Surface electromyographic analysis of exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles


Study Design: This study used a prospective, single-group repeated-measures design to analyze differences between the electromyographic (EMG) amplitudes produced by exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. Objective: To identify high-intensity exercises that elicit the greatest level of EMG activity in the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. Background: The trapezius and serratus anterior muscles are considered to be the only upward rotators of the scapula and are important for normal shoulder function. Electromyographic studies have been performed for these muscles during active and low-intensity exercises, but they have not been analyzed during high intensity exercises. Methods and Measures: Surface electrodes recorded EMG activity of the upper, middle, and lower trapezius and serratus anterior muscles during 10 exercises in 30 healthy subjects. Results: The unilateral shoulder shrug exercise was found to produce the greatest EMG activity in the upper trapezius. For the middle trapezius, the greatest EMG amplitudes were generated with 2 exercises: shoulder horizontal extension with external rotation and the overhead arm raise in line with the lower trapezius muscle in the prone position. The arm raise overhead exercise in the prone position produced the maximum EMG activity in the lower trapezius. The serratus anterior was activated maximally with exercises requiring a great amount of upward rotation of the scapula. The exercises were shoulder abduction in the plane of the scapula above 120° and a diagonal exercise with a combination of shoulder flexion, horizontal flexion, and external rotation. Conclusion: This study identified exercises that maximally activate the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. This information may be helpful for clinicians in developing exercise programs for these muscles.


Physical Therapy

Document Type





Scapula, Shoulder, Strength, Upper extremity

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy