Latest News

These Are the 12 Best Rhomboid Exercises for Your Upper Back


The rhomboids are a sneaky little pair of muscles nestled between your shoulder blades that play a role in upper back strength and scapular control. In reality, a more attractive reason to direct your attention towards the rhomboids is the opportunity for even more tantalizing back gains. 

Your rhomboids often get overshadowed by the trapezius and other larger muscle groups, but learning how to target them more effectively can greatly impact how large and strong your upper back can become.

Credit: Aleksey Mnogosmyslov / Shutterstock

You have a ton of different options to smoke your rhomboids depending on your available equipment. From bodyweight to barbells, here are the 12 best rhomboid exercises.

Best Rhomboid Exercises

Inverted Row
Band Pull-Apart
Low-to-High Band Row
Cable Seated Row
Cable Reverse Fly
Low-to-High Cable Row
Single-Arm Cable Row
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
Chest-Supported T-Bar Row
Barbell Row
Chest-Supported Machine Row

Inverted Row

The inverted row is a bodyweight exercise that will allow you to show the rhomboids some love regardless of the training situation you find yourself in. All you’ll need is a barbell and a rack to hang it off of and you can start growing your upper back. 

It can also be a potent tool to teach the skills or build the strength necessary for a number of other calisthenics-based movements.

Benefits of the Inverted Row

Targets the muscles of the upper back.
Has many progressions to accommodate any level of skill or strength.
Can be the foundation for more targeted rhomboid exercises.

How to Do The Inverted Row

Place an empty barbell in a squat rack at a height that will allow you to get full extension of your elbows at the bottom of each repetition. Lie on the floor underneath the barbell and take a comfortable,double-overhand grip about shoulder-width apart. 

Brace the core using a body hollow technique and draw your chest towards the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of each repetition.

Band Pull-Apart

A band pull-apart, although lower on the ladder of absolute resistance, can be a great tool to build some baseline strength and muscle in your rhomboids. Bands are also one of the most accessible pieces of equipment for nearly every lifter; if you’re looking to get started, this might be the exercise for you. 

As you progress, you can also repurpose the pull-apart as either a warm-up or finishing tool.

Benefits of the Band Pull-Apart

Light and scalable loading.
A very accessible training option since bands can be found in most gyms.
Naturally progresses to either a warm-up or a finisher.

How to Do The Band Pull-Apart

Grab a light-to-medium band with a double-overhand grip, approximately shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms straight ahead of you and pull the band apart until it touches your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end of the range of motion. 

Control the band on the way back to the starting position, allowing your shoulder blades to move freely with each repetition.

Low-to-High Band Row

The low-to-high band row combines the accessibility and scalability of band work with a slightly more specific way of attacking your rhomboids. 

Based upon their anatomical position, performing a row with a slightly upward angle will more accurately line up with the rhomboids. 

Benefits of the Low-to-High Band Row

Begins training the row motor pattern.
Plenty of variability regarding grip choice and line of pull.
More accurately lines up with the fibers of the rhomboids for targeted training.

How to Do The Low-to-High Band Row

Place a band around a low anchor point — an angle of approximately 45 degrees or so should be a good place to start. Step back such that your shoulder blades are able to protract (round forward) slightly to get a complete range of motion. 

Using an overhand grip, draw your elbows back squeezing the shoulder blades together with a slight upward angle.

Cable Seated Row

A seated cable row starts to introduce more stability and absolute load progression to your rhomboid training. If you can, use two separate handle attachments. This will give you the best opportunity to fully contract each rhomboid without a bilateral grip negatively impacting your range of motion

With cable work, you should be able to get each set much closer to muscular failure for an excellent growth stimulus on the rhomboids.

Benefits of the Cable Seated Row

Cables offer greater stability than bodyweight or band exercises.
Longer ability to progress.
Easier to accommodate unilateral options.

How to Do The Cable Seated Row

Sit upright with a tall posture using the provided footrests as bracing points for the exercise. Grip the cable handles (ideally one for each hand) and assume an approximately shoulder-width grip with your palms at a 45-degree angle facing the body. 

Protract your shoulder blades and fully draw your arms back, squeezing your shoulder blades together to complete each repetition.

Cable Reverse Fly

The cable reverse fly offers another opportunity to train the rhomboids in a “long lever” fashion. Fly-based exercises will keep the arm in a more extended position, this creates a longer distance for the weight to move per repetition, increasing the difficulty without needing to bump up the load. 

The cable reverse fly will include muscular synergists like the rear delts but will be another great option to train the rhomboids.

Benefits of the Cable Reverse Fly

Requires only light loads to reach failure.
Provides consistent challenge throughout the range of motion.
The rhomboids are assisted by numerous synergistic muscles, making training to failure a safer option.

How to Do The Cable Reverse Fly

Stand tall and face the cable stack. Grip one cable in each hand by the carabiner, using the left hand to pull the right cable and the right hand to pull the left cable. Maintain an overhand grip on the handles and use a straight arm throughout the range of motion (allowing for a subtle bend in the elbow). 

Draw your arms back towards your body, the range of motion should begin straight ahead of your natural arm position and trace backward creating a “T” position with your arms.

Low-to-High Cable Row

The low-to-high cable row builds off of the stability and loading benefits that cables provide and further enhances your rhomboid gains by aligning the exercise to your muscle anatomy

A row of any flavor will utilize the rhomboids, but the low-to-high variation will keep the tension directed most accurately toward where your rhomboids sit on your back.

Benefits of the Low-to-High Cable Row

More stability than free weights or bands.
More loadable and easier to progress than calisthenics or bands.
More accurately loads the rhomboids themselves, keeping tension on them more than other synergists.

How to Do The Low-to-High Cable Row

Sit upright with a tall posture using the provided footrests as bracing points for the exercise. Grip the cable handles (ideally one for each hand) and assume an approximately shoulder-width grip with your palms at a 45-degree angle facing the body. The seat provided should be set slightly higher than the normal straight-line cable row, either by adjusting the seat itself or sitting on an elevation (such as a few yoga mats). 

Draw the elbows back towards the body in an upward angle — instead of a completely straight arm path, the exercise should follow a slight low-to-high bias. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to complete each repetition and protract between each repetition to fully reset the range of motion.

Single-Arm Cable Row

The single-arm cable row is a unilateral option for training the rhomboids. While cables can be more stable and provide better load than other rhomboid exercises, going with one arm at a time will stall that out just a bit in deference for individual development of each side. 

If you struggle with a left-to-right difference in strength or coordination and still want to build up the rhomboids, this is a great exercise for you.

Benefits of the Single-Arm Cable Row

A Great tool for addressing imbalances.
Requires coordination and bracing.
A good middle ground between absolute stability and strength or muscle-building.

How to Do The Single-Arm Cable Row

Sit upright with a tall posture using the provided footrests as bracing points for the exercise. Grip the cable handles (ideally one for each hand) and assume an approximately shoulder-width grip with your palms at a 45-degree angle facing the body. 

Although you will be pulling with one arm at a time, always grip both cables. Draw the working arm back towards the body, squeezing the shoulder blades together as you finish each repetition.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The single-arm dumbbell row is an excellent compound free-weight exercise to target the rhomboids amongst a plethora of other benefits. The rhomboids will assist the lats and traps in primarily drawing the dumbbell back, with a greater emphasis on the rhomboids based on the angle of your arm path. 

While you can bias a greater targeting of the rhomboids to improve the quality of this exercise, any variation will also help with core stability, grip, and overall strength.

Benefits of the Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Transfers well to a wide variety of free-weight exercises.
Improves grip strength.
Allows freedom of your arm path to hit better hit the rhomboids.

How to Do The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Assume a stable, slightly staggered, and shoulder-width stance. Grip a single dumbbell in one hand and use your free hand to brace against the bench.

Brace the core and engage your posterior chain, then row the weight up towards your torso until your elbow is in line with your trunk.

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

The chest-supported dumbbell row is a great unilateral free weight version of the standard dumbbell row. 

By utilizing a chest support and working with both arms, you will be able to more freely focus on training the muscles of the back closer to failure without the stability demands hampering your progress. 

Benefits of the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Less energy is devoted to maintaining posture than on standard rows.
Chest support provides stability benefits and a target to protect the arms around.
Provides grip and overall back strength, muscle growth, and coordination benefits.

How to Do The Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Grip a dumbbell in each hand and approach an adjustable bench with the backrest placed at approximately 45 degrees. Carefully lean into the bench press using the backrest as a chest support (sitting backward compared to how you’d normally sit on a bench). Let your arms dangle freely, weights in-hand.

Draw your arms back towards your body attempting to squeeze your shoulder blades together on each repetition. Keep your chest firmly in contact with the bench for the entire set.

Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

A chest-supported T-Bar row is a sturdy option for targeting your rhomboids. The chest support adds stability to the exercise, reducing your need to brace the core as the pad holds you in the right position. 

This way, you’re better able to simply focus on your rhomboids and, well, actually moving the weights.

Benefits of the Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

Reduces demand on core stability.
One of the most loadable row variations.
Can safely approach muscle failure.
Easy to align with the fibers of the rhomboids.

How to Do The Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

The chest-supported T-Bar row will normally be plate-loaded, so select a weight that seems reasonable before testing out your position and technique. Place your feet on the foot platform and lean your chest into the supporting pad. Reach forward and grip the handlebars in a comfortable fashion.

Unrack the handlebars and allow the chest support to assist you in protecting the shoulder blades. Draw the arms back to the body and attempt to retract and squeeze your shoulder blades together to complete each repetition.

Barbell Row

The barbell row is the most loadable exercise for your back and draws upon almost every muscle in your back — including the rhomboids. While it doesn’t isolate your rhomboids specifically, strengthening all of the back musculature and developing a strong barbell row is one of the best ways to develop upper body strength. 

In conjunction with other more specific rhomboid exercises, the barbell row is a fantastic tool for training your rhomboids.

Benefits of the Barbell Row

Strengthens the entire back, improving your potential in other exercises.
Integrates nearly every muscle in your posterior chain.
Allows practice maintaining the hip hinge position.

How to Do The Barbell Row

Grab the barbell with a comfortable overhand grip. Remove the barbell from a rack in order to safely assume the starting position, standing tall. Brace your core and perform a hip hinge to lower yourself into the bottom of your first repetition, allowing your arms to hang. 

Draw the barbell back towards your body. Get it as close to your abdomen as you can on each repetition. Perform both the concentric and eccentric with control to avoid loss of position which may impact your brace

Chest-Supported Machine Row

One of the absolute best options for rhomboid development will be the chest-supported machine row. Ideally, you will have the option for freely moving handles to accommodate your body size and an appropriate arm path; however, a chest-supported machine will be the most stable and safest variation of a rhomboid row you can find. 

Performing the exercise for numerous sets per week close to muscle failure is an essential part of maximizing rhomboid growth.

Benefits of the Chest-Supported Machine Row

Stabilizes both your body and the weight being lifted.
Most loadable variation with the greatest ability to be progressed.
Easy to train close to failure.

How to Do The Chest-Supported Machine Row

Sit upright with a tall posture using the provided footrests as bracing points for the exercise. Grip the cable handles (ideally one for each hand) and assume an approximately shoulder-width grip. Set the seat to an appropriate height to allow your arms to fully extend comfortably in front of your body while holding the grips.

Then, draw the handles back towards your body and contract your rhomboids, squeezing the shoulder blades together to complete each repetition.

How to Target the Rhomboids

There are a few ways to target the rhomboids that can take your exercise of choice from good to great. An overhand grip, scapular protraction and retraction, and the right arm path will all heavily influence how effective each exercise will ultimately be.

Use an Overhand Grip

Which back muscles do a lion’s share of the work during an exercise is heavily influenced during exercise by the grip you select. An overhand grip may help bias towards more trap and rhomboid engagement instead of the latissimus dorsi, or lats. 

While all exercises will likely recruit the full complement of back muscles in some capacity, utilizing an overhand grip helps direct more tension where you want it.

Practice Protraction and Retraction

One of the major roles of the rhomboids is to manipulate the position of your shoulder blades. This means that protraction and retraction of the scapula is critical to properly training your rhomboids. 

If you want to fully engage your rhomboids rather than simply work your arms, you need to allow your shoulders to flow freely during most back movements. They should hang loosely at the bottom and pinch together at the top. 

Nail the Arm Path

Your arm path will also impact how much you’re able to stimulate the rhomboids. Your rhomboids sit between the inside border of your scapula and attach to the spine, but they also have a slightly upward angle. 

This means that a 45-degree arm position relative to your torso, coupled with a slightly upward pulling angle will be the best way to ensure they’re doing the majority of the heavy lifting.

Rhomboid Training Sets and Reps

Your rhomboids are a medium-sized muscle nestled underneath the trapezius and scapular tissues on your upper back. As they lack the size and force output potential of, say, the lats, you might want to take a conservative approach to programming your rhomboid exercises.

Aim for 3 to 4 sets of anywhere between 10 and 15 reps for most rhomboid exercises. You’ll want to perform a high number of repetitions so you can fatigue the larger muscles in your back (think of your traps and lats) so the rhomboids can have their turn in the sun, so to speak.

Credit: Igor Lateci / Shutterstock

You can also try some tactical pre-exhaustion to take other tissues out of the equation. A lat isolation movement like the straight-arm pulldown performed prior to a rhomboid-focused row, for example, might work wonders. 

Remember Your Rhomboids

The rhomboids are often overshadowed by your lats and traps. While they never truly go unused — you can’t move your shoulders without them, frankly — you can certainly select exercises and technical cues that help target them a bit better. 

Not only will this add some well-deserved size and strength to your upper back, but a solid set of rhomboids are a huge asset for both performance and scapular health. Given the wide range of options, from calisthenics and bands to free weights and machines, there’s definitely a perfect rhomboid exercise out there for you. 

Featured Image: Aleksey Mnogosmyslov / Shutterstock

The post These Are the 12 Best Rhomboid Exercises for Your Upper Back appeared first on BarBend.

Tia-Clair Toomey and Shane Orr Give a Tour of Their Home Gym in Australia

Previous article

How Studio Qila Founder Bridget O’Carroll Prioritizes ‘Form Over Ego’ on and off the Mat

Next article

You may also like


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Latest News