The pectoralis minor is an often problematic muscle that lies deep to its better known companion the pectoralis major. This lovely muscle originates at ribs 3,4, and 5 and inserts on the medial surface of the coracoid process of the scapula. As our modern lives revolve around technology, we find an increased strain on our shoulders from the unnatural rounding stance and forward jutting head created from texting, hunching, and sitting at our keyboards; as such the pectoralis minor is a hot bed of tension and stress just waiting to be loved on and rolled out.

A tight pec minor can wreak havoc on the shoulder joint in vinyasa yoga practice.

The major action of the pec minor is to stabilize the shoulder blade. More specifically it depresses, abducts, and downwardly rotates the scapula.  Along with these actions it also assists in lifting the ribs during forced inhalation (a motion that can be seen in runners’ hard breathing after a race or an asthmatic in the midst of an attack).

As we look around our yoga classrooms at our students moving through the ever popular plank-chatturanga sequences, a common shoulder pattern arises.  We see the inferior angle of the scapula lifting up off the ribs causing a ‘winging’ effect to occur. This ‘winging’ is in part due to overzealous pectoralis minors. The combination of shortened pec minors and inhibited serratus anterior leads to this destabilization of the shoulder.  Which, over time, through repetitive stress and strain, can lead to shoulder impingement as well as more serious rotator cuff issues.  Due to the anatomical placement of the pec minor on top of the brachial plexus (a big bundle of nerves), tightness in this muscle can lead to compression in these nerves and arteries leading to numbness and tingling in the arms.

Using Yoga Tune Up® we can combat our winged yogis with Therapy Ball rolling on the pec minor to encourage the muscle to release and relax, as well as, serratus anterior strengthening poses such as Megaplank with Active Serratus.   As the serratus anterior is a synergist of the pec minor, strengthening this often inhibited muscle while lengthening the pec minor, becomes key in stabilizing the shoulder girdle and allowing for a longer lived yoga practice as well as a happier shoulder joint.

Although ball rolling is a great way to encourage blood flow and release into the pec minor there are other ways to stretch out the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor. YTU poses like Open Sesame, Shoulder Flossing and Dancing with Myself not only target the pec minor, but also give love to the surrounding muscles allowing for an all around happier shoulder!  Aside from YTU poses the number one way to combat tight pec minors is everyday posture.  Take note of how you sit/stand at work as well as at home, in the car, watching TV, working out, playing with your kids, teaching, taking a yoga class…. Stop the hunching and stand up straight! Ribs over pelvis, shoulder blades gliding into place.  Own your posture so it doesn’t own you!

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Kevyn McAnlis

Kevyn started practicing yoga during college in 2003 as a method for relaxation and stress relief. Her study of Anatomy and Physiology helped to deepen her practice. In 2010 she received her 200 hour teacher training certification from Corepower Yoga in Aliso Viejo, California. As Kevyn began exploring new styles of yoga, she walked into a Yoga Tune Up® class. The mix of anatomy with asana won her over and she became YTU certified in 2013. She teaches Vinyasa and Yoga Tune Up® classes in the Bay Area.

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Amber Bilak Yip

Thanks so much for this informative article! I didn’t make it through all the comments, so I am not sure whether someone mentioned this: another interesting puzzle piece to add to pec minor tightness and the resulting shoulder impingement issues it causes is head forward posture… I’ve recently discovered that tightness in the scalenes and degeneration in C5-7 (associated with head forward posture) can cause impingement on the long head of the thoracic nerve (not at the same spot). LTN ennervates… you guessed it! The Serratus anterior! Looking at the data so many people have cervical degeneration without “pain,” (and… Read more »

Madi

I love that you’ve brought attention to the other major player in chaturanga scap stability! Whenever [fitness professionals] see a pair of winging scapula, the “industry standard” is to guide them into serratus anterior engagement. Great, but that isn’t always the issue, and/or it’s not always a sufficient fix. The serratus’ action of upward rotation of the scapula and securing of the scapula’s medial border can be overridden, as you say, by the pec minor’s overzealous downward rotation, which creates the winging. But I wonder how often that is due to a too-strong pec minor, and how often it is… Read more »

michele

What a great overview! I have to admit I forget about this muscle (maybe because it is tucked away). After reading your article I will begin to pay more attention starting with some rolling work.

Dawn Williams

Loved this! I’m going to focus more on stretching out the pec minor to help with posture, besides working to strengthen the serratus anterior. Nice article!

Nathania

This was a great reminder to pay attention to pec minor and serratus when looking at scap winging. I will defiantly try rolling out pec minor and re-educate my serratus .

Tanja

Thank you for pointing out the importance of the pec minor as well as serratus ant. with respect to helping to stabilize the shoulder girdle and keep the shoulder joints happy! The surrounding musculature is often not considered enough and much progress can be achieved if the areas are adequately targeted!