The rhomboids are a pair of small muscles that extend laterally from your spine to your shoulder blades. These muscles play a key role in stabilizing your scapula and contributing to overall upper-back strength.
But, what are the best rhomboid exercises? How do you structure a rhomboid workout?
In this article, we will discuss how to put together an effective rhomboid workout and then provide step-by-step instructions for the following best rhomboid exercises for a strong and sculpted back:
Let’s dive in!
How to Do Rhomboid Workouts
The best way to target the rhomboids is to use an overhand grip and a slightly angled path of motion that mimics the direction of the muscle fibers in the rhomboids (which is roughly 45 degrees sweeping down from the upper vertebrae down and out towards the scapulae).
Therefore, the best rhomboid strengthening exercises pull slightly upward as you row or engage the rhomboids.
Additionally, one of the primary functions of the rhomboids is to stabilize, protract, and retract the shoulder blades.
Therefore, consciously protracting (bringing forward) and retracting (pulling back) your shoulder blades through their full range of motion for every rep will help maximize your rhomboid muscle gains.
Overall, the best rhomboid workouts incorporate exercises for rhomboids that are both functional in the sense that they train most of the upper back muscles as a unit, as well as isolation rhomboid exercises to target these muscles specifically.
In terms of the reps, sets, and weight you should use for exercises for rhomboids in workouts, if you are looking to increase rhomboid strength, work up to doing 1-6 reps for 4 to 6 sets of each exercise.
The weight that you lift should be at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should strive for.
If your goal is to perform rhomboid workouts for building mass or increasing size, the recommendations for hypertrophy (muscle growth) are to perform three sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM.
Lastly, if you are trying to improve muscular endurance in your upper back, perform at least three sets of each exercise using weights that are about 65% of your one RM for a minimum of 15 reps or until failure.
The Ultimate Rhomboid Exercises:
Here are some of the best rhomboid exercises to include in your rhomboid workouts:
#1: Band Pull-Aparts
The band pull-apart exercise is a great rhomboid isolation exercise.
This move is especially helpful in rhomboid workouts for beginners when you are trying to learn how to activate your rhomboids so that you can recruit them during other functional back exercises.
You can also do this exercise in home back workouts because all you need is a basic resistance band.
Here are the steps for this rhomboid exercise:
- Grab a band with a light or medium resistance, depending on your current level of back strength and how much you have been focusing on rhomboid workouts.
- Use an overhand grip with your palms facing the floor and space your hand shoulder width apart along the band.
- Extend your arms directly out in front of your body parallel to the floor.
- Contract your rhomboids to squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the band apart, sweeping your arms towards the outsides of your armpits.
- When you can move no further, or the band touches your chest, slowly return to the starting position. The slower you move, the better because the more time under tension your muscles will experience.
#2: Low-to-High Cable Rows
Any variation of this rowing exercise is a great way to target the muscles in your upper back, including your traps and rhomboids.
However, the low-to-high band row exercise more directly targets the rhomboids due to the upward angle of the rowing motion.
The fact that the movement arc lines up more accurately with the direction of the muscle fibers in the rhomboids makes this one of the best rhomboid exercises.
Here are the steps for this exercise for the rhomboids:
- Set the cable pulley or resistance band at a low anchor point.
- The band should be at roughly a 45-degree angle when you hold the handles.
- Face the anchor point, squared to the cable or band attachment, and step back enough that your shoulder blades begin to pull forward (protract) and your shoulders round forward.
- Hold the handles with your palms facing the floor (overhead grip).
- Perform a row by bending your elbows back and upward slightly as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
#3: Cable Seated Rows
Seated rows are a great way to strengthen your rhomboid and increase size and mass since you can load the exercise with more weight.
The positioning provides more scapular stability, which means that you can focus more on strengthening your rhomboids and overloading with heavier weights rather than working on scapular stability exercises with lighter loads.
This is not to say that the latter is not also important to include in your rhomboid workouts, but if you are looking to increase muscle size, you will also want to do heavy resistance training.
Rather than using a seated row weight machine, performing the exercise on a cable pulley machine or a functional trainer will allow you to use two separate handles so that you can fully contract each rhomboid muscle and not allow one side of your back to overpower the weaker side and take on the brunt of the workload.
Here are the steps for this rhomboid-building exercise:
- Sit upright at the cable pulley machine with one handle in each hand, with your feet resting on the foot rests to help brace your body.
- Pull your hands until they are shoulder-width apart, using a grip such that your palms are at a 45° angle facing your body.
- Pull your shoulder blades back, squeezing them together as much as possible as you bend your elbows for each row rep.
#4: Barbell Rows
This classic back exercise works your rhomboids along with your lats, posterior deltoids, and traps for overall functional back strength.
You can also perform the exercise unilaterally with one dumbbell, bracing your other hand on a bench.
Here is how to perform this rhomboid strengthening exercise with a barbell:
- Place the loaded barbell in front of your feet with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips, keeping your core and glutes tight to maintain a flat and neutral spine.
- Reach down and grab the barbell with an overhand grip with your hands spaced about shoulder-width apart.
- Pull the weight up to your stomach by bending your elbows and retracting your shoulders, maintaining the hinge at your hips throughout the exercise.
- Slowly lower the barbell back down until your elbows are fully extended.
#5: Suspended Rows
This is a good bodyweight exercise for the rhomboids and upper back. You can use suspension straps or grab onto like a barbell positioned in a power rack.
To complete this one of our rhomboid exercises:
- Hold the suspension strap handles in each hand with your arms shoulder-width apart and palms facing one another.
- Tighten your whole body so you are like a stiff board.
- Lean back and walk your feet forward until your body is at a 10-45 degree angle relative to the ground. The more parallel you are to the floor, and the further forward you walk your feet, the harder the exercise will be.
- Lift your toes up so they are pointing to the ceiling and you are on your heels.
- Bend your elbows and pull your body up to the handles (envision yourself doing a push-up in reverse).
- Slowly lower your body back down by straightening your arms.
#6: Reverse Fly
The reverse fly is going to be one of the best rhomboid exercises as it also targets the posterior deltoids. You can perform this exercise with dumbbells, resistance bands, or a cable machine.
These are the steps for this one of our rhomboid exercises:
- Place a resistance band around an anchor at slightly lower than chest height.
- Grab the handles with an overhand grip (palms down), and extend your arms with straight elbows out to the sides.
- Step back so that there is tension in the band, and your shoulder blades start protracting (coming forward).
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your elbows nearly straight (allow a soft bend) as you sweep your arms back behind you as far as possible and slightly upward to really target the rhomboids.
- Slowly return to the starting position, maintaining tension on the band the whole time.
There you have it! A complete workout for your rhomboids that you can try out on your next trip to the gym.
If you are strength training but not seeing the gains you are hoping for, check out our muscle-building guide here.