When you hear people talking about training their back or shoulders, they always mention exercises for are the lats, deltoids, and traps.
One muscle you will very rarely hear mentioned, however, is the rhomboids.
While some exercises for the other muscles in the area like the back and deltoids will also target the rhomboids, most won’t make them their primary target. This means your training isn’t as well-rounded as it could be and limits the overall development you can achieve.
That is why I want to explain exactly what and where the rhomboids are and tell you some of the best possible rhomboid exercises.
That way, you will have all the tools and information necessary to avoid any imbalances and reach your maximum potential.
What Are The Rhomboid Muscles?
The rhomboids are a pair of muscles located in the upper back.
They consist of the smaller rhomboid minor at the top, with the larger rhomboid major beneath it.
Their name comes from the fact that the muscles are roughly shaped like a rhomboid, both individually and as a pair.
Functions And Role Of Rhomboid Muscles
The rhomboid muscles play two vital roles in the function and movement of the upper back and shoulders.
The first is to assist in the rotation of the scapula. This is the ability to move the arms from by your sides to above your head.
The other is the retraction of the shoulder blades, where you pull them together behind your back.
Beyond these roles, the rhomboid muscles also act as a stabiliser for your entire scapular region.
This provides support and assistance to the surrounding muscles in the upper back and shoulders, allowing them to do their jobs without over-straining or risking injury.
Complications Of Weak Rhomboid Muscles
Weakness in the rhomboid muscles can lead to a number of issues and complications, which can affect both your training and everyday life.
For starters, they take considerable strain off of the surrounding muscles. By allowing the rhomboids to become weak, these other muscles will have to bear a much greater load, potentially leading to exhaustion and an increased risk of injury.
Even if injury doesn’t occur, strength imbalances in the muscles can lead to other problems of their own, particularly if the shoulders or chest are overdeveloped.
The primary issue arising from this is shoulder impingement, where tendons in the joint rub or catch on the surrounding tissue. This can cause extreme discomfort and could even lead to more severe injuries if left untreated.
It can also lead to a rounding of the shoulders and incredibly poor posture. While many people will not be too concerned by this, it can cause quite a lot of back pain and make you develop health problems in later life.
Symptoms Of Weak Rhomboid Muscles
One of the primary symptoms of weak rhomboid muscles is a rounding of the shoulders. This is caused by the chest and shoulders becoming overdeveloped, causing you to hunch forward.
Not only will this make daily tasks more challenging, but it will place limits on the level to which you can develop your physique. It also places a great amount of stress on the upper portion of the spine, as well as the joints in the shoulders.
This can lead to injuries in the short term, as well as developing chronic conditions in later life. One of the most common short-term symptoms of this imbalance is shoulder impingement.
When your shoulder joint is impinged, the tendons and surrounding tissues will rub together.
As a result, you will experience pain, cracking and popping sounds, inflammation, a severe weakness in the arm or arms, and even permanent damage to the joints if left untreated.
The other main symptom of weak rhomboid muscles is an increased rate of injury in both the rhomboids and the surrounding muscles.
While the rhomboids risk injury due to being underworked and conditioned, the surrounding muscles are at risk of being overworked.
This can cause strains and tears, resulting in both severe pain and discomfort, as well as extended periods of rehabilitation.
Benefits Of Rhomboid Exercises
Despite many people overlooking rhomboid exercises, there are numerous benefits to both health and performance that can be achieved by including them in your workout routines.
Reduces The Risk Of Injuries
Strengthening the rhomboid muscles will make them less susceptible to injury when they work as a secondary muscle in an exercise.
It will also reduce the risk of injury to the surrounding muscles as well, as they will not have to take as much of the strain when the rhomboids are playing their part.
Helps You Lift More
Developing the rhomboids will increase the strength of the scapular region as a whole. This means you will be able to lift more on large compound exercises, allowing you to improve your physique and performance at a faster rate.
Lower Chance Of Experiencing Compensation Problems
When the rhomboids are weak, the other muscles will naturally do more work as a result. This means you will generate imbalances, which can increase the risk of injury, reduce your overall well being, and lead to more serious injuries in later life.
Improves Your Posture
Strengthening your rhomboid muscles helps to pull your shoulders back, keeping you upright. This is essential for having correct posture, will protect your spine, and can prevent degenerative diseases like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Best Rhomboid Exercises
As with any muscle, there are countless exercises available to help you develop your rhomboid muscles. While they all offer their own unique benefits, the following list contains the best rhomboid exercises to produce results that will take both your health and fitness to the next level.
Landmine rows, often referred to as T-bar Rows, primarily work the rhomboids, delts, traps, deltoids, biceps, glutes, and erector spinae.
You begin by standing with a barbell between your legs. The end behind you needs to be anchored to the floor, either by using specifically designed equipment or placing a dumbbell or a similar source of weight on it.
Keeping your back straight, squat down over the bar and grip it with both hands. If available, a handle can be used to widen your grip and place even more emphasis on the rhomboids.
With your torso at roughly a 45-degree angle (while still keeping your back straight), use your arms to slowly row the weight into your abdomen. Hold the contraction for a second before slowly lowering and repeating.
If you have one side that is particularly weak, you can perform a single arm version of the exercise to correct the imbalance.
Rear Delt Fly
A rear delt fly can be performed with either cables, dumbbells, or resistance bands.
They primarily target the rear deltoids, rhomboids, and traps, with the lateral deltoids also involved.
Keeping your back straight, bend at the waist until your torso is almost parallel with the floor. This can be done from either a seated or standing position.
Grip the weight in front of you with arms fully straightened towards the floor and hands together. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise the weights out to your sides until they too are parallel to the floor, with your upper body creating a “T” shape.
Slowly lower them back to the starting point and pause before repeating.
The cable and resistance band varieties can also be done from an upright position, provided the machines or anchoring points you have available allow it.
Side Lying Reverse Dumbbell Fly
A side lying reverse dumbbell fly works the rhomboids and traps, as well as the rear, lateral, and anterior heads of the deltoids.
Begin by lying on your side on a bench with your arm straight out in front of you, parallel with the floor.
With a straight arm, slowly raise the weight until it is pointing directly at the ceiling. Immediately lower it again upon completion to keep the muscles until continual tension.
After completing the desired number of reps, switch sides and perform the same number with the other arm.
High Angle One Arm Cable Rows
A high angle one arm cable row, often shortened simply to high row, works your rhomboids, lats, rear delts, traps, and biceps.
It can be performed on both a cable pulley and a lat pulldown machine.
Using an overhand grip, hold the handle above your head with a straight arm at roughly a 45-degree angle. Without moving your upper body, slowly pull the weight towards your torso, just outside of shoulder width.
Bring it until just before the handle touches your chest and squeeze for a second before returning to the starting position.
Some people like to perform this movement while slightly leaning back, as it transfers more of the strain from the deltoids to the rhomboids.
A two-handed version can also be performed, using either a traditional lat bar or a specifically designed attachment.
Rope Face Pull
Rope face pulls primarily work your rhomboids and traps, although the rear deltoids and biceps are included as well.
Set a cable pulley to head height and hold the rope with both hands using an overhand grip, with arms fully extended in front of you. Focus on contracting the traps and rhomboids and begin pulling the rope towards your face.
Keep your hands together until it is no longer possible and then gradually bring them apart until the rope is almost touching your face. Really squeeze the traps and rhomboids for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
A variation can also be done lying flat on the floor, pulling the weight towards your face at a 45-degree angle.
Delt Row In Standing Position
Also known as an upright row, a delt row in a standing position can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells and works the traps, delts, rhomboids, and biceps.
Using a narrow grip will prioritise the traps, while a wider grip will shift the emphasis to the delts.
With a straight back, take the weight with an overhand grip, arms full extended, with it resting against your quads.
Gradually raise the weight upwards, keeping it as close to your body as possible. Continue until the weights are just below your chin, with elbows much higher than your hands. Ensure you keep the weight close to your body as you lower it back to the starting position.
Be careful when selecting your hand position, as you want to make sure no unnecessary strain is placed on the joints in the shoulder, which can be an issue with this exercise.
The inverted row is a body weight exercise that primarily focuses on the lats, rhomboids, and biceps, while also incorporating the rear delts and traps.
To perform this exercise, you will either need a solid frame or a squat rack that allows you to adjust the height of the bar.
Your starting position will see you hold the bar with an overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width. Slowly walk your feet until you are underneath the bar with it touching your chest, while your body is at a 45-degree angle with your heels on the floor.
Slowly lower yourself away from the bar by extending your arms, while ensuring you keep the muscles in your back contracted.
As soon as you reach full extension, begin pulling yourself back to the starting position. At no point should your feet move.
Bent Over Row
A bent over row is essentially the opposite of an inverted row, again working the rhomboids, lats, biceps, traps, and rear delts.
Take a barbell with an overhand grip about shoulder width apart. Lower yourself until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor, this is your starting position.
While keeping your back straight, row the weight to the base of your chest/top of your abdomen, making sure to squeeze the muscles in your back.
Hold the contraction for a second before slowly lowering it back to the starting position.
Ensure you use a smooth, controlled movement without any jerks.
Single Arm Row
A single arm row is a dumbbell exercise similar to a bent over row. It works the lats, rhomboids, biceps, and rear delts, as well as a small amount of traps.
You can perform them from either a completely standing position or with one knee on a bench.
Whichever variation you choose, lean forward until your upper body is almost parallel with the floor and support your weight with your free hand. Grip the dumbbell and hold it with a fully extended arm pointed towards the ground.
Row the weight towards your abdomen, with it closer to your waist than your chest.
Make sure to really squeeze the muscles and continue until your elbow is higher than your back. Pause for a second before lowering it back to the starting position.
A seated row, also known as a low row, works the rhomboids, traps, lats, biceps, and rear delts.
Start by sitting with a straight back and legs out in front of you, then lean forward slightly to grip the handle.
In one fluid motion, sit up until your back is completely vertical while pulling the handle into your abdomen.
Squeeze for a second before lowering the weight back through the entire motion, until you are in the leant forward position you started in.
Scapular Push Up
A scapular push up is an exercise that almost exclusively works your rhomboids.
It is performed from the same starting position as a traditional push up and involves very little movement. Your arms will remain straight throughout.
Lower your torso slightly towards the floor by squeezing your shoulder blades together. From there, round your upper back to push your body as far away from the ground as possible.
The rest of your body should remain straight and still throughout, with the entire range of motion only being a couple of inches.
Scapular Wall Slides
A scapular wall slide is another exercise that uses no weights and is almost exclusively for the rhomboids.
Stand with your back against a wall, with your arms out at your sides in a crucifix position. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, so you have your fingers pointed at the ceiling, with the backs of your hands flat on the wall.
Slide your hands up the wall towards the ceiling, extending them as far as you can while never allowing the distance between your hands to change.
Slide them back down past the starting position, again going as low as you can go without the distance between your hands changing.
Things To Avoid With Rhomboid Exercises
As a muscle many will not have directly worked before, it is important to not do too much too soon.
While they are generally very durable muscles that are less likely to get injured than other parts of the body, you still need to take precautions.
Start slowly and work out your own limits, both in terms of the weights and the quantity of rhomboid exercises you are doing.
Push yourself just hard enough that you will be able to progress but not so much that you risk damaging yourself.
You also need to factor in which rhomboid exercises to use, based on your current routine. Avoid using exercises too similar to those you are already performing, as this has the potential to exhaust them more than you realise, opening up a greater risk of injury.
Recovery Exercises For Rehabilitation And Injury
While development of the muscles is the primary reason to perform rhomboid exercises, they can also be used to help rehabilitate injuries in the scapular region.
By performing rhomboid exercises with a light weight and lower intensity, you can help to mobilise and strengthen the muscles in the area, speeding up the recovery process.
It is vital to note that you shouldn’t start this process too soon though, as the injured muscle will need time to rest and let any inflammation subside before rehabilitation begins.
Including rhomboid exercises in your workout routines is essential to improving your health, wellbeing, and physical performance.
While many will overlook them due to the smaller effect the rhomboids have on your physique than the surrounding muscles, you will be at a great disadvantage if you continue to neglect them.
If you ensure you perform at least a few of the rhomboid exercises in this article each week, you will be amazed at the benefits they can offer, both in the short and long term.