If you ever looked at a nicely cut bodybuilder, your eye would likely be drawn to the sides of his rib cage. There you would see what look like fingers wrapped around his stomach. These are the often-overlooked serratus anterior and intercostal muscles.
Why are these muscles important? Well first and foremost, they accentuate the physique and put the final touches on your body, which can come in handy if you’re competing or doing a photo shoot.
Secondly, these muscles are important for downward arcing movements of the arms and actions that require rotation of the upper body. Both of these movements can prove pivotal in sport and daily activity.
The only thing left to do now is to show you some exercises to dial in your finger-like projections. Here is a quick list to add to your repertoire. Try not to get too ripped or the ladies won’t be able to contain themselves when you’re at the gym.
1: STRAIGHT ARM PUSHDOWN
You will need a cable machine to execute this drill. Use either a straight revolving bar or a rope.
Adjust the height of the bar so it’s at its highest position and stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and place your thumbs on top. Push down on the bar until your arms are parallel to the floor. You should already have some resistance at this point.
Push the bar all the way down to your thighs in one smooth, fluid motion. Hold for a second and slowly let the bar come back up until your arms are once again parallel to the floor. That’s your midpoint. Repeat the whole exercise for a series of reps.
For a variation, do this exercise on your knees. That way you‘ll have less chance of using momentum.
2: DUMBBELL PULLOVER
A dumbbell pullover is a fun little exercise that works your chest, back and serratus muscles in one fell swoop. Here, you have the option of using a flat bench or stability ball. For the sake of this article, I’m going to describe it using the ball – you’ll end up recruiting more core and lower body muscle fibers as an added benefit.
Sit on the ball while holding the dumbbell on your thighs. Carefully roll back on the ball by walking your feet forward and stop when your shoulders and the back of your head are resting comfortably on top. Make sure you have a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
Overlap your hands on the underside of one weighted end of the dumbbell and push it straight above your chest. Keep a loose grip on the weight so the dumbbell is vertical. Lower it back behind your head and toward the floor in an arcing motion.
Stop when you feel a good stretch on the sides of your rib cage. Push the weight back up to its starting position and repeat. Remember to keep the dumbbell vertical at all times and maintain a slight bend in your elbows to take the stress off your joints.
3: DUMBBELLS AROUND THE WORLDS
I suggest using the stability ball for this exercise as well since the more muscle recruitment you get, the more ripped you’ll be. You will also need a pair of lighter dumbbells to do around the worlds.
Lie face up on the ball in the same position you would be in to do pullovers. Hold light dumbbells at your sides then move them straight back behind your head with your arms fully extended and palms up. Keep your arms roughly parallel to the floor.
Move the weights around in a big circle with your palms up, and stop when they’re directly above your thighs. Hold for a second, then slowly move them back to the starting point and repeat.
For a variation, alternate turning your palms up and down above your thighs with each rep.
4: AB WHEEL ROLLOUTS
The ab wheel is a sinister tool that pulverizes your midsection. But the fun doesn’t stop there; it also does a number on your serratus and intercostal muscles.
To start ab wheel rollouts, go onto your knees and place the wheel right in front of you with your hands on the handles. Form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders and lock your elbows so your arms are fully extended. Curl your pelvis slightly underneath you and tighten your abs which will protect your back.
Roll the wheel forward as you drop your hips toward the floor. Extend your arms out as far as you can manage comfortably, then roll back up to your starting position. Repeat for a set of reps.
A couple of variations: roll the wheel in the shape of a “W” on the floor, or even harder, perform rollouts from a standing position with your legs straight and feet together. Just be very careful not to fall flat on your face and smunch your nose in!
Did you ever play a sports game that involved a lot of sprinting and ended up with really sore sides the next day? The main reason for this is that when you exhale violently, you work the heck out of your intercostals. Why not do some organized sprints to get those muscles completely rock hard? I like that idea too!
Start with a light warm-up jog for about 10 minutes and then sprint as hard as you can for 20 to 30 seconds. Take a quick, passive rest break or jog lightly until you catch your breath and hit it hard again. Repeat 12 to 15 times and finish with a light cool-down jog.
To really put some hot sauce on your sprints, do them going up a hill.
The serratus anterior and intercostals are only small muscles. Since they’re recruited as stabilizers for performing exercises with big movements like bench presses and back rows, you don’t want to tire them out early. So reserve the exercises I’ve suggested above for the end of your workout. Of course, you’ll want to do sprints on separate days to your weightlifting or at the very end of your workout for a final burnout.