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

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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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Sheila

Thanks for the education about the SPS, and how to alleviate pain.

Elsa Blum

Lovely article about posterior serattus and link to breathing!

Veronica Costa-Bolton

I am always grateful to learn of potential contributors to my tight neck and even happier to learn how to help relieve it.

Colleen Flaherty

Oh thank you, thank you! I suffer from “tight traps” in my neck and between my shoulder blades. The SPS could be needing some love, if not more! This article was very well laid out, information easy to digest, and the suggestions are simple enough to add into a daily routine!

Megan

This is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing this information and for leaving up with a few examples of ways to release this all important muscle. I had no idea until reading your post how linked this muscle was to breath; I’m fascinated!

Cynthia

thank you for the lesson on SPS relative to breath. I’ll be exploring this deeply along with the other usual suspects.

Stephanie

I really love Snow Angel Arms. Although it is sometimes difficult to be patient with myself. Like you said – “Adhesions and trigger points in the serratus posterior superior…can also refer pain and numbness down into the arms and hands.” it leads you the way to your body spots, which are longing for attention.

Bonnie Bloom

Thankyou for carefully laying out what this to me unknown muscle was doing and where it was and best yet what ball moves and Yoga Tune Up work will get it moving and happy again.
Who knew there was yet another muscle layer to my hard working upper back. I like to breath too!

Sara

Just reading your post about caring for this very important muscle of inhalation, I feel I am already breathing easier 🙂 . I really enjoyed learning more about this little muscle. I love all of the YTU techniques you recommend, and especially value your recommendation to take time in order to get deep enough to reach the targeted area. Fascinating post, Eizabeth!

Jennifer

I always realized that when I tended to this area of my body on balls that I felt immediate relief and could take easier inhalations. Now that you bring to my attention this specific muscle, I am much more aware of this mysterious region of my upper back that seems to be creating much disturbance in my body with pinching, arm/hand tingling and distressed breathing. Digging in.

Kaoru

Thank you for breaking down ! Yoga Tune Up® really is opening up a new relationship with my body. It is surprising how less I know about my own body. Also surprising hoe little muscle like serratus posterior superior is taking such an important job for inhalation ! I will take care of them today.

Harriet

Thank you for the mini-SPS lesson! I may not be much of a texter, but my SPS is particularly tight because I work with mosaic tile and literally spend 8 hours a day standing up, hunched over a work table drawing, cutting glass, assembling pieces, etc. No wonder the tune-up techniques you listed are some of my favorites! I try to vary the poses I hold at work (i.e. flexing at the hip or bending the knees to bring myself closer to my work rather than curving at the upper back and neck,) but these poses aren’t really sustainable modifications,… Read more »

Marja

Being a trap, lavat(or), sternocleido, and scalenes-dominant breather, talker, and mover, understanding what primary neck muscles should be doing the breathing heavy lifting and which accessory muscles I should be sending on daily vacay is a constant conversation between me and my neck. Thank you for turning me on to yet another muscle that needs to join that conversation. Sassy seratus anterior posterior no more. 🙂

Katie Rutterer

Even though I’m neck deep (haha) in muscles this week, I hadn’t come across this one yet. I like breathing too, so a little ball exploration is in order.

Norah

these are all fantastic tips to access the SPS. I especially appreciate the order you’re suggesting to access these muscles, and little by little and by spending more time it’s a great way to unlock the stress of sitting at a computer all day. I especially find that these muscles are sore from cycling so this is a great post-biking exercise. Thank you

Maya Bogatch

This is a great read about a muscle that is hidden and tucked away so well that we don’t notice them as much. Funny enough the best takeaway I got was to lay on the balls for a bit and to let them sink in. I am usually so excited and gong ho about getting this area onto the balls everywhere all at once, that this is a great tip to slow down and let it sink in.

Thank you for the wealth of information both about this muscle, the movements, and the ball work.

Kate Colette

After an afternoon of sitting at the computer, this is the perfect post to have come across! Thank you for including both the Yoga Tune Up poses and Therapy Ball techniques, I’m going to take a break to do some now, and take the time to allow those more superficial muscles to surrender.

Jessica Haims

I am amazed more and more by how each muscle overlaps another but plays such an effect on our total health, especially when it comes to breathing. Working with the therapy balls on my upper body I notice a huge difference in respiration before and after the exercises. I cannot wait to play with some of the exercises recommended here and see how it not only improves my breathing in a short period of time but the range of motion in my glenohumeral joint!

Corey Wright

Thanks Elizabeth! As live so much of our lives forward, we forget about the muscles on the back. Therapy ball work and breathe exercises do amazing things to reclaim breath in this region.

Eileen

Planning on using this in an upcoming class. Thanks

Sebastien Noel

très belle série d’exercice.

Jesse Fairbanks

Text neck indeed, I fear for the necks and backs of the younger generation. It’s always good to look deeper at the layers of the body to understand how to effect functions of life rather then simply improving performance.

sarah soggs

great points! Breathing is near and dear!! This deep muscle slips past my awareness quite often… overshadowed by its more superficial neighbors in the “bermuda triangle. I DO, however, feel it. THANKS for the reminder and applicable therapeutic tools to give it just attention!!

Gabriela

Now I am in love with my SPS! I have always struggled with breathing in some poses also, with depressing shoulder blades in some poses. After day three of the Level 1 Certification Yoga Tune up Training my view regarding biomechanics of this SPS muscles has changed forever. I learned how to activate this muscles and all movements that come along thanks to this one. it has changed my posture but also, the way I am going to cue my students and passing along information they could use not only while doing yoga poses but in their everyday life. Also,… Read more »

Caitlin

It was not until recently that I started thinking about the muscles connected to breahing. How Silly! The breath is not all lungs of course! Thanks to yoga tune up for highlighting the muscles involved so we can not only feel better in our bodies, but in our bresth too 🙂

Leslie

This is an intriguing article and the SPS does seem to get short shrift. It is a interesting situation that serratus posterior superior elevates the ribs during a full inhalation, while its southern cousin serratus posterior inferior, fixes the ribs during the first part of a yogic complete breath and must then relax to allow the ribs to expand and, I gather, SPS to do its job.
I appreciate your suggestions for using YTU moves and massage techniques to give it some attention.

Meredith Hutter Chamorro

Great information, Elizabeth! My shoulders and upper back – and my breath! – have NEVER felt as free as they did after Day 3 of the YTU Level 1 training. I definitely need to work the SPS today, though, and plan to use the YTU balls and the Yoga Tune Up poses you suggest above in my practice tomorrow. After a long drive home from Kripalu yesterday, I really need these tools! Thank you for the article and for all the support and wisdom you shared this week. Your help with modifications for my elbow helped me so much.

Brendan

I have been working away diligently on these upper back muscles. It is amazing to me how deep the layers of tension feel After years of being in an almost panic state as a professional dancer i have deep memory of my shoulders being so high and tense. I would get anxiety attacks because of the lack of breath in my body. I still feel I have a long road ahead but the positive things is that I feel like I am beginning to soften and that I am breather my more true and authentic breath because of this work.

Kerry Cruz

Since I’ve discovered these Yoga Tune Up® balls, no joke at day 2 of my YTU Training Level 1! I’ve never felt so free in my body, and I’m on day 4. Reading this blog made me aware of all the breathing muscles that I’ve been unaware about that is restricting my lung capacity. I’ve been doing yoga for years, teaching breath, practicing breath and always wondering why i feel like my rib cage is stuck and can’t expand anymore, feeling like i always need to fit in one more breath. Practicing these exercises makes me breathe easy 🙂 I’m… Read more »

Sarah

I think this is the muscle I am always going after!!! Thank you for introducing me to the SPS, I thought I was purely dealing with the trapezius and rhomboids, this gives me a better map. Thank you!