As a teacher, have you ever walked around your class when everyone is in Plank pose and noticed that about half the class or more has their ‘wings’ sticking up?  Then you cue Chatturanga and WOW do those ‘wings’ really start to pop up!  It looks like a fleet of fighter pilots readying for take off!  Those ‘wings’ are the inside edges of the scapula, commonly called the shoulder blades, lifting away from the ribcage.  Until recently I didn’t understand why that happened.  I knew it was important to cue students to “seal your shoulder blades onto your upper back” during Plank and Chatturanga, but I didn’t know how or why they should do it.  That is, until I took the Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 Teacher Training!  Along with many such revelatory moments, learning about the serratus anterior was a real eye opener.  Understanding the why and how of activating serratus anterior in poses like Plank and Chatturanga is invaluable to both student and teacher.

Get to know your serratus anterior to keep your scapula in place.

First, it’s a good idea to know where this muscle is located.  Serratus anterior originates on the surface of the upper eight or nine ribs and attaches at the anterior surface (the inner surface) of the medial border (the inside edge) of the scapula.  It looks something like a large eight- or nine-fingered hand.  The palm of this large hand is under the shoulder blade while the fingers extend out over the ribs.  Aside from elevating the ribs during inhalation, serratus anterior is also one of the muscles that comprise the support system of the shoulder girdle – along with the trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboid major & minor and pectoralis minor – so you can imagine how important it is in poses like Plank, Chatturanga and many others that require shoulder flexion with the arms bearing weight.

A great way to learn to engage the serratus anterior is the Yoga Tune Up® pose Mega Plank.  This pose looks much like a regular Plank pose, but you are on your forearms rather than your hands.  Make sure to joint stack your shoulders over your elbows, find a bit of posterior tilt in the pelvis so the lumbar spine doesn’t get compressed and activate your abdominals so the spine is supported.  Now, to find that serratus anterior just push the floor away with your forearms and you will feel the shoulder blades moving away from each other – this is called protraction – and your upper back will round a bit.  Keep the shoulder blades protracted and then pull backwards with your hands until you feel the tips of your shoulder blades moving towards your hips and voila!  You should feel the serratus anterior muscle turn on – you will feel the big hand and fingers hugging into your back and ribs and the shoulder blades suction cupping into your upper back.  Keep practicing Mega Plank to learn how this muscle works and also to strengthen it.  You can also practice two other Yoga Tune Up® poses that require an active serratus anterior – Dolphin Supinate and Raise the Chalice. Then, start to practice contracting the serratus when you are in Plank and Chatturanga and see if you can keep it active so those shoulder blades stay snuggled up into your back.

Activating and exercising the serratus anterior stabilizes the shoulders and, along with the other muscles that support the shoulder girdle, gives you a more compact feeling overall in the shoulders and upper back.  Aside from improving the quality, safety and stability in Plank and Chatturanga, strengthening your serratus anterior will also improve your Down Dog, Handstand and Forearm Balance poses.  And, for those that are not yogis, strengthening the serratus anterior muscle can improve the safety and stability of the shoulders in a number of overhead sports and regular daily activities such as throwing a baseball, any overhead stroke while swimming, serving while playing tennis, striking a volleyball, chopping wood with an axe, and holding an active baby in one arm.

Allison McCready

Allison’s breath, alignment & anatomy based classes are a unique combination of introspection, self-enquiry and playfulness. She encourages her students to move into the nuances of each pose by focusing on breath and sensation, guiding students into an intuitive listening to their body’s story. Her popular Deep Flow classes are Yoga Tune Up® inspired and deconstruct the vinyasa into component parts so that students build strength and stability without risk of injury. Allison has completed teacher trainings with Max Strom, Erich Schiffmann, Jamie Elmer, Sherry Brourman and Jill Miller.

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AnnMerle Feldman

I work with a lot of clients who have limited mobility and even dolphin supinate is too difficult for them. I pose them at the wall even without blocks for an experiential moment in order to feel their shoulders rotating. They don’t have weight on their shoulders and that makes the external rotation more accessible.

Gabi Schaeffer

Thanks for the helpful cues and the reasons why its so important to activate the serratus anterior. Completely changes how I will cue many yoga postures as well as practice other sports like baseball.

Michelle Officer

As someone who suffered 2 shoulder dislocations within 12 months that led to loss of my practice for months…i have since become very good friends with my serratus anterior. learning this activation has not only helped me to heal, but has completely transformed my entire inversion pracitce! thank you for all the beautiful detail you included…really great article! !

Marianne

Good details about the serratus! Expaning its location and then its function with other muscles that stabilize the shoulders really helps understand it’s roll. Plank/chatturanga like poses are challenging for many students myself included and I find the serratus is almost never mentioned while he is needed alongside the other ones to improve the pose, thanks for bringing it to people,s attention.

Amanda

Great instruction! I am currently in teacher training and am fully aware that I do not do Chataranga or Plank correctly and have been attempting to fix this. I have read many instructions on how to improve theses poses, but none have been able to translate to my practice on the mat. Your explanation of the interactions between the muscles groups alongside your instructions made it easier for me to visualize what exactly needs to be done in this frequently used asanas. Thank you!!

Dana Healey

Activating the serratus is something I just learned yesterday in my Yoga tune up teachers training class. The Serratus is a protractor of the shoulders, it’s essential to activate these muscles otherwise yes people cave in and don’t engage, it looks as if they are hanging out in their joints, perhaps more strength training would elevate this. More exercises such as pushups, slow controlled push up on the knees.

Martine Kerr

I’m guilty. I must fully admit that the initial look on Mega Plank with serratus activation was a mix of irk and horror. Why would anyone want to tuck their pelvis in that much and hunch their upper back? If you were standing, you’d be a shoe in for the Simpson’s Mr. Burns! But it with open heart and mind that I don’t dismiss things just because I don’t like how it looks and, after learning more about the pose and doing a context grid, I can’t deny the benefits. I am now a convert…just call me Mrs. Burns.

Elizabeth Bond

Great post! Chatturanga Dandasana is such a difficult pose and practicing the YTU pose Mega Plank to integrate the serratus makes all the difference. I noticed that after a week of YTU training I went up into a stable handstand and held it with ease!

Corey

Love the title!! Stable shoulders are are a very important tenet for Downward Facing dog. Many people are doing the pose and just playing with a ticking time bomb as they do not engage the serrates anterior or are too weak to engage it properly.

Rita

I knew about the serratus muscle and the importance of activating it in plank and down dog and even learned some queing for getting students to engage that muscle, but now I really understand why it’s important. I like your description of the hand as the serratus muscle. Having that vision, really helps a lot. Thanks.

Teresa

Thank you, I’m currently taking level one training this week and its lot of information coming at you all at once which I love however you just explained in such a direct and detailed way the important function Serratus Anterior plays for the shoulder girdle and many popular asanas.

Ann Knighton

Thank you for the wonderful post. I just recently completed my Yoga Tune Up Level 1 training. Strenthening the serratus anterior has made such a difference in my practice and my students.

Jimmee Greco

Thank you for such a clear description of the muscles that support the shoulder girdle! Great job giving us context — I want to go practice Megaplank and strengthen my serratus anterior right now!

Melinda

Great way to get in touch with the serratus anterior. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of stabilizing our shoulders!

Aubrey Heinemann

I really enjoyed reading this post because you gave a clear description of where the serratus anterior was located, what it does and what it looks like. I think this visual will be very helpful to take to my mat and to my students that are not only Kinesthetic learners but also visual learners too.

Michelle Clemens

This is a great way to activate the serratus! It’s one of the most challenging movements to describe to students. I’m really excited to learn the Serratus Planks as I am in YTU Teacher training 1. As a massage therapist this will help me in my practice as well, giving my clients the tools to be mindful of their shoulder blades and strengthen in a safe way.

Amanda

Great post Allison!! That was a wonderful description on how to activate the Serratus Anterior. I tend to place my hand between their Scapulas and tell them to push toward my hand, but I can’t always get around to everyone of course. Taking them down to a forearm plank is a much easier starting point to get the feeling of activating the Serratus Anterior. Thanks for the tip!

Marah

Great article! I have had the same eye opening experience only yesterday in my TT and this helps me a lot to recapitulate what was tought and incorporate it into my teaching. I`m also thinking to forward it to a few students and friends of mine, who are no longer under my guidance but could use this tip for sure. Thanks!

Lindsay

This is a pose that has always been tough for me to describe to a newer student… or even to seasoned students who haven’t been properly trained. Somehow, somewhere along the way, one of my teachers was able to teach me to not wing. But not to this extent. I have heard so many instructors give instructions like “fill the gap/space between your shoulder blades” which results in a bazaar rounded upper back. The instructions you have provided here are clearly thought out in an easily followed manner. The more information and how these poses all link, the better and… Read more »

Sujun

What a discovery for me. Actually I did learn this in Jill’s session but thank you for clarifying it even more. The serratus anterior will be one of my focal points as it will help me be stronger. My students will also receive the benefits of my newfound knowledge. The other thing that amazes me is that so many of us have been doing Chatturanga wrong in all of our yoga classes.. Serrarus Anterior helps to stabilize, Thank you for the great clarification.

kim haegele

Learning to engage serratus correctly significantly changed my chaturanga for the better.

Rachel

Ahaha I just love the title of the article “Chatturanga Is No Time “To Wing It”” This Title had caught my attention because for the first time just a day ago I practiced yoga and after about 3-5 chatturanga’s I gave myself permission to stop them since I could feel myself popping my “wings.” Ever since learning about the serratus anterior (one of my new fav muscles) it has changed the way I do planks and chatturanga for the better, and it is even harder but feels a lot better!

Kevyn

wonderful explanation and description of this muscle and it’s involvement and movement in life and yoga poses. Your break down is extraordinary! I feel like I now have a full grasp on the serratus and how to cue and understand its activation.

Tracy L

This is such a great explanation in such a clear manner, and I really appreciate this as a yoga student and teacher, as none of this was taught in any of my trainings, yet is crucial for proper form and stability in such a repetitive movement. Thanks so much for a huge eye-opener that will benefit my own instability in shoulders and scapulae as well as students.

Elise Gibney

Thanks for this post! I’m currently in the YTU Level 1 training and we covered this today. It’s a lot of information and your post explains it clearly and practically. It was lovely to read what I just learned in class – helps cement the learning in my head and I’m going to use your post as a resource / reminder in the future. Shoulder stabilization in downward facing dog is something I didn’t learn until I started taking classes regularly with a YTU teacher and this understanding has so improved my practice and teaching. Hooray for YTU!

Vincent Budac

Great post Allison! I used to think the Serratus Anterior were just these cool fingers of muscles that looked cool and helped with weighted pullovers until I found yoga tune up! They are so important and very misused, neglected or poorly understood. Thanks for the insight and context!

Katherine McKinnon

So rewarding to break chaturanga down again once a while in our practice! I recently assisted with a workshop on this one posture and my serratus anterior muscles were sore for days; it is so easy to forget and disconnect with important muscles over time as we run through our own practice and teaching! Thanks for another great reminder– I’ll have to work on the mega-plank though! 😛

Michelle B

Great visual cue on the 8 fingered hand! I’ve been working to strengthen this muscle and use proper form since th YTU training. Understanding where the muscles are is half the battle. I’ve also been modifying more with Megaplank until I can build my arm strength to properly do the other shoulder poses.

Allison Shapiro

I love the description of the large hand with 9 fingers! Everyone “knows” to drop the shoulders, create space between shoulders and ears etc…but it is always a revelation to really “get” the sensation of protracting to engage the serratus while depressing the scapula. And it feels so much better.

Elissa

Megaplank has forever changed chatturanga for myself and my students! As we continue to educate the serratus anterior to turn on and support the shoulder joint, the “fleet of fighter pilots at ready to take off” are pulling their wings in!

Gary Carlisle

Good indicator about many of the regular poses that are being done today in many yoga studios Like Chatturanga, and many others, are probably not being done in the proper alignment enough to be doing them at all.
This Yoga Tune Up® has changed my practice and my teaching dramatically .

Kristen B.

The illumination of Serratus Anterior in plank and other upper body weight bearing poses has been such a revelation for my students. Just the simple action of understanding protraction has changed many people’s experience of the pose. What a gift the applied Directions of Shoulder Movement are to the practice!

Lynne S

I really, truly wish I had read this before my sad Chaturanga dandasana experience. I’m still not sure exactly what I did wrong but from what you posted, I definitely wasn’t doing it correctly. I’m a yoga teacher but I’ve never taught that posture out of fear I would injure someone. I haven’t tried Mega Plank yet but I am definitely looking forward to trying it. Can’t wait to meet my serratus anterior muscles! I’m looking forward to learning how to do Chaturanga dandasana correctly and keeping my students safe.

Colleen

This was a really interesting article. When I first started yoga, I definitely had “wings” puffing up, my butt sinking down, and my head tilted down. After some help from some amazing teachers, I learned to not go down as far, activate my leg muscles so my butt didn’t sink as much, keep my elbows in close to my body, and keep my head up. Occasionally I worry that I don’t go as far down as others but I think that is okay- it is better to be safe than sorry. I am also a swimmer so I appreciated all… Read more »

Tonya

Wow, this blog was exactly what I needed to read. Being in yoga teacher training I did not realize how one could really injure themselves doing chatturanga improperly. Excited to put this knowledge into my practice so I can be free from future injuries.

Celine

This is such important information and way too many yoga practitioner don’t know about it. Chaturanga is a very challenging pose and requires a lot of awareness and strong serratus anterior. One cue that I really like for myself, is thinking about wrapping the inferior angle of the scapula to my arm bone.
I practice mega plank on a regular basis to strengthen my serratus muscles. I focus more on one side since I have a scoliosis and one of my shoulder blades sticks out more than the other.

Nick Muscara

I tried this this weekend and it was absolutely amazing to see and do myself. I can’t believe I had been doing chatturanga incorrectly for 4 years. After doing it this way for the last two days my arms and shoulders are so sore, which truly proves I’m working the muscles properly.

Ekat

The second thing I was amazed by today after finishing the YTU weekend is how all of us have been doing Chatturanga very wrong in all of our yoga classes and how many injuries this can potentially bring. Serrarus Anterior is such an important muscle because it prevents the winging of our shoulder blades and helpes us stabilize, it is one of the major muscles for performing Chatturanga. I think most of us have so far been putting on the majority of our weight on the front of the body and the most common resulting injury from this is a… Read more »

Yelimar

Discovering my Serratus Anterior was such a revelation. Its a muscle I have to strengthen. It makes weight bearing on my arms in shoulder flexion feel so stable and compact. This was a BIG missing link in my understanding. Loved this article. Thanks so much for your clarity and breakdown. I am so glad some one is taking the time to break these poses down to help us find balance, & stability in our practice. So many of us have really wreaked ourselves with yoga due to lack of education and in turn have passed on those very issues to… Read more »

Elizabeth W.

The Serratus Anterior is my new favorite muscle! Having just finished the YTU TT I have already brought my newfound awareness of this muscle to my students. In fact, they were all shouting out Serratus Anterior when I asked them which muscles they were using for their push ups.

So rewarding to erase a blind spot in my own body and to help others do the same.

Lauren C

Thank you for this post! It is so helpful to know how to activate and strengthen your serratus in order to stabalize your shoulder girdle. I practice vinyasa yoga and cannot believe how many planks, chaturunga’s, and downdogs are in one class and so many people have no clue how to properly do them. The long term damage is frightening. Until I started the YTU TT I was not as aware of my body as I am now. Its so important to be able to feel all of this in your body and not just learn it. Thank you for… Read more »

Jimmy

Ps- I’ma love you Forever!

Jimmy

I remember when I was in class the first time with my friend Kent Bond and had us in plank activating the SA. I thought to myself Oh?! ——————————>Hello Serratus Anterior how are you and why you gotta be such a sexy bitch? You cut such a beautiful profile! You took so long to introduce yourself to me? But hey if playing hard to get has been your thing then that’s cool. It’s actually my fault Serratus Anterior, if I am being honest with myself I was the one not paying attention to you! You showed up when ever I… Read more »

Jenny

Thank you Allison! I have been a student of Allison’s for a while now and just completed my first weekend of the Integrated Embodied Anatomy class. I have been practicing yoga on and off for about 10 years and never knew this information, how could that be? When I first started doing this in class I had a major aha moment…needless to say chaturanga got a lot more difficult but I felt myself getting stronger and felt happy knowing I was helping my body and reducing the chance of injury!

will cristobal

i’ve been teaching about seven years and had asked the big question: is chaturanga dandasana good for you? after today’s session at yoga tune up with jill and reading your blog, i am a bit unsettled. did my teacher deceive me? did my teacher’s teacher deceive her? i have always enjoyed a nice chaturanga vinyasa flow for its grace, beauty, and flow. i always felt great after each class so i thought i’d continue to spread the joy by teaching. now it seems my world is turned upside down and i must start again from scratch. i feel born again.

Sonya G.

Chaturanga dandasana… you are a complicated beast. I have for some time now been a big advocate of doing chaturanga in proper form, and of doing cobra rather than up dog until a solid understanding of shoulder alignment is reached. I felt this way because I saw SO many unnecessary repetitive stress injuries… people totally blowing out their rotator cuffs due to fast mindless chaturangas over and over again all in the name of yogic practices to expand consciousness and health. I swore I would fight for good alignment in the chaturanga dandasana to cobra/up-dog world. But now I tend… Read more »

Amy

Nice blog on the importance of the how’s and why’s of the serratus anterior… In additon to the exercises listed above, the importance of incorporating the Vastisthasana Prep 1 (Side Plank) cleary illustrates the function / stabilization of the serratus in weight bearing poses and can be explored specifically with the right side and left side of the body each at their own time – and then continuing the connection down into the obliques and glutues medius. All so important to maintain tubular core balance without the “wings”.

Matthew

Great breakdown of proper engagement through the shoulder girdle in Plank etc. I often cue with a description like “cobra hood” through the upper thoracic spine and serratus anterior…and maybe even getting the latissimus dorsi in the game as a bonus. It also seems when this engagement occur as you’ve described, students (myself included) have freed the pelvis/trunk enough that they start to unconsciously (or consciously) posteriorily tilt the pelvis into better alignment and coax more participation out of the abdominal muscles. Thanks for the expansive details, look forward to putting them in the mix!

Nicole

This is important information and helps in further understanding plank chattaranga and the shoulders.

Gillian

Great article! I just finished Day 1 of the Integrated Embodied Anatomy program, and this was one of the first things we went over. It definitely was an “aha!” moment for me, being able to specifically look at and target the muscles that we talk about engaging to keep the shoulders safe in this pose. I’ve always heard the phrase “dome up your back” or “push up between your shoulder blades” to try to fix this problem, so my mental picture of the muscles needed was completely different. Today in class our instructor showed us what he called “Serratus Planks”,… Read more »