While this article was not originally written specifically for aerialists, I find it is a helpful lesson on a major muscle involved in aerial work. This highlights the function of the serratus anterior which plays a vital role in stabilizing the shoulder blade. Enjoy!
The serratus anterior muscles are what I refer to as our “wings.” They help us move our arms multi-dimensionally and with great speed. We may not necessarily rely on them for quadrupedal locomotion, but if we are ever going to get up off the ground, we need to recruit these muscles.
When the serratus anterior is flexed, it appears to lengthen the arm by wrapping the scapula forward toward the chest. When done repetitively this creates a motion like flapping wings or a movement patterns like that of a four-legged animal. Serratus anterior muscles are also known as the “boxer’s muscles” because of their mobility pattern. A boxer’s punch and reach come from the effectiveness of the scapula protracting and retracting.
The serratus anterior muscles are also breathing accessory muscles. They originate on the upper eight ribs and insert into the medial border of the scapula. They stabilize the shoulder blades and when flexed will spread the ribs for an inhale. The greater the inhale, the greater the internal pressure. This pressure creates a strong support for action, balance, or resistance.
When the serratus anterior muscles are weak, they contribute to neck problems, rotator cuff issues, numbness down the arm, poor circulation, and lymphatic return through the armpits. This last issue is a particular concern as it can lead to a backlog of toxins in the breast tissue and lymph nodes. This area must remain open and with venous return flowing.
Because the serratus stabilizes the positioning of the arm and shoulder, this muscle is important for inversions such as turbo dog, downward facing dog at the wall, dolphin, handstands, forearm balances, and wheel. Serratus is also a support for arm balancing. When activating the serratus you can do a variety of pushups without bending the elbows. This is particularly fun with crow pose while keeping the arms straight.
Breathe. Place your hands on your ribcage just below your armpits and breathe deeply. Feel for these muscles activating. Feel the ribcage expand and contract. Now try these two exercises:
Stand facing a wall, arm distance length, with palms shoulder height on wall. Lean forward with your torso toward the wall, without bending your arms, feeling the shoulder blades come closer together at the spine. You are flexing the rhomboids and stretching the serratus simultaneously.
Sit on the floor, legs crossed with feet on ground. Place your palms on the floor by your hips, with arms straight. Press you body away from the floor by using the serratus anterior. You may only gain an eight of an inch to begin but keep practicing. Soon you can move your feet in the air provided the torso is suspended high enough to gain ground clearance. Greater ground (or air!) clearance is created by the serratus pushing the torso away (or down!) from any obstacle or object.
Serratus anterior reminds us to use muscles that we cannot see, and to take a greater focus for connecting and feeling. They are unlike the biceps or quadriceps in that you must pay greater attention for subtle shifts and feedback. They won’t yell and scream like the more robust and extroverted muscles. It’s a good lesson. Be more aware to everything that is quieter to respond.