10 Best Rhomboid Exercises (Beastly Upper Back Workouts)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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While the larger muscle groups of the back receive all the attention during training, the rhomboids are often overlooked and undertrained.

To make my client’s workouts more effective, I’ve spent many hours researching and experimenting with various exercises to identify the best moves for targeting the rhomboids.

So, I curated a list of the top ten exercises for strengthening and sculpting the rhomboid muscle.

This article is a comprehensive guide to the best rhomboid exercises and why you should incorporate them into your workout routine.

Quick Summary

  • To strengthen and sculpt the rhomboid muscles, incorporate exercises like face pulls, resistance band rows, and reverse dumbbell flys into your workout routine.
  • Exercises like the prone lateral raise and scapular retraction are specifically chosen for their effectiveness in improving upper back health.
  • Research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine shows that neglecting rhomboid exercises can lead to chronic pain, decreased athletic performance, and injury.
  • In my experience, dedicated rhomboid training not only bolsters posture and minimizes injury risks but also plays a pivotal role in boosting overall athletic ability, especially in sports demanding robust shoulder stability.

Top 10 Rhomboid Exercises

face-pulls

With years of expertise in the fitness industry, I’ve honed in on the top ten exercises for targeting powerful rhomboids.

Here’s a list of the top 10 most effective rhomboid exercises I have handpicked.

1. Face Pulls

Face pulls are excellent for targeting the rhomboids, rotator cuff, and other muscles to help build wider shoulders. They fix bad posture, build back strength, and prevent injury.

Here’s how to perform them:

  1. Attach a rope handle to a high cable pulley.
  2. Grasp the rope with your palms facing each other and your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Pull the rope towards your face.
  4. Pause, then return to the starting position.

resistance band Standing Rows2. Resistance Band Rows

Resistance band rows are an excellent way to work the rhomboids, improve posture, build strength, and reduce the risk of injury. Back exercises using resistance bands provide a challenging workout, which particularly interests athletes.

Here’s how to perform them in good form:

  1. Anchor the resistance band to a sturdy object at hip height.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, facing the anchor point.
  3. Grasp the band with both hands and pull your elbows back towards your hips.
  4. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

3. Reverse Dumbbell Flys

Reverse dumbbell flys are a powerful exercise for sculpting the rhomboids and upper back. They are one of the best exercises to burn back fat with.

They strengthen critical back muscles and improve flexibility and mobility in the shoulder blades.

Here’s how to perform them:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other.
  2. Keep your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells to your sides, and keep them level with your shoulders.
  3. Hold a moment, then slowly lower the weights to the starting position.

Reverse Cable Fly4. Reverse Cable Flys

The reverse cable fly is effective for developing back strength and stability. It fixes poor posture, increases shoulder mobility, and prevents injury to the back and shoulder joints.

This is how to perform them in good form:

  1. Stand facing a cable machine, with feet shoulder-width apart and a low pulley set to your right.
  2. Grasp the cable handle and step away from the machine to create tension in the cable.
  3. Raise your arm to the side, and keep the cable handle level with your shoulder.
  4. Pause, then slowly lower your arm back to the starting position.

5. Band Pull-Aparts

resistance band pull apart gif

Band pull-aparts are a great way to build strength and stability in the rhomboids and are one of the best upper back workouts for the muscle group.

This low-impact exercise was an excellent choice for clients with joint pain or injuries.

Here’s how to perform them safely:

  1. Hold a resistance band in both hands with your arms fully extended.
  2. Pull the band apart until it touches your chest.
  3. Hold for a moment, then slowly release the band to the starting position.

Also Read: TRX Exercises for a Chiseled Upper Back

Single-Arm Cable Rows6. Single-Arm Cable Rows

Single-arm cable rows use a cable machine to provide resistance. Cable workouts tone and build back muscles effectively as well.

You can correct any imbalances in your upper body strength and posture by performing it with one arm at a time.

Here’s how to perform the double-arm variation:

  1. Stand facing a cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and a low pulley set to your right.
  2. Grasp the cable handles with an overhand grip and step away from the machine to create tension.
  3. Bend at the waist and pull the cable handles towards your hip.
  4. Hold for a moment, then slowly release the cable back to the starting position.

7. Inverted Rows

Inverted Row

Inverted rows are a bodyweight rhomboid exercise performed on a bar or a TRX suspension trainer with knees bent.

They’re low-impact exercises that are gentle on your joints, so you can keep pushing yourself without fear of injury. This one was a personal favorite with older clients who had joint issues.

Here’s how you do them:

  1. Lie under a bar with your arms extended straight up towards the bar.
  2. Keeping your body straight and your knees slightly bent, pull yourself up towards the bar.
  3. Lower yourself back down.

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Prone Lateral Raise8. Prone Lateral Raise

The prone lateral raise involves lying face down on a bench and lifting weight away from the body.

This exercise improves your body's strength and athletic performance and gives your back a sleek appearance.

This one came highly recommended by the bodybuilders I’ve trained over the years.

This is how you can perform them:

  1. Lie face down on a bench with a weight in each hand.
  2. Lift the weights to the sides, leading with your elbows.
  3. Lower the weights back, maintaining control throughout the range of motion.

9. Scapular Retraction

scapular retraction exercise

Scapular retraction is an exercise that requires bringing your shoulder blades together while keeping your arms stationary.

It prevents rounding of the shoulders caused by sitting at a desk or staring at a computer screen for long periods, which is why I recommend it as a warm-up for clients with long-hour desk jobs.

Here’s how you do them: 

  1. Stand or sit with your back straight, holding a weight with an overhand grip.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Hold the contraction for a moment, then release it and repeat.

Scapular Wall Slides10. Scapular Wall Slides

Scapular wall slides require sliding your shoulder blades up and down a wall.

It is a low-impact exercise that can be done anywhere, making it convenient for anyone looking for good back workouts to improve their upper back health.

Here’s how you can do them:

  1. Stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight.
  2. Place your hands on the wall, keeping your arms straight and your body in a plank position.
  3. Slide your shoulder blades up and down the wall.

Why Work Out Your Rhomboids?

Holding a barbell with back muscles

The rhomboid muscles, consisting of the rhomboid major and minor, are crucial for connecting the cervical and thoracic vertebrae to the scapula, enabling essential movements like reaching, lifting, and pushing by facilitating scapular rotation and retraction [1].

Therefore, they are like your shoulders' backbone, crucial for posture, movement, and upper body strength.

Fitness expert Liz Campbell, founder of M12 Fitness, emphasizes their role in stabilizing the scapula, working with muscles like the trapezius and rear deltoids for smoother movements and a sturdier shoulder girdle.

“Your rhomboid muscles connect your shoulder blade to your ribs and spine. If your rhomboid muscles hurt, you’ll feel it in your back and shoulders.”
- Dr. Ioannis Stavrou, PhD

According to Journal of Clinical Medicine research, neglecting the rhomboids can lead to chronic pain, decreased athletic performance, and even injury [2].

Benefits

On the other hand, by incorporating targeted exercises for the rhomboids, you can enjoy various benefits, from improved posture to a reduced risk of injury, based on a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science [3].

Athletes in sports like swimming and tennis can greatly benefit from targeted rhomboid exercises, which enhance shoulder stability and power, crucial for overhead movements like throwing and overhead arm movements (like strokes and serves) [4].

Based on a Journal of Sports Science and Medicine study, there are many benefits to training your rhomboids [5].

These include:

  • Alleviating neck pain
  • Alleviating shoulder pain
  • Enhancing upper-limb stability
  • Improving overall athletic performance
  • Carry-over effect to various exercises that use your back muscles

How To Train Them

A person flexing his back muscles

Train your rhomboids with dynamic, full-body exercises that challenge your strength, stability, and endurance.

I recommend incorporating various compound movements into your routine, such as pull-ups, inverted rows, and dumbbell rows, all of which work the rhomboids in a range of motion.

With each rep, imagine your rhomboids as the sturdy cables that connect your shoulder blades to your spine, pulling your back together and creating a solid foundation for every lift, punch, and jump you make.

Get ready to feel the burn, sweat the details, and carve out a perfect set of rhomboids.

Safety Tips

Start with lighter weights and proper form, then gradually up the ante.

Don't skip the warm-up and cool-down stretches to dodge muscle strain. Keep your shoulder blades pinched and your core tight to stay in form.

Listen to your body's cues and ease off if you're hurting. Remember, recovery's part of the game—rest well, eat right, stay hydrated, and consider a protein supplement boost.

FAQs

How Do You Isolate Rhomboids?

To isolate the rhomboids, perform exercises that involve scapular retraction and rotations such as face pulls, band pull-aparts, scapular wall slides, reverse cable flys, and prone lateral raises. Avoid exercises that require excessive shoulder blade protraction.

How Do You Train Rhomboids With Dumbbells?

To train the rhomboids with dumbbells, perform exercises such as reverse dumbbell flys, prone lateral raises, one-arm dumbbell rows, and inverted rows. Start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight as you progress.

What Happens When You Have Weak Rhomboids?

You may experience poor posture, rounded shoulders, scapular winging, and discomfort in the neck and upper back when you have weak rhomboids.

Are Pull-Ups Good for Rhomboids?

Yes, pull-ups are good for rhomboids. They target and strengthen the trapezius muscle, lats, biceps, rhomboids, and core. Use the proper form to avoid injury and maximize the benefits for the rhomboids.

Do Squats Work Rhomboids?

No, squats don’t work the rhomboids. Squats primarily work the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.

Does Bench Press Work Rhomboids?

No, the bench press doesn’t work the rhomboids. It works the chest and triceps, while the rhomboids are only minimally activated as a stabilizer muscle.


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/veterinary-science-and-veterinary-medicine/rhomboid-muscles
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8397110/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5468195/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534856/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5721192/
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