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A few years ago I used to do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. During a competitive roll, I popped a rib out of place when my opponent put his knee (and full weight) on my side. That injury took me out for three months since any time I would do a sit-up type of motion I'd have pain. I never ended up going back but I would like to.

Lately, I've been doing lots of strength training. I'm wondering what type of workout could I incorporate into my current training to prevent that type of injury again. Is it as simple as strengthening the abdominal muscles? The ribs are higher than your abs so is there a way to strengthen your rib cage?

  • I don't really know the answer, but you do have serratus muscles that cover part of the rib cage. Maybe some exercises to strengthen that could help. – Dan Aug 6 '19 at 15:54
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TL; DR: Yes, and no.

No, you really can't strengthen the connections of the ribs to the sternum and/or spine. The ribs (1-7 from the top down) connect with cartilage to the other bones of the chest/spine. In the cases of ribs 8-12, they either connect into other ribs or are floating, i.e. they only connect to the spine. This part can't be strengthened, and unfortunately, that's usually the part that separates. Best advice, don't let your opponent kneel on your chest. (I know, I know, I roll regularly too.)

However, what you can strengthen is the muscles that run in between each of the ribs, that assist with structure stability and breathing. These are called the intercostal muscles. You can't work them directly, but there are a couple of exercises that work them in stabilization.

Pullovers

While primarily a lat exercise, straight arm pullover/pulldowns will also work the intercostals, especially if you take care to tense your ribcage as you do the exercise. I like dumbbell pullovers (laying flat on a bench), as I think it gives you a broader range of motion and stretch than a straight arm pulldown on a lat machine.

Flyes

Any type of dumbbell fly will also work the intercostals. Basically almost any exercise where your arms are straight and move away/towards the chest will do, so incline/decline/flat bench flyes will all work the rib muscles as well.

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  • Strengthening the muscles around the ribs makes much more sense. Thanks, @JohnP! – C. Lange Aug 7 '19 at 14:34

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