The quadricep, hamstrings, and hip flexors get a lot of attention in yoga. Yet, there is another muscle that is commonly used in yoga, but one that you may have never heard of. That muscle is the serratus anterior.
The serratus anterior is a deep muscle that supports and abducts the scapula. ‘Serratus’ is a Latin word that means, ‘saw-like’ and refers to the appearance of this muscle. The serratus anterior might not be mentioned very often in your yoga class, but you use it every single time you move into High Plank.
The Serratus Anterior in terms of an Asana-based Yoga practice
The serratus anterior slow our descent from High Plank into Chaturanga. When these muscles are weak, we come crashing down.
The serratus anterior originates at the side of the first through eight ribs. It runs laterally around the rib cage, passes underneath the scapula to insert on its medial border. The serratus anterior acts to abduct the scapula, or pull them away from each other. So when your yoga teacher tells you to, ‘push the floor away from you’ or to ‘lift up out of your shoulders’, it is the serratus anterior abducting the scapula which allows you to perform those actions. The action of the serratus anterior is critical for several other positions.
If the serratus anterior abducts or pulls the scapula away from each other, then there must be a muscle that adducts or pulls the scapula toward each other. That is the job of the rhomboid muscles. The serratus anterior and rhomboids work together (along with other muscles), to support the scapula and to abduct the scapula (a function of the serratus anterior) and to adduct the scapula (a function of the rhomboids). When the scapula is not fully supported, then the rotator cuff muscles are not able to properly stabilize the humerus bone in its socket. This can lead to rotator cuff injuries and shoulder pain since these muscles must take on the job of supporting the scapula, something for which they are not ideally suited.
The next time your teacher keeps you in High Plank for what seems like forever, then take heart because you are building up strength in the serratus anterior. By strengthening the serratus anterior, we can control our descent into Chaturanga, support the scapula, and protect the rotator cuff muscles.
Strength in the serratus anterior also allow us to access other positions such as headstand, crow, peacock, forearm balance, and handstand. All valid reasons to ‘enjoy the burn’ of High Plank.
Check out Jemitra’s video featuring High Plank push-ups, an excellent way to strengthen the serratus anterior muscles.