What Are Your Rhomboids?
The rhomboids are relatively small muscles in your upper back that run diagonally and connect your spine to your shoulder blades. These muscles are far less visible than more prominent back muscles such as the trapezius or latissimus dorsi.
Your rhomboids primarily function to bring your shoulder blades together, which is also known as scapular retraction. However, they also help raise and lower your shoulders during shrugging motions and they provide stability to the upper back and shoulder blades.
Benefits of Rhomboid Exercises
Exercises that target the rhomboids are extremely valuable. Training the rhomboids should be prioritized for the following reasons:
1. Increased Back Strength
When most people think of back strength, they rarely consider the rhomboids. More often, trainers and amateur lifters alike focus on strengthening the latissimus dorsi, which is the largest muscle of the back.
While lat strength is important, neglecting the rhomboids will minimize your overall lifting potential. Any exercise movement that requires scapular retraction inherently depends upon the rhomboids to complete a full repetition.
Therefore, it is imperative to train the rhomboids to achieve balanced muscle growth and maximize your back strength.
2. Injury Prevention
Strengthening the rhomboids can also help prevent injury by stabilizing the scapula. If you don’t target the rhomboids, you may lose control of your shoulder blade movement, which can lead to chronic back pain and shoulder injuries.
Whether you are an athlete, bodybuilder or simply someone who values fitness, strong rhomboids will protect you from future injury and ensure you can move freely as you age.
3. Improved Posture
Hours of sitting in chairs at work or while driving can cause an underutilization of the rhomboids and other important back muscles. As a result, this can lead to slouching, pain, and tension in your shoulders and back.
Exercising your rhomboids can help strengthen them and reduce back pain or discomfort. With regular exercise and practice, you can activate your rhomboids to straighten your spine and stand with proper posture.
9 Intense Rhomboid Exercises
1. Bent Over Kettlebell Face Pull
a) Grasp the handle of a kettlebell with both hands and your palms facing towards you.
b) Hinge at the waist and bend over so that your back is roughly parallel to the floor.
a) Retract your shoulder blades as you drive your elbows up and slightly back, bringing the kettlebell right beneath your face.
b) Pinch your shoulder blades together and hold in this position for a moment. *Note — Make sure to keep your elbows above your wrists during the bent over face pull.
c) Repeat for your desired number of reps
2. Resistance Band Row
a) Secure a resistance band around a stable pole or similar object at chest level.
b) Grasp the handles of the resistance band with your palms facing each other and bring the handles close together.
c) Walk backwards to create some tension in the resistance band.
a) Contract your lats and rhomboids to row the handles in until they touch your chest.
b) Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause for a moment in this position.
c) Slowly return to the starting position and repeat!
3. Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly
a) Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing towards each other.
b) Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart.
c) Hinge at the waist until your back is nearly parallel to the floor.
a) With your arms slightly bent, contract your rear deltoids to bring the dumbbells up and out to your sides.
b) Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the rep.
c) Slowly bring your arms back down to the starting position.
d) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!
4. Neutral Grip Pull Up Hold
a) Reach up to grab the parallel pull up bars so that your palms are facing each other.
b) Engage your core and make sure your back is straight. Your legs should also be straight and slightly in front of you.
a) Contract your lats to bring your shoulders down and back as you pull upwards.
b) Hold for as long as you can at the top, keeping tension in your back.
c) Slowly return to the starting position and repeat!
5. Seated Rows
a) Sit on the bench with your back straight and your feet planted on the foot plates.
b) Extend your arms and grab the close grip attachment with your palms facing each other.
a) Retract your shoulder blades, brace your abs, and pull the attachment into your abdomen.
b) Pause for a moment and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!
a) Lie on your stomach on the ground.
b) Cross your feet with your legs bent in an elevated position.
c) Extend both of your arms completely straight out to your sides.
a) With your shoulder blades together, lean to your right side until your right hand touches the ground.
b) Then, lean to the left until your left hand touches the ground.
c) Keep tension in your back and repeat!
a) Lie on your stomach with your arms slightly separated from your sides and your palms facing down.
b) Engage your back and core.
a) Quickly pulse your arms up and down while keeping tension in the middle of your back the whole time.
b) Keep repeating this “flapping” motion!
8. 1-Arm Kettlebell Reverse Fly
a) Grab a kettlebell with one hand and assume a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
b) Hinge at the waist until your back is nearly parallel to the floor.
a) With your arm slightly bent, contract your rear deltoid to bring the weight upwards.
b) Keep tightness in your back and shoulders at the top of the rep. Slowly bring your arm back down to the starting position.
c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!
9. Bent Over Barbell Row
a) Set up a barbell on the ground with light to medium weight.
b) Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart. Step forward so that the barbell is over the middle portion of your feet.
c) Grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands just outside your knees.
d) Brace your abs and back and lift the barbell off the ground until you are in a standing position with your back straight.
e) Keeping your abs and back tight, hinge your hips backwards until your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Extend your arms straight down and keep your gaze focused a few feet in front of you.
a) Keeping your elbows tucked, drive your elbows up and back to bring the barbell up towards your belly button.
b) Squeeze your lats at the top, pause for a moment, and slowly return to the starting position.
c) Maintain tightness in your core and back and repeat!
You can complete these exercises individually to learn how to activate your rhomboids or you can combine them to perform a complete back workout. However you utilize these exercises, be sure to stretch your body before and afterwards to minimize your risk of injury and maximize your results!
Michael Kenler graduated from Tufts University in 2020 with degrees in international relations and entrepreneurship. He is currently a certified trainer for Boston-based fitness company Anabolic Aliens. Michael is also officially certified in plant-based nutrition by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at eCornell. As Director of Content Marketing for Anabolic Aliens, Michael’s goal is to help people become healthier and happier