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When it comes to building a balanced back, it’s crucial that we focus on all of the muscles in our backs. One of the biggest mistakes gym-goers make is not focusing on their rhomboid muscles.
Underdeveloped rhomboids can lead to all sorts of problems. The most notable one is that your posture starts to suck, which leads to spine problems, back pain, a slouching posture, and even low confidence.
If you experience these problems, then you most probably have an unbalanced upper body. It simply means that you focus too much on your chest and your traps and not enough on the balancing muscles like the rhomboids.
Here, we’ll go over the best rhomboid exercises you can do and everything else you need to know about rhomboids.
What are Rhomboids?
Rhomboids are the rhomboid-shaped (duh!) muscles in the upper back area of your body. They are located between your scapulas, so they are directly responsible for almost all the movements of your scapula. As you can see from the image below, rhomboids consist of the rhomboid minor and the rhomboid major muscles.
Compared to other muscles of your back like the lats, rhomboids are relatively small. Plus, they are located beneath some of the larger muscles you’ll find in the back. So when we perform almost any back movement, the majority of the focus is on the traps, while rhomboids get neglected.
This creates an unbalance in your back where your traps are overdeveloped, while the rhomboids are squeezed by the larger muscles. This results in worsened movement of your scapulas, and worse posture, as well as potential back and neck pain.
But we’re changing this here and now!
What do Rhomboids do?
Here are the main roles of the rhomboid muscles:
- They help you move the scapulas, so they enable shoulder blade movement
- They enable the downward movement of the scapulas
- Rhomboids provide stability for your shoulders
- Strong rhomboids prevent shoulders from slouching forwards
- Enhance the health and improve the movement of your shoulders
So you can see that rhomboids are incredibly important muscles!
It’s a shame they get neglected, though. Some compound movements for our backs like rows do target rhomboids to an extent. But the majority of back workouts tend to neglect these shoulders as well as some other muscles in your upper body that provide balance to your spine.
In short, having weak rhomboids means poorer scapular movement, which can create a “stiff” feeling in your back. This can lead to poor posture, back pain, shoulder pain, or even neck pain.
Why should I do Rhomboid exercises?
Focusing on your rhomboids can bring several benefits to your upper back and your entire upper body.
Here are some of the main reasons why working your rhomboids makes sense:
- They can improve your posture as they enable superior scapula and shoulder movement
- Eliminate neck, back, and shoulder pain
- Eliminate stiffness in your back
- Improve the movement of your shoulders
- Build a more balanced and well-defined back
So if you feel a bit like this when waking up…
…and your back hurts, then it might be a sign of weak rhomboids.
And that’s what we’re here for – to show you the best rhomboid exercises, so let’s get cracking!
Best Rhomboid Exercises
There are many movements that will work your rhomboids, although these are the best ones to really isolate them and improve your overall shoulder and back health. You’ll see that many of them have to do with stretching, too.
1. Seated Row with a Pronated Grip
Rows are one of the best back exercises. They will focus on the majority of the muscles in your back, although the majority of the focus with the conventional rows will be on your traps. There is one trick that will make you focus on the rhomboids more, though…
…which is doing the seated row with a pronated grip. This simple little adjustment will shift the focus from your lower lats to your middle and upper portion of your back, namely your rhomboids and also some lats.
You should feel some tension all the way across the scapula area – from shoulder to shoulder. Although the majority of the focus will be on the middle portion – right where your rhomboids are. This exercise is fantastic for improving the esthetic look of your middle back, as well as for focusing on strengthening your rhomboids.
Here’s how to do it.
You’ll have to use the seated row machine (don’t worry if you don’t have one – just skip to the next exercise!)
Grip the handles with a PRONATED grip – see the image
Start doing the rows. The focus should be on making sure you go as far back as possible and really squeeze at the end of the movement
Watch this video. Skip to around 3:20 where more is explained about the pronated grip and why it’s beneficial for your rhomboids.
2. Face Pulls
Now, this is an exercise that almost anyone can do. If you have one of the following things, you should be able to do face pulls:
The face pulls are one of THE ABSOLUTE BEST exercises when it comes to improving your posture, your shoulder strength, and rhomboids. It will focus on your posterior deltoids, rhomboids, lower lats, teres major, and infraspinatus (rotator cuff muscles). All of these shoulders are crucial for your posture.
If you’re experiencing shoulder or back pain, as well as neck pain, then this exercise should be one of the first ones you try. However, not everyone is able to master the form of the exercise, so make sure you do them with proper form.
- Have the rope or resistance band attached just above your head’s height.
- This is the crucial part of face pulls and one of the biggest mistakes people make with face pulls
- Then, grip the rope or band with a neutral or pronated grip if possible
Start pulling the rope or band towards your head
- As your hands reach your head, make sure you lead with your hands instead of your elbows (as Jeff Cavaliere nicely explains in the below video)
Tip: Focus on the proper form first before you load up the exercise. The key is to do the movement slowly and that you really do it correctly instead of doing it wrong and targeting the wrong muscles. Hopefully, the video below will show you everything you need to know about how to do face pulls.
While the name of this exercise might sound like the name of a big, evil corporation, it’s actually quite a simple exercise.
It’s an exercise that’s comprised of three different movements:
The Y arm raise
The W arm raise
And the T arm raise
All of these exercises are done lying on the ground. You should do them in succession, and the best thing is that anyone can do them. You can start with your own body weight, and as you progress, you can add some dumbbells to the movements.
This is also one of the best movements for your shoulder health and your rhomboids. It strengthens the overlooked muscles in your upper back, such as your rotator cuff muscles and your rhomboids. And they might look simple, but you’ll see that the effects of this exercise can be incredible.
For instance, many professional boxers and fighters do these exercises as they help them bulletproof their shoulders and improve their postures, which can suck as they find themselves in the slouched position through most of the fight. This is how to do the YWT exercise.
- Start with the Y raise. Lie down on the ground with your chest on the floor.
- Extend your body and legs as far as you can
- Put your arms into the “Y” position
- Raise your arms and hold for a few seconds and repeat 3 times
- After that, move your arms into the “W” and then the “T” positions and do exactly the same as with the Y position
- Once your progress, add dumbbells to the movement
If this doesn’t make any sense to you yet, watch this video. 🙂
4. Incline Pull-Ups
Incline pull-ups is another exercise for rhomboids that requires minimal equipment. All you’ll need is a pull-up bar or gymnastics rings. You can even do them somewhere in nature or outside, just make sure you find the right surfaces.
The bar should be at around your waist level – it depends on your strength level though. The higher you put it, the less challenging it will be, but it will also put less focus on the rhomboids.
Now, pull-ups themselves work your rhomboids, but only to an extent. Making this shift to incline pull-ups will put far more focus on the middle portion of your back, including your rhomboids. Regular pull-ups, on the other hand, work your shoulders and traps more.
Grip the bar with a pronated grip, and the bar should be at your waist level
With your legs on the ground, start performing the pull-ups
Bend your knees if keeping them straight is too challenging for you
5. Rear Delt Fly
Rear delt flyes are quite similar to the “T” movement we’ve discussed above, although not quite the same. There are minor differences – this one is done with a bench and with dumbbells (although you can also do it standing).
However, the most important thing here is that it is able to focus on your rhomboids, which it does. It retracts your scapulas, which forces your rhomboids to work overtime. But your focus here should be on making sure you do the exercise properly.
Too many people do this one wrong, and they end up focusing on other muscles of your back and shoulders. It has a lot to do with the positioning of your hands (which should be facing straight down), and the position of your shoulder.
- With your chest facing the bench, take the dumbbells in your hands
- Make sure your hands are facing straight down and are relaxed at the start of the movement
- Then, start moving your arms straight up – make sure you feel the middle back working
This video explains nicely why the movement of your arms is crucial here.
Rhomboid Stretches and Tips
In addition to performing the above-mentioned exercises, it’s also important to stretch your muscles before or after the workout. This relaxes them and allows you to have greater shoulder movement and flexibility.
Here are the best rhomboid stretches to do before or after the workout.
Pull up bar hang
Resistance band stretches
Tips for Improving Your Rhomboids
Follow these tips to make your life a bit easier.
- Focus on doing the exercises with proper form first before you start loading them up. This allows you to make sure you’re working the right muscles rather than doing more harm than good
- Stretch before or after EVERY workout. This is a crucial part that will massively improve your rhomboid strength and health, even if you don’t do these exercises regularly
- If you have recently had a shoulder injury, be very wary when doing these exercises. You might want to do some PT first before you do these exercises with weights
- Don’t forget about the posture of your lower back! Keep the back as straight as possible during these movements
Rhomboids are one of the most important muscles in your back, although they are also one of the most overlooked ones.
They help you keep your posture intact, and they also prevent muscle imbalances. They’re also responsible for moving your scapulas, so taking care of your rhomboid muscles should definitely be on your to-do list.