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Today I would like to talk about the Erector Spinae and Serratus Posterior muscles of the back. This is the last group of back muscles and they are as equally important as the other muscles. These groups of muscles are not visible when you look the back, as they are interior muscles, but their function cannot be ignored, nor can their exercise.
So, lets talk about the Erector Spinae and the Serratus Posterior muscles: where they attach at both ends, what they do for us, and how to exercise them properly.
Let’s get started!
The Erector Spinae Muscles
The erector spinae muscles are an expansive group of muscles that run the entire length of the spine. There are two sets of muscles, one on each side of the vertebral column.
They are attached at the bottom on each side to the pelvis (inferiorly) and to the base of the cranium (superiorly) on each side.
They are located in the intermediate layer of the intrinsic back muscles and attach to different parts of the skull, cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, sacrum and ilium.
The Serratus Posterior
There are two groups of serratus posterior muscles: the inferior and the superior.
The superior are located near the top of the back and are covered by the rhomboid and the trapezius muscles. They originate on the spine and insert between the second and fifth rib. There are two groups of muscles, one on either side of the vertebral column.
The inferior are located near the bottom of the back and they originate on the lower spine and insert on the four lower ribs on either side of the vertebral column.
What They Do
These two groups of muscles are very important in the daily functioning of our bodies, even though they are hidden below other muscles. They have a variety of functions, a few of which I will mention here.
Contraction of the Serratus Posterior superior raises the ribs during inspiration making it an accessory muscle of respiration. When both sides of this group of muscles work together, they can assist in the extension of the vertebral column, while working independently they can rotate the vertebral column to the opposite side.
Contraction of the Serratus Posterior inferior depresses the ribs making it an accessory muscle of respiration. Also, by acting unilaterally on each side of the vertebral column, the Serratus Posterior inferior can assist in the rotation of the spine. Since it assists in bearing the weight of the upper body and is heavily involved in movement, it is susceptible to pulls and strains.
Both groups assist with the movement and stabilization of the vertebral column and the thorax, including twisting the upper body.
The Erector Spinae are a very large group of muscles and is the main extensor of the vertebral column. Both groups of muscles, on either side of the vertebral column usually act in an eccentric manner by controlling the descent of the trunk forward from the upright position, when gravity takes over after the rectus abdominus starts the forward leaning motion. This group of muscles also helps control the vertebral column when the trunk is returning to the upright position.
The Erector Spinae Is the group of muscles that literally hold us up against the forces of gravity. Due to our sedentary lifestyles and the fact that we sit a lot, our heads are constantly pulling our spines forward, lengthening the Erector Spinae and weakening them. We need to strengthen these muscles, not just stretch them!
These two groups are generally the groups that we injure when we don’t behave ourselves and perform awkward, twisting motions with our backs instead of using our legs and back in unison to lift heavy objects.
The exercising of these groups of muscles is vitally important for the health of our back.
Exercising the Erector Spinae
Remember that your Erector Spinae muscles make up half of your core. These muscles link to your abdominals and your obliques and together they all stabilize your upper body. If you are not specifically targeting them when you are exercising, you are doing yourself a disservice.
The most important thing we can do for the Erector Spinae is to sit up straight. Stop slouching. Force yourself to improve your posture at all times, while sitting and standing. Slouching will cause the muscles to stretch and weaken. It will be difficult to improve your posture all at once. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep reminding yourself and you will get there.
There are many exercises you can perform to strengthen these muscles. They can be divided into weighted exercises, body weight exercises and other exercises.
Some free weight exercises that you are already doing that will strengthen these muscle groups are deadlifts, rack pulls, stiff-legged deadlifts, good mornings, and bent over rows. If you are already doing these, great! Keep it up! You are working toward a strong core and super strong Erector Spinae muscle. If you are not doing these as regular back exercises, it is time to put them in the rotation. Check out my other back articles for specifics on how to perform these exercises, or just do a Google search to find out the specifics of doing these exercises safely.
The second manner of strengthening these muscle is with body weight movements such as back extensions, glute bridges, bird dogs, the prone superman, the standing superman, and the roman chair glute-ham raise. Any of these body weight exercises will strengthen your core muscles, including the Erector Spinae.
The only other exercise I am going to mention is the kettlebell swing. This is a great overall exercise to perform on a regular basis. In fact, I would recommend that one of your exercise days consist of a warm up and then four sets of thirty kettlebell swings. Choose a weight that really causes you to struggle to do thirty swings in a row. This will be all you can do for that day, but the results will be great for your overall appearance and aerobic function. Just try it. You can thank me later!
Remember that there are many benefits of a strong lower back.
First, you will have a better posture, as I mentioned above. Since the Erector Spinae is half of your core, making it stronger will benefit your posture and keep you more vertical in the long run – as you get older a strong lower back – aka core- will help you to stand tall and strong.
Secondly, a strong lower back will reduce the risk of injuries Lower back pain is the second leading cause of lost work hours (after headaches) in the workplace. We use our lower back on a daily basis, so it makes sense to make it strong so we can function at life in a more meaningful manner.
And finally, just because the Erector Spinae and the Serratus Posterior muscles are not “mirror” muscles (we can’t see them) doesn’t mean it isn’t important to strengthen them. By making them as strong as possible, you will deadlift more, squat heavier, and be stronger in all movements, including twisting and rotating.
Don’t ignore these muscles! They are vital in everyday activities!
Also, please remember that I am not a doctor or a trainer, just a concerned guy who would love to see everyone be in the best shape they can be. These are techniques that have worked for me. Please consult an actual doctor before starting any training regime.
So there you have it.
All four Installments on the back muscles. We do have a lot of back muscles! By building a solid back, you will look stronger and wider from every angle and by strengthening your core you will be able to perform every day functions without the nagging back pain that sometimes accompanies tedious activities.
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Also, if you are a father (or mother) (or anyone for that matter) who would like an easy to follow program that includes a menu and work out information, check out this article from a few months ago.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!