Serratus Anterior & Helpers, Part 1
I often talk about shoulder alignment and the importance of a strong serratus anterior in yoga class. These large muscles, which caress both sides of your ribcage as a pair, are key to all sorts of poses in yoga: backbends, headstands, arm balances, and even twists.
Why should we care? Because poor shoulder mechanics could very well lead to neck, hand, wrist, and—obviously—shoulder pain. To be clear, I am writing this not as an anatomist or therapist, because I am neither. I am writing as a longtime yoga practitioner who’s had many injuries (including all of the ones I just mentioned), many of which resulted from faulty shoulder alignment.
I’ll let this excellent three-minute video explain the basic mechanics of how the shoulder girdle moves. You’ll see that the serratus anterior muscles protract (this means they spread away from the spine and outwardly rotate) to stabilize the shoulder blades (or scapulae), like in ekam, while the rhomboids retract the shoulder blades, like in upward-facing dog, triangle, dandasana, and boat pose. They work together in opposition.
This video shows very clearly the role of two other important muscles that also help protraction and retraction (the pectoralis minor and the middle trapezius). But please remember there are a great many (around seventeen) muscles that relate to each scapula, so the shoulder girdle (aka “pectoral girdle”) is a lot more complicated than what’s shown in this little clip.
Here’s what I hope to communicate in this post: The serratus anterior muscles stabilize the shoulder girdle by keeping the shoulder blades glued flat to the ribs. This is especially important when you’re bearing the weight of your body on your arms, like in plank pose. This muscle also moves the scapula forward and around the ribs when you put your hand up in front of you to push open a heavy door . . . or when you throw a punch.