise. If someone is lacking endurance (like most are in the SA), then ~3 sets of 15 minutes is best.

    In dryland or shoulder strength…depends on the program. I just suggest doing it after practice to prevent fatigue prior to workout.

Author: G. John Mullen

avatar
Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University. He is the owner of COR (www.trainingcor.com), strength and conditioning consultant, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System (http://www.corswimmershoulder.com), Dryland for Swimmers (http://www.drylandforswimmers.com), and is chief editor of Swimming Science (www.swimmingscience.net) and the Swimming Science Research Review.

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