Finding my serratus anterior

It sounds a little crazy to say this but my pecs are the bane of my life. I know most guys would love to have nice big pecs but for a chick who does yoga, it’s not that great. In fact, those pecs are the reason why I’m struggling so badly with arm balances and headstands even though I am perfectly capable of doing push-ups. Here’s why.

I have always been pretty good with bench presses and chest flyes, which I do about once a week as part of routine physical maintenance. This has resulted in overactive pectoral muscles that have been compensating for my weaker shoulder stabilizers when I do push-ups. In other words, I “can” do push-ups, but I have been doing them wrong. In fact, my scapula wings even when I am in regular plank position, due to my tight pectoralis minor and underactive serratus anterior. And I only realized this 6 weeks ago when we explored the chest and back muscles in theory class! How long is it going to take to undo the damage from years of chest workouts?!

After I got over the initial panic, I started searching the internet for help. Help came in two forms. The first is to relax the pecs. This means no more bench presses and chest flyes, or even push-ups until I fix the winging problem. Instead, this will be replaced by lots of passive stretching of the chest. Pec stretches are quite standard so I won’t elaborate.

The next step is to awaken the serratus anterior. Since anything that involves a push or pull in the horizontal plane was bound to be compensated by the pecs, it will have to be movement in the vertical plane i.e. pull-ups. I have not done a single pull-up in my whole life and it was not about to happen now. The next best is the lat pull-down. The nice thing about lat pull-downs is that it also engages the core so you are effectively creating an activation chain similar to what ought to be happening in the correct push-up. Not exactly; but close enough for my particular problem.

After a long month, I think I have finally figured out where my serratus anterior is. This has made a tremendous difference for Tolasana and all the arm balances, including jump-backs and jump-throughs. Maybe I’ll even be able to do Sirsasana one day. (Sorry Master Paalu, I need more time with this.)

I guess the one silver lining is that I found out about the problem of my non-existent serratus anterior before I started having any shoulder problems. Luckily. But from a broader perspective, I’m slightly concerned over the recent replacement of the chin-up with push-ups in the IPPT for our NSmen. I do hope the SAF ensures that the push-ups are being done properly. It’ll be a sad day to see a sudden rise in the incidence of rotator cuff injuries because of bad push-up form.


~ Allyson

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