When it comes to upper body strength training, most people focus on the big muscles they can see, such as the pecs, lats, delts, and biceps. This makes a lot of sense because these muscles make up the majority of your upper body mass.
However, some smaller muscles are essential too. In many cases, these less impressive muscles are trained alongside the larger muscles as they have a synergistic or helper role. That said, if they become weak, these small muscles can cause BIG problems, and it’s sometimes necessary to target them more precisely.
For example, the muscles of the rotator cuff are small but crucial. They help move and stabilize your shoulders. Weak supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis can cause all sorts of shoulder problems.
Teres Major Exercises
In this article, we will examine the function and importance of another small but significant muscle – the tares major. Then, after your anatomy lesson, we’ll reveal the best teres major exercises.
What Is The Teres Major?
The teres major is a rounded muscle located in the back of your shoulder/upper back. It’s just above and outside of the latissimus dorsi. When well-developed, it is visible just below the back of your armpit. Like the lats, it helps contribute to your upper back width.
Teres major’s main job is to assist the lats in shoulder adduction or draw your upper arm down and into your side.
It’s also involved in shoulder joint extension. Teres major plays a role in the shoulder joint’s medial or internal rotation and is a critical shoulder stabilizer.
Because teres major works alongside and is situated next to your lats, it has a few lat-related nicknames, including:
- Lat junior
- Lat’s little helper
- Little lat
Teres major might be a small muscle, but it’s still an important one.
9 Teres Major Exercises
Because teres major works alongside the lats, this muscle gets a workout whenever you train your back. However, some lat exercises affect it more than others. The nine best teres major exercises are:
Pullovers can be done using a barbell, dumbbell, or on a pullover machine. They’re one of the few exercises that work your chest and back at the same time, which is why some people call pullovers “the upper body squat.”
To do freeweight pullovers:
- Lie on an exercise bench with your feet on the floor and your lower back slightly arched.
- Press your weight up to arms’ length and hold it over your chest.
- With a bend in your elbows, lower the weight down and behind your head until your biceps are next to your ears.
- Pull your arms back up to the starting position and repeat.
2. Straight Arm Pulldowns
The main advantage of straight arm pulldowns over pullovers is that you can do them standing and that they keep your muscles under constant tension. Because of this, they may deliver a more effective teres major and lat workout.
To do this exercise:
- Attach a straight bar to the overhead pulley. Hold it with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
- Keeping your arms straight and your core braced, push the bar down to your upper thighs.
- This movement should come from your shoulders and not your elbows. Raise your arms and repeat.
3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
This classic lat builder is also a great teres major exercise. Working one arm at a time means you can identify and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances. Also, because all you need is a single dumbbell, this is a useful exercise for home gym users.
To do this exercise:
- Hold a single dumbbell in one hand, then lean forward and place your other hand on a knee-high bench.
- Bend at your knees slightly and make sure your lower back is arched and not rounded.
- Then you want to let your arm hang down from your shoulder. Bend your elbow and pull the weight up and into your ribs.
- Extend your arms and repeat. Note: Try to do the same number of reps on both sides.
4. Chest Supported Rows
This is a useful exercise for anyone suffering from lower back pain. The bench supports your weight, so there is next to no stress on your lumbar spine. Also, because your upper body is fixed in place, it’s all but impossible to cheat while doing this exercise.
How to do this exercise:
- Set an exercise bench to about 45 degrees.
- With a dumbbell in each hand, lay face down with your head at the raised end.
- Then you want to bend your arms and pull the dumbbells up and into your ribs. Extend your arms and repeat. Note: It can also be performed using a barbell.
5. Seated Cable Rows
Seated cable rows are another popular back builder that also works the teres major. Most gyms have a seated cable machine, and you can also replicate this exercise using resistance bands.
How to do this exercise:
- First, you want to sit on the bench with your legs extended in front of you. Your knees should be slightly bent.
- Grab the handle and, with your arms straight, sit up tall.
- Pull your shoulders down and back. Without leaning forward or backward, bend your arms and pull the handle into your abdomen.
- Extend your arms and repeat. Note: You can do this exercise with a wide overhand grip, a parallel grip, or a narrow underhand grip as preferred.
6. Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
Equipment like barbells, dumbbells, and resistance machines are not always available. The good news is you can train your teres major using nothing more than your bodyweight. Both pull-ups and chin-ups are useful exercises for your lats and teres major, as well as your biceps.
Pull-ups are done with an overhand, wider than shoulder-width grip, while chin-ups are done with an underhand, narrower grip or with your hands facing inward in a neutral grip. All options work, so try each one to determine which one is best for you.
How to do this exercise:
- Hang from a sturdy overhead bar using your preferred grip. Your arms should be straight.
- Bend your elbows and pull your chin up and over the bar.
- Descend under control and repeat.
7. Lat Pulldowns
Lat pulldowns are a useful exercise because, unlike pull-ups and chin-ups, you can easily adjust the weight to reflect your current level of fitness. As the name suggests, lat pulldowns work your lats, but they strongly involve your teres major too. You can do lat pulldowns with a wide overhand grip, a parallel grip, or a narrow underhand grip as preferred.
To do lat pulldowns:
- Take your grip on the bar and sit down so your thighs are under the leg restraints.
- Then you will lean back slightly and lift your chest. Bend your arms and pull the bar down to your clavicles or collar bones.
- Extend your arms and repeat.
8. Body Rows
While chin-ups and pull-ups are bodyweight versions of pulldowns, body rows replicate the demands of bent-over barbell and dumbbell rows. However, they’re a whole lot easier than pull-ups, making them more suitable for beginners.
To do body rows:
- Set a horizontal bar to around waist-height.
- You can use a barbell in a squat rack or a Smith machine. Note: Alternatively, you can do body rows using a suspension trainer such as a TRX or gymnastic rings.
- Sit on the floor and grab your bar/handles with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Then you will lift your butt from the floor, so your body is straight, and your weight is on your hands and heels only.
- Slight bend your arms and pull your chest up to the bar.
- Fully extend your arms and repeat the process. Note: To make this exercise easier, you can raise the bar, or to make it harder, put both feet on a bench or box.
9. Band Pull-Aparts
This is one of the most convenient ways to train your teres major. All you need is a resistance band. You can do it at home, at work, or in the gym. A few sets a day are all you need to strengthen your teres major as well as your middle trapezius and rhomboids. This is a beneficial exercise for better posture.
To do band pull-aparts:
- hold a resistance band with an overhand grip.
- Raise your arms in front of you.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
How Do You Stretch Your Teres Major?
While it’s essential to strengthen your teres major, it also needs stretching too. Like any muscle, if teres major is allowed to become tight and inflexible, it can become a pain source.
There are a couple of ways to stretch your teres major.
Overhead reach – link your hands and raise your arms overhead. Reach up as high as you can to stretch all the muscles below your armpits. Intensify this stretch by hanging from an overhead bar.
Single-arm lat stretch – this exercise provides a deeper stretch. Standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart, reach up with your left arm and lean over the right. Keep your hips level and your shoulders square.
Forward reach – link your hands and raise your arms to shoulder-level. Push your arms forward and try to spread your shoulder blades apart. Intensify this stretch by holding onto a pillar and leaning back.
For all these stretches, hold for 30-60 seconds, easing off if you feel any burning or shaking. You can stretch your teres major several times a day if necessary.
The body consists of more than 600 muscles, and each one has an important part to play. Some are large and are responsible for significant movements, such as your quadriceps, glutes, and deltoids. Others are minuscule, like the muscles of your eyelid and inner ear.
Teres major falls somewhere between these two extremes. It’s not the biggest or the smallest muscle in your body, but it’s still a crucial one.
Strengthening your teres major is beneficial for several reasons. It can add to the shape of your back, giving you that all-important v-shaped taper. Also, it plays a part in almost every lat exercise so, if it’s weak, you won’t be able to work your back as hard.
It’s all but impossible to isolate your teres major as it mostly works as a synergist or helper to your lats. That said, several exercises fire up this mini-lat muscle, and they’re useful for ensuring you develop all your back muscles equally.
Build your best back ever by including at least a few of these nine teres major exercises in your workouts. Finish each workout with a good stretch to avoid short, tight muscles, and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.