As an athlete, singer, yogi and human I find inhalation to be very near and dear to my heart.   I mean, it does help to keep me alive!  Thankfully, I have my serratus posterior superior (SPS) to literally help with the heavy lifting.

The SPS is a fan shaped muscle in the upper back and neck that doesn’t get a lot of mention in bodywork and movement circles because it lies beneath its bigger, noisier friends, trapezius and rhomboids.  But this little muscle is no less important than those two loud-mouths because its job is to elevate the ribcage during inhalation!  Like I said, I like to inhale–maybe I should take better care of this baby.

Your SPS is a vital breathing muscle – learn to take care of it!

SPS originates at the spinous processes of C-7 to T-3 and attaches to the posterior surface of ribs 2-5.  This area can be a Bermuda Triangle of tension and pain due to overuse and bad position.  (Text neck anyone…?)

In addition to the trapezius and rhomboids–which run superficial to the SPS–the upper transversospinalis muscles and erector spinae, splenius capitis and cervicis all run deep to the SPS. Levator scapula is tucked up under the medial border/superior angle of scapula.

Adhesions and trigger points in the serratus posterior superior can cause a deep ache in the upper back and behind/under the shoulder blade and can also refer pain and numbness down into the arms and hands.

Accessing the SPS can be tricky because  it’s  buried by muscles–trapezius, rhomboids–and bones–scapula.  Never fear, Yoga Tune Up® has plenty of techniques to help you improve your breathing:

●      Use Epaulet Arm Circles to warm up the upper back and shoulders.

●      Raise The Chalice takes the shoulder blades into protraction and depression. Shoulder blade protraction actively lengthens the rhomboids and upper traps.  That spread of the upper back and depression of shoulder blades takes the SPS along for the ride.

●      Reverse Crucifix, like Raise the Chalice, lengthens traps and rhomboids.  The gentle force of gravity created by the prone/arm position makes space across the back and the easy neck traction created by bringing the forehead to the floor allow all of the SPS attachments–Spinous Processes C-7 to T-3 and ribs 2 to 5–freedom to release.

Of course there are also many YTU Therapy Ball techniques that would work beautifully to access the SPS.  Generally, any ball work that targets the region of the C-7 to T-3 (ball positions 1-3-ish) would work for the SPS.

More specifically:

●      Chug/Cross fiber with balls together at the spine just below C-7 to fluff the surface layers

●      Trapezius Tamer works to further tenderize the surface covering

●      Hug and Lean (Fake Make Out?) and Protract/ Retract with balls on upper rhomboids –with the underside of the shoulder blade exposed– gets a little deeper and more specific to SPS attachments at ribs 2-5.

●      And the pin and stretch of  Snow Angel Arms with the balls in the T-1 to T-3 region helps to break up adhesions and trigger points.

The most important thing to keep in mind with ball work on the SPS is to take time and allow the tissues to surrender in order to get deep enough to actually access the targeted area.

Whatever your daily activities–running, biking, yoga-ing, texting, facebook stalking–you need to stay inspired by giving your serratus posterior superior a little well deserved attention and love.

Discover how to trigger your breath.

Learn about our Therapy Ball Programs

Watch our free Quickfix videos.

Elizabeth Wipff

Elizabeth Wipff is a CrossFit coach, Yoga Tune Up® teacher, personal trainer, and mobility specialist. She has been teaching yoga and CrossFit in NYC since 1999. In 2008, with over a decade of serious yoga practice and teaching under her belt, Elizabeth sought out CrossFit in an effort to heal back pain and increase fitness. She is thrilled to be able to unite her two passions--CrossFit and Yoga--and to be able to help the CrossFit community become stronger, healthier, and more powerful athletes through the techniques of Yoga Tune Up®.

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Claire

Elizabeth,
Thank you , you make it so easy to understand and clear to follow. As a childhood asthmatic I find this muscle is definitely over worked and under paid, your insights are very relieving( literally !) making them extremely valuable for me, I shall pass it on:-)

Michelle Corbeil

Loved the “bermuda triangle of tension” and agree that serratus is undervalued. Thank you for giving effective ball exercises to bring the love there. I am definitely going to try to spend some time to show the love since I like breathing as well – lol.

Kimberly Greeff

An Unsung Breath Hero! How have I overlooked this muscle. The Serratus Anterior is all the rage right now in movement circles – but this guy – Wow! It’s not everyday that I have the opportunity to get exctied about a new muscle. Thank you for sheding some light on this deep breathing muscle.

Murielle Corwin

The Serratus Posterior is a forgotten muscle, when we think of shoulder tension we think that the trapezious muscle are always responsible. I like your advice in the use of the ball to access and get to know those muscles that resides just below C7. This is also part of the “Bag Pack” syndrome; the overuse of this group of muscles on a daily basis. The YTU ball are the self care needed to unroll that tension of the upper back.

Melanie Burns

More Please!! Really enjoyed the writing style and information on one of the neglected champions of respiration, and the sequence to help release and relieve tension in this area.

Andrew Bathory

Elizabeth,

Thank you for this article. I often find myself feeling quite tense in this area and while the traps always get the attention, I learned something new here today about a new set of muscles that I too now hold near and dear to my heart. As a singer as well, my breath is my greatest teacher, and now I have a new muscle to pay attention and give thanks to in more ways than one.

Are there any video tutorials for the reverse crucifix? I’m not familiar with this one.
Thank you!

Karen Smereka

THanks for introducing me to this little known muscle – the lifter of the rib cage during inhalation. I too get some tingling in my right arm upon waking and it even wakes me up sometimes. I will investigate the poses you mention, and do the ball work and see what happens to my inhalation and also to my arm. I love learning these more subtle muscles. After reading the Yoga Tune up Manual, I was sort of amazed to read that the lungs actually have no muscle and need to rely on the skeletal muscles to function. Learning about… Read more »

Linda

This is great information about a trouble spot of mine, and it explains why some of the techniques you mentioned bring me a lot of relief. Raise the Chalice is one I wasn’t familiar with, so I will be sure to try it out.

Emma McAtasney

Wow, I wonder if this is the muscle that gains so much relief when I massage my upper back with the Roll Model balls. I always assumed it was my trapezius. But it was such a deep ache! I could also feel it while taking a deep breath now that I give it more thought. Note to self, keep rolling so you forget the ache!

Rita

After paying closer attention to learning where my serratus is and how to activate it, I also realized I have neglected my serratus posterior superior. Well no longer with the help of your description with where it is and how to give it some attention and love. This helps so much.

Claudia Blasimann

I like all the poses and exercises that you are highlighting – and I wonder if it is because they give me so much comfort afterwards. I have been doing CrossFit for a little over a year and also sometimes feel tingling in my hands (as you describe in your other blog), especially right after waking up, but as it always goes away fast, I have not paid that much attention to it up to now. I definitely will from now on! As I am CrossFit and Yoga teacher (at a CrossFit box) as well and am just taking the… Read more »

Heather

I really liked this. I think we often talk about the rhomboids and the traps and most humans are familiar with those tissues. I think as we all know though the problem usually is not where you think that it is. This is a good reminder to look deeper into the body and remember that there’s more than just the superficial tissue.

Jill D

Great information and thank you for bringing some attention to the SPS. Like most who have commented I don’t often have this muscle on my radar – but I definitely should, especially considering its role in respiration. I will look to target the SPS next time I practice these poses.

Michelle S.

It is so important to be aware of all the muscles inside of your body- and what better way than to focus your breath on that area. Breathing into your serratus posterior superior seems like a great way to aerate the back!

Ann

This excites me, as I love to think about the physiology of the breath! I admit I rarely think about this muscle…but I will now! Connecting yoga to ease of movement is something that is familiar to students, but I like to connect the movement to the breath in their minds (and of course, their bodies). This will help — thank you, Elizabeth!

Sandy Ahlensdorf

Thank you for this article – I had no idea what the SPS did for me on a daily basis, and quite honestly thought the tension in my cervical joints and upper thoracic stemmed solely from those big bad boys you mentioned – Traps & Rhomboids. It’s nice to mentally peel back the layers so when I take time and relax onto my YTU Therapy Balls up there, I’ll know what I’m getting to.

Elizabeth Whissell

I’m amazed that with my background in kinesiology I had forgotten this bad boy existed! I suspect because we get too carried away talking about the superficial muscles, we forget about this deeper one. Thank you for taking the time to clearly identify the location of the balls in the ball work for trigger point release. I will be sure to add it to my routine, especially before my pranayama practice.

Bridget Hughes

Thanks Elizabeth – your so right, SPS is the neglected child of the upper back and works so hard, and as you so beautifully clarified. where would we be without breathing? Makes me want to go roll mine out right now and do the fake make out.

Ilene

Thanks Elizabeth for this great info on the SPS and for reinforcing all of the great therapy ball work you can do to release it. It was a great review for me of what we did yesterday in class. I have a few male students who complain of tightness in the shoulders so I can teach them about the SPS and the neighboring muscles to educate them and inspire them to take on their own self-care with the YTU therapy balls. I think practicing the therapy ball techniques you mention here will be helpful to me with my spondilolysthesis to… Read more »

Shakti Rowan

This is great information for me, as a singer and bodyworker myself i definatly need to take care of my SPS and help support my clients. There is often a lot of tension in upper back area and I don’t often pay attention to anything other than the big beefy muscles in this area. I am looking forward to learning more techniques this week to release and strengthen the SPS. Thank you for this information!!

Michele

Since taking the YTU Training I have become fascinated by the back muscles. This post about the Serratus Posterior Superior is so educational as complemented with the YTU poses and YTU Ball Therapy. Particularly during a cold/flu season, where bronchials are impacted, remembering that the SPS elevates the rib cage during inhalation is especially helpful to do to keep up deep breathing and muscles relaxation. Here’s to Raising the Chalice to get into those deeper muscles.

Nancy

This is like finding big money in the couch cushions! I can feel new breath in the back body as I’m reading and typing. I vaguely knew there was another seratus and now that it’s pinpointed, can explore it’s relationship to it’s more famous front cousin. Breathing into that upper portion of the back, I can also feel the lower front ribs relaxing by drawing awareness to this new-to-me area. Wonderfully precise and useful article – thank you so much!

Jessie

Yes, a very precise look at how breath is so contingent on alignment! Love this, thanks!

Kate Krumsiek

An uncommon look at a commonly tight area – thank you! This article is an excellent teaching tool for waking up the deeper muscles of the upper back and, as you beautifully describe, respiration… something that can’t be overlooked. I’m off to roll out my SPS right now!

Lori Gunnell

Thanks for this enlightening and highly instructive article, Elizabeth. I do have the issue of numbness in arms and hands and will try the sequences you’ve suggested to see if it helps.

Helen McAvoy

Thank you for this piece! Yes, breathe and this muscle unite! I have trouble with holding my tension here and all these reminders conitue to settle in and als so helpful to pass on to my students….share, share! Thank you/1

Meghan

I find that this muscle is super tight in most it my office worker patients. It is really nice to get some active breathing while I am compressing or stripping out the muscle fibers. It also works with the yoga tune up balls. I find this to be an overlooked muscle and am so glad you wrote this piece.

Jennie Cohen

This reminds me of a lesson I learned from Leslie Kaminoff: if a student complains of neck and shoulder pain, look at their breathing and postural patterns.

Lisa Swanson

I must admit, a muscle I was not introduced to during my Anatomy studies and not sure why?
As I inhale, I feel the front of my ribs move or fill / lift up. Is this muscle lifting the the ribcage on the
Back end of the body. And how would someone know if this muscle is weak or too tight?
Lisa

Kristin

How true- I never think about this muscle but there’s so much going on in that area it really screams for attention from me on a daily basis. Need to do more Raise the Chalice! The fact that it was such a shocking experience for me today really clarifies how much it is needed!

Macala

Thank you for this post! I immediately got on my balls to try to find this often overlooked muscle! Voila! Whenever I roll out my upper back I breathe better! Thank you Serratus posterior superior!

Peggy Sue Honeyman-Scott

Thank you for introducing the SPS to me. Of the 5 years I have taken YTU I have never heard of this muscle and a very important one indeed.

pam everson

this was great to read! Especially after day one of training! I understood what you wrote!!! I loved the ball work on this! I feel like most of my pain is exactly what you said in this article.

Cheryl Hsu

Nice article. I don’t know that I have the SPS muscle. I’m straining it right now as I lean over my tiny computer screen to write this. The next time I roll I can be more consious about all the layers that I’m rollling on. Thanks

Michelle Dalbec

Elizabeth – Thanks for uncovering one of the little known muscles of inspiration! The more we breath, the more we feel (physically & emotionally), the better we live … a motto of mine. I watch many people not breathing properly or fully. Good body mechanics and posture are two of the foundations to being able to breath fully and completely. Thanks for the anatomy lesson and many ways on how to improve respiration.

Ariana

Well this is certainly an under appreciated and overlooked muscle. I hear so much about the serratus anterior. It’s about time I payed attention to this one! Not only did you give a great explanation of it but I love the recommendations for massaging it with the tune up balls and the exercises too. Thanks!

Shirley

Thanks Elizabeth! I’m learning so much in this class! Never knew the muscles under the scapula need love to help and expand the breath!

Lauren

Definitely a problem area for many humans and a large percentage of athletes. Great information and reminders to pay closer attention & show love to the little guys. I can’t wait to get my ytu balls in there and let go. 😉

monica

great article with such good detailed information.

catherine yiu

I found this article very informative. Like you mentioned i was very aware of the louder muscles like trapezius and rhomboids. But after lifting my upper rib cage to inhale– i wondered how did i not notice SPS before! Of course theres a very important muscle that help lift the upper ribs to help me inhale. And the descriptions on how to roll on your SPS is very useful, thank you!

Diane M

This is a great anatomy lesson. As a teacher I am also guilty of just giving attention to the more “popular” players. As a human:) I specifically have had some occasional issues in C&-T3 area…. hmmm. I honestly don’t think I have named this muscle since anatomy class in college too many years ago… thank you for great info!!

Melinda Kausek

I’m always humbled when I learn about a muscle that I didn’t even know existed, but upon learning about it, feel rather foolish that I didn’t know it/cheated that it wasn’t emphasized in any of my courses. It’s like finding the missing puzzle piece. I love the YTU blog for encouraging/forcing us 😉 to dig a little deeper with how we approach our anatomy lessons for ourselves and our students. Thanks for your post!

Marisa

Thanks for posting. I haven’t heard much about this muscle until I started doing YTU. I will implement these exercises in my teaching especially with the athletes.

Laurie Streff Kostman

Great info on the serratus posterior superior! Much more detailed that your other article, “Trigger Your Breath” but the 2 reads compliment one another very well. I enjoy your writing as well; crisp and smart, with a dash of humor. And your explanations of the YTU poses along with the rolling techniques for the SPS are spot on! Thanks!

Bridget Ingham

I have overlooked the SPS and have talked about the other muscles and tissues in this area. When you mentioned “Text Neck” I was mainly thinking of the upper traps involvement. Thanks for the visual along with the nice description of “how too’s” with YTU exercises and ball tune ups. I can sense really sense the SPS.

katie

good blog!

Yelimar Rodriguez

I have totally over looked this muscle. Thanks for bringing it to light. I need to get my balls in there and start embodying that baby more! Thanks for the informative read.

Jenn

Really like this post – and I agree with Lynda that I have never referred to the SPS when activating the upper back tissues.
I look forward to your upcoming articles.

Dinneen

SPS is definitely an oft-overlooked unsung hero! I’m very glad you’ve chosen to spotlight and describe it so beautifully here. I really dig your opening to this blog post and I am already looking forward to reading more of your work! xoxo

Lynda Jaworski

Great article! And I must admit that I am guilty of focusing on, and mentioning all of the muscles you have referred to – (trapezius, rhomboids, erectors, multifidi, rotatores, levator scapula..) when rolling out the upper back and neck, or getting into any number of YTU shoulder techniques – but never once have I mentioned the Serratus Posterior Superior . Thanks for shining the light on a muscle that I have overlooked! (and after sitting here over my computer – think I’ll give it a little squeeze right now) 🙂