Trigger Your Breath

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I have a friend, and fellow coach, who is an elite level CrossFit athlete and a Yoga Tune Up® teacher’s dream.  He is strong AND supple and moves beautifully.  Despite having had a few serious injuries from his career as a college baseball player, this kid is a stunning example of self care.  He rolls out, mobilizes and warms-up methodically before every workout.  So when he started complaining about tingling in his arms and an ache in his upper back, I suspected there was something deeper going on than just the usual tight traps and gunked up rhomboids.  I suspected the trouble was in the serratus posterior superior.

The serratus posterior superior is one of our essential muscles of respiration. Getting to it is tricky because it’s buried deep beneath the meat of the trapezius and rhomboids and behind the scapula.Tension and trigger points in this area can manifest in a host of problems from pain behind the scapula to numbness in the hands.

Here’s a classic Yoga Tune Up® move that I would offer my friend to help him uncover and ameliorate his pain – find this and more like it on the Quick Fix for Upper Back video:

Discover more upper back pain solutions.

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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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I just tried this pose for the first time today. It made me think of a full constructive rest with the arms in the same position which would be an interesting way to regress this pose.


One of the thingsI love about Yoga Tune Up training is how I’m constantly having “lightbulb
moments of awareness of the connectedness among different body parts and functions. Reverse Crucifix feels like a very effective stretch for softening and unclenching many upper back muscles. Thank you!

Claudia Blasimann

I know this tingling feeling from when I did more and more intense CrossFit workouts, and I wish I would have known this exercise back then. I am planning on joining the Advanced Class at our Box towards the end of this or the next year – depending on what my internship starting this year will be like – and I will definitely keep this in mind!


Looking forward to adding The Reverse Crucifix to my morning yoga practice & modifying it for when I am sitting in traffic.

Nice way to start the day after being curled up in the fetal position from sleeping and releasing whatever stress didn’t disappear before the evening ends.


This information is very helpful to me to begin to think through the lens of investigation into my body – how symptoms that seem to be unrelated are actually connected and at times the cause of such symptoms.

Caitlin Casella

A while back, I began having pain under and around the medial border of my scapula. It felt like static – an itchy, nervy feeling. Sometimes it showed up as a stabbing pain beneath my scapula. My massage therapist discovered some trigger points in my serratus posterior superior and the work he did there was intense. After trying this stretch I can see how it could help me maintain some softness and suppleness in this area.


This exercise has been wildly illuminating for dancers and demonstrating the discrepancies between R/L sides. I have found that coupling this stretch with variations on Sphinx gives a great front/back body balance in reference to stretch.

isabelle deschenes

I didin’t think I could free the breath with this pose, I will try right away!


This is a great stretch. I prefer rolling the YTU balls against the wall for accessing some areas, especially if it’s a place that is feeling especially tender.
It’s amazing how something in the centre of our back can cause radiating pain right through the ulna into our little finger. (my own experience was a serious car accident 16 years ago)

Wendi Jack

This is the best stretch I’ve come across to access and address that posterior section of serratus. Not only do I feel space in my shoulders after this pose, I feel I can take a fuller breath too. Thank you for posting this article and video tutorial, always good to have a visual in which to refer!

Linda Brown Arrandt

I find this stretch to be painful in my deltoids in a good way. My upper back, neck and traps benefitted greatly. It is a challenging area to get to that can be overused and sore. I will definitely share this with my massage clients and students. Thanks for sharing this exercise Elizabeth.

Jason Koh

Thanks for the post. The Serratus Anterior gets a lot more press, but your post is a great example of how knowledge is power and can be used not just to help people but make others aware of these kinds of potential problems.

Lisa Pitel-Killah

Thanks Elizabeth, I have just learned this pose and I now understand a little deeper as to the effects the serratus posterior superior can have on the limbs. I will definitely add this to my practice regimen.

Serge Goyette

thanks Elizabeth, this is a great video and I will certainly try this shouder exercise, eventhouogh it may take a while for me to master the pose

thanks again


This is a valuable reminder of how deeper structures can be left forgotten. I have found several patients and clients that have an involvement or tightness in this muscle. I like the mention of the role of breathing this muscle has. Thanks for sharing the video. I love the amount of information available on this blog. It allows a practitioner or teacher added knowledge bombs to uplift others and change lives and bodies. Thank you!

Cindy Thomas

Thanks Elizabeth . Serratus Post. Sup. is a muscle I’m not really familiar with. So I looked it up. Interesting it didn’t even come up on the muscle atlas. So I went hunting and did a little of my own research on this muscle. The Reverse Crucifix is such a great pose for all upper back and shoulder tension. I will be reminded of Serratus Post. Sup. next time I do the Reverse Crucifix, while focusing on my breathing.

Jennifer Kruidbos

Thanks Elizabeth!

This really helps me. I also get pain in my upper back and it often cracks. This exercise provides me with so much relief in my upper back and shoulders!


What a great idea for targeting the serratus posterior superior! I don’t think most of us think about this muscle much when we do this stretch, but it’s so helpful to be reminded of ALL the muscles that might be targeted by a specific movement instead of just the more obvious ones.


Thanks Elizabeth. Many yogis I practice with are performers, specifically singers. Many want to work on the concept of breathing into the back and expanding the intercostal muscles. This stretch into the rhomboids and shoulders expand the tightness of the scapula. It is the only pose that helps me truly feel the release in this area.

Do you recommend doing the reverse crucifix before or after working the area with a soft ball? Thanks!


I’ve tried this pose on my back with therapy balls using a strap to stabilize and pull my arms in opposite directions. It always takes my breath away and forces me to relax and breath into this trigger spot creating relaxation and blood flow, which blisses me out afterward.

Sandy Ahlensdorf

Interesting to understand that if we don’t go deep enough in the upper back while working on self care, we may not release all of the muscles contributing towards pain in there. It’s refreshing to better understand WHY taking time and really relaxing onto my YTU Therapy Balls will provide relief. Thanks Elizabeth.


Thanks for sharing!
I am excited to try this on my shoulders.

Deepa Dravid

Whole day in training, long commute attributed to very tense upper back today. Held the pose for few breathes and felt the effects right away. Thanks!!!


Since I enjoy doing cross, fit this swill be a great exercise to help me with my shoulders’ mobility. I noticed that my shoulders are always tight after doing a lot of cleans or heavy farmer’s carry. Thank you, Elisabeth!

Rachelle Gura

I always think of this move for the shoulders, rhomboids and back. Of course that SPS is under all that. Doing this posed standing is a great suggestion as no student of mine like this pose as it strangles them but they do it because they like the effect of the pose. Just holding it at the wall and taking deep breath to awaken the SPS is amazing (I sound like Oprah in my head)!!
If doing at the wall I think a nice pose to add before or after is ‘dancing with myself’.

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Lisa Swanson

I have some clients (who are well lengthened in these muscles as well) that complain of pulling sensation in the ribcage area upon inahlation .. but not feeling that it is the ribs. Could this be this muscle that you are referencing?
By doing this stretch, will it help? I’m curious and my try it on my next client.
Thanks. Lisa


Recently there was a conversation about tingling hands and pain in the upper back going on in a boxing class I take regularly. It was chalked up to tight traps (and maybe that was actually the problem) but this is really interesting and good information. I believe it is common for pregnant women to complain of this issue as well. Super interesting, thank you! And of course- killer, productive stretch.

Cheryl Hsu

Thanks Elizabeth. I’ve done the reverse crucifix before and now I will try to feel the SPS as I do it and tell my students about it. Since i hold so much tension in my upper back, i can feel my breath shallow. Looking fwd to breathing deeper and less tight.


Thank you for the Reverse Crucifix. I feel the effects right away and am now doing this everyday. My students will be benefiting from this posture.

Sunina Young

Amazing stretch for my forever tight traps! Thank you Jill!


Thanks for sharing this exercise! This gave me such a great stretch in my upper back. It is certainly a difficult area to get to that is often overused and sore. I will definitely share this with any friends/students with soreness in the area.

Laurie Streff Kostman

Thanks for this focus on the serratus posterior inferior. It’s important to appreciate the varied muscles that aid respiration and how to locate and activate them. Providing much needed relief to these muscles is crucial to deep and pain-free breathing. I also like the modification that Kathy posted above for Reverse Crucifix. Bringing students to the wall and having the feet close chained is a terrific way to introduce the pose which can be a bit tricky to do at first.


Presenting this pose to a class of inexperienced students, I discovered that the best way to start this group is at the wall. The closed chain of feet on the floor prevents distortion of the spine and hips while allowing them to concentrate on the work at hand — or should I say, at shoulder.