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10 Best Rhomboid Exercises (Beastly Upper Back Workouts)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: September 25, 2023

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

  • Scapular retraction, band pull-aparts, inverted rows, face pulls, prone lateral raises, and cable reverse flys are some of the best exercises that target the rhomboids.
  • Strengthening the rhomboids prevents injury, reduces pain, and improves performance in other upper-body exercises.
  • When performing any rhomboid workout, maintain good form, and start with light weights before gradually increasing the intensity.

10 Best Rhomboid Exercises

Best exercise to isolate rhomboid muscles using a dumbbell

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

But first, let's take a quick look at the anatomy and function of these muscles.

What Are Rhomboid Muscles?

The rhomboid muscles are a dynamic duo in the upper back, comprising two muscles: the rhomboid major and the rhomboid minor.

They connect cervical and thoracic vertebrae to the scapula, causing downward scapular rotation and retraction.

Without the rhomboids, movements like reaching, lifting, and pushing would be limited and unstable [1].

“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

Top 10 Rhomboid Exercises

Pulling a rope to form back muscles

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.

2. 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 with 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

Woman holding two dumbbells in gym

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 holding a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other.
  2. Keeping 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.

4. 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 in the back and shoulder joint.

This is how to perform them with 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

Doing band pull aparts

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 injury.

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

6. 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 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

Doing inverted rows for back muscles

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

They’re low-impact exercises, 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 knees slightly bent, pull yourself up towards the bar.
  3. Lower yourself back down.

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8. 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 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

Holding a resistance band to perform scapular retraction

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 and repeat.

10. 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

You should work out your rhomboids because they support your posture, movement, and upper body function.

Think of them as the spinal cord of your shoulders, providing stability and control to the upper limbs.

Liz Campbell, fitness trainer and founder of M12 Fitness, adds that rhomboids help stabilize the scapula.

Along with secondary muscles like the trapezius and rear deltoids, the rhomboids contribute to improved movement fluidity and a more stable shoulder girdle.

Neglecting the rhomboids can lead to chronic pain, decreased athletic performance, and even injury [2].

When you work out and strengthen the rhomboids, you not only prevent these issues but also unlock strength and agility in your body.


The rhomboids are often overlooked in fitness routines, but these muscles play a crucial role in maintaining posture and back strength.

By incorporating targeted exercises for the rhomboids, you can enjoy various benefits, from improved posture to reduced risk of injury.

There are many science-backed benefits to training your rhomboids [3].

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

When performing rhomboid exercises, safety should always be a top priority.

To ensure injury-free workouts, maintain proper form and start with lighter weights before gradually increasing the resistance.

Warm up adequately and stretch before and after exercising to prevent muscle strain and tightness.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and engage the core to maintain posture throughout the exercise.

Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially if you feel pain or discomfort.

Another integral part of rhomboid training is muscle recovery. We highly recommend getting plenty of rest, eating a well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking a good protein supplement.


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 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.

Train Your Rhomboid Muscles the Smart Way

The tiny yet mighty rhomboids play a crucial role in the overall functioning of your shoulders. Pay attention to these often overlooked muscles, and make rhomboid exercises a regular part of your workout regimen.

To get the best out of your rhomboid training, we highly recommend adding a high-quality protein supplement into the mix.

These supplements were extensively tested and handpicked by our crew at Total Shape based on test result data, so make sure to check them out.


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