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11 Best Rhomboid Exercises

There are over 600 muscles in the human body, and they range from very large to incredibly small. At one end of this scale is the gluteus maximus or glutes for short. Located on the back of your hip, this is the largest muscle in your body, as well as the most powerful.

In contrast, at less than one millimeter long, the stapedius muscle of the inner ear is the smallest human muscle. Big or small, every muscle has a part to play in how your body functions. Muscles power your movements, hold you up against gravity, and even keep you warm when you’re cold. Shivering is a sort of involuntary muscle contraction.

One lesser-known but very important muscle is the rhomboids. Named after their shape, the rhomboids play a critical role in posture and shoulder girdle stability. They work alongside your trapezius to pull your shoulder blades back and together. Long periods of sitting and slouching can leave you with weak, lax rhomboids.

Because they play such an important part in posture, it’s important to strengthen them and ensure they’re in tip-top shape. In this article, we’re going to explore the function of rhomboids and reveal the 11 best rhomboid exercises.

Rhomboid Exercises

What Are Your Rhomboids?

The rhomboids are actually two muscles – rhomboids major and rhomboids minor. Because they always work together, it’s not usually necessary to differentiate between them. The rhomboids are located in your upper back and beneath your trapezius.

They run from the medial border of the scapulae across to your thoracic vertebrae. The rhomboid’s primary role is the retraction of your shoulder girdle, which means they pull your shoulder blades back and together. They’re also involved in the elevation of the shoulder girdle, such as when you shrug your shoulders.

The rhomboids cannot work alone and always work alongside the larger trapezius muscle. That’s why all rhomboid exercises are also mid-trap exercises.

Strong rhomboids help to stop your shoulders from being pulled forward, such as when you are sitting or standing or doing something like single-arm dumbbell rows. Pulling your shoulders back helps to stabilize your shoulder girdle, preventing unwanted movement that could waste energy, increase wear and tear, and even lead to shoulder joint injury.

The rhomboids might be small, but they have a big part to play in performance and appearance.

11 Excellent Rhomboid Exercises To Try

The rhomboids are involved indirectly in most back exercises, such as pulldowns and pull-ups. However, there are plenty of exercises that specifically target these crucial muscles. Here are 11 of the best rhomboid exercises.

Face Pulls1. Face Pulls

Face pulls are a very useful exercise for better posture.

Targeting all the muscles between and across your shoulder blades, face pulls aren’t a hard exercise, but they’re definitely effective.

  1. Attach a rope handle to a high pulley machine. Take one end of the handle in each hand and, with straight arms, step back into a split stance.
  2. Bend your arms and pull your hands into the sides of your head.
  3. Keep your elbows up and pull your shoulders back.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

2. Wide-Grip Barbell Bent-Over Rows

Wide-grip barbell bent-over rowsBent-over barbell rows are usually seen as a lat exercise. That all changes when you switch to a wide grip. This allows you to pull the bar into your chest, which increases rhomboid activation.

  1. Hold a barbell with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, brace your core, and lean forward from your hips until your torso is inclined to about 45-degrees. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Bend your arms and pull the bar up and into your chest. Keep your elbows forward and your wrists straight.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

3. Wide Grip Seated Rows

Wide grip seated rowsIf bent-over rows have a downside, it is that they can be hard on your lower back. Seated cable rows work the same muscles but are much more lower back-friendly.

  1. Attach a long bar to the seated row machine. Hold it with a wider-than shoulder-width, overhand grip.
  2. Sit on the seated row machine with your feet on the footplates, your legs slightly bent, and your torso upright.
  3. Starting with straight arms, bend your elbows and pull the bar into your chest. Keep your wrist straight and pull your shoulders back.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

Band Pull Aparts4. Band Pull-Aparts

This is an excellent move for home exercisers. All you need is a resistance band.

Because they’re so straightforward, you can do sets of band pull-aparts between chest exercises to counterbalance the effect of all that pushing.

  1. Hold your band out in front of you with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest. Pull your shoulders back.
  3. Bring your arms back together and repeat.

Note: Keep a band in your desk drawer and do a set of pull-aparts every hour or two to offset the negative effect of working at a computer.

5. Reverse Flyes

Reverse flyesReverse flyes are a lot like band pull-aparts, but instead of working your muscles against a resistance band, you’ll be working against gravity. Reverse flyes are usually seen as a posterior deltoid exercise when, in fact, they’re also an excellent rhomboid exercise.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, and then lean forward until your upper body is roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back. Let your arms hang down from your shoulders, palms facing inward.
  3. Without moving your torso, lift your arms up and out to the side to form a T-shape with your body.
  4. Lower your arms and repeat.

Note: This exercise works best with light weights.

6. Wide Grip Incline Rows

Wide grip incline rowsThis bodyweight exercise is usually done to work the lats but adopting a wide grip makes it more of a rhomboid exercise.

Incline rows can be done using a Smith machine, a barbell in a squat rack, or a suspension trainer, such as a TRX.

  1. Set your bar to waist-height and then sit on the floor beneath it. Hold the bar using an overhand, wider than shoulder-width grip.
  2. With your legs straight, lift your hips off the floor and lean back. Your arms should be straight.
  3. Bend your arms and pull your chest up to the bar.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

Note: Keep your core tight and your body straight throughout.

Wall slides7. Wall Slides

Wall slides are a challenging but straightforward bodyweight exercise. All you need for this one is a wall to lean against. This exercise requires and develops good shoulder and chest flexibility.

  1. Stand with your back against a wall (smoother the better). Bend your legs slightly for stability.
  2. Raise your arms and bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  3. Press your arms against the wall, so the back of your hands, forearms, and upper arms are all against the wall.
  4. Pressing your arms back throughout, slide your hands up the wall as high as you can.
  5. Lower your arms so your elbows are level with your shoulders and repeat.

8. Bench Shrugs

Bench shrugsMost bent-over-rowing type exercises are also hard on your lower back. That’s not usually a problem if you have a healthy back but can be a real problem if you suffer from lower back pain. Bench shrugs completely support your lower back, leaving you free to work on your rhomboids.

  1. Set an exercise bench to 45-degrees.
  2. Lie face down on the bench with your head uppermost.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  4. With your arms straight and hanging down from your shoulders, pull your shoulder blades back and together and then relax.

Note: You can also do this exercise with a barbell.

9. Wide Grip Chest Supported Rows

Chest-Supported Dumbbell RowsLike bench shrugs (#8), this rhomboid exercise is also easy on your lower back.

  1. Set an exercise bench to 45-degrees.
  2. Lie face down on the bench with your head uppermost. Hold a barbell with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  3. Bend your arms and pull the bar up and into your chest. Keep your elbows forward and your wrists straight.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

Note: This exercise can also be done using dumbbells.

Prone incline overhead presses10. Prone Incline Overhead Presses

Most rhomboid exercises are variations of rows. This one is different as it’s a type of pressing movement.

  1. Set an exercise bench to 45-degrees.
  2. Lie face down on the bench with your head uppermost. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level.
  3. Press the weights forward and up, fighting the temptation to lower your arms toward the floor.
  4. Lower the weights back to your shoulders and repeat.

Note: This is a challenging exercise, so use light weights and focus on the movement and not the size of the dumbbells you are lifting.

11. Snatch Grip Deadlifts

snatch grip deadliftsDeadlifts work virtually every muscle on the back of your body, including your lats, traps, and rhomboids. Using a wider than normal grip increases rhomboid activation.

  1. Place a barbell on the floor and stand with your toes beneath it, feet parallel. Bend down and hold the bar with an overhand grip, hands about one and a half shoulder-widths apart.
  2. Straighten your arms, brace your abs, drop your hips, arch your lower back slightly, and pull your shoulders back.
  3. Drive your feet into the floor and stand upright. Do not lean back at the top or allow your lower back to round.
  4. Put the barbell back on the floor, reset your core, and repeat.

How Do You Stretch Tight Rhomboids?

Most people already have overstretched rhomboids, so the last thing they need to do is spend a whole lot of time stretching them more. That said, after a hard rhomboid workout, a quick stretch could help reduce post-exercise soreness.

  1. To stretch your rhomboids, wrap your arms around your upper body and try and put your hands on your upper back.
  2. From here, spread your shoulder blades apart. Hold for 15-30 seconds and then release. Alternatively, link your hands and raise your arms to shoulder-level.
  3. Push your arms forward and try to spread your shoulder blades apart.

Note: Intensify this stretch by holding onto a pillar and leaning back. 

Bottom Line

The rhomboids aren’t the most well-known muscle in the body. That title belongs to the biceps. But, despite their obscurity, the rhomboids are a very important muscle. Working with the middle fibers of the trapezius, the rhomboids pull your shoulder blades back and together, which is a movement called retraction.

As such, the rhomboids play a critical role in posture and shoulder girdle stability. Long periods sitting and hunching over a computer can leave the rhomboids stretched and weak. This means gravity can more easily pull your shoulders forward and down.

The result? Many people look like they are sat down, even when they’re standing up!  Working on your rhomboids will help pull your shoulder back, undoing your perma-slouch.

In addition, a properly contracted shoulder girdle is more stable, providing your arms with a better platform from which to work.  Most upper back exercises involve your rhomboids, including pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows. However, there are also plenty of exercises you can do that target the rhomboids more directly.

There are freeweight, body weight, and resistance band exercises to choose from, so you can train your rhomboids at the gym and at home. Wherever and whenever you do it, training your rhomboids will affect how you look, feel, and perform.

Use these 11 best rhomboid exercises to strengthen these lesser-known but none-the-less essential muscles.

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Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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