Yesterday temperatures dropped and I noticed that my tires needed air. Not a big deal, right? Except that, in my previous 20 years of driving, there had always been a father, boyfriend, or husband eagerly volunteering to do it for me. So it’s no surprise that I had no idea how to start! Luckily, thanks to YouTube and a bemused gas station attendant, I soon solved the mystery of the gauge and was on my way, my tires, and my ego, ever so slightly inflated.
Similarly, there are whole muscle groups lying dormant in our bodies, not because they are lazy, unhealthy, or unimportant, but simply because another muscle group took over the job they were designed to do, so they never learned how.
One of these under-utilized groups is the oddly-named serratus anterior, a muscle group that wraps around the sides of the ribcage and attaches to the the inner edges of the shoulder blades.
When flexed, the muscles of the serratus anterior appear to lengthen the arms by wrapping the shoulder blades forward toward the chest, creating a three-dimensional movement reminiscent of the flapping of wings.
The mobility pattern of a well-functioning serratus anterior allows dancers
to move their arms above shoulder height while maintaining a long neck, open chest, and elegant lifted posture. This same protracting and retracting action is what makes or breaks a boxer’s left hook.
In my case, because of long-held postural imbalances, the upper trapezius muscles in the back of my neck were working overtime, doing their job and that of the serratus. No wonder I suffered from forward head carriage and neck pain! An underactive serratus anterior can also lead to stagnation of the throat chakra, rotator cuff injuries, and numbness down the arm.
Searching for the subtle feeling of flexion in the serratus requires persistence and mental focus. I found it with the guidance of my trainer, Nikki, during a private session this month. Although I have only recently begun to strengthen this “sleeping beauty” of a muscle group, I notice that I am already moving more gracefully and breathing deeper, thanks to my newfound shoulder stability. The serratus anterior serves as a reminder to be patient with the parts of ourselves that may be slower to respond than others. Like me, you may find the strength and support you seek, hidden just below the surface
– Jamie Skinner