Located in your upper back and between your shoulder blades, the rhomboids are responsible for shoulder retraction, or the drawing of your shoulder blades together. If the rhomboids are weak or tight due to disuse, your shoulders will drift forward -- a common problem for people with sedentary lifestyles. If you incorporate a lot of horizontal pressing movements in your workout, such as bench presses, and focus only on biceps, lats and chest development, you may be neglecting your rhomboids. This, too, can lead to a muscular imbalance in which your shoulders roll forward and your neck juts out. Free weight exercises, ranging in intensity from beginner to intermediate, can help to strengthen your rhomboids and improve your posture. Always consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise regimen, and consider working with a personal trainer to help maintain proper technique.
A beginner exercise that isolates and conditions your rhomboids is the bent-over row with dumbbells. Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and bent over at the waist so your trunk is parallel to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip by your sides, arms extending straight down and knees slightly bent. Make sure the weights are heavy enough to complete only 12 reps. Lighter weights and higher reps won’t stimulate the larger fast-twitch fibers in your rhomboids or encourage muscle growth. Turn your palms in so they face each other. Exhale and slowly lift the dumbbells to the sides of your waist, only bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold the peak position for a second, inhale and then lower the weights back to starting position. Perform eight to 12 reps for three sets.
An intermediate exercise that will hit every muscle in your back, including your rhomboids, is a T-Bar row. This variation of the row allows you to use a higher load as well as a neutral grip -- palms facing in -- which is the strongest grip for a row. If you don’t have access to a landmine unit, place one end of the bar in the corner of the room and weigh it down with a heavy plate or dumbbell (consult a personal trainer to determine what amount of weight is right for you, if you're at all unsure). After attaching the desired amount of weight on the other end, straddle the bar and face the weighted end. Bend at the hips at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Invert a V-grip handle and hook it under the bar, holding the ends of the handle. Exhale and pull the bar until the weights brush your chest. Inhale and return to starting position. Perform five to 10 reps for three to six sets.
Reverse flyes with dumbbells, a beginner pulling exercise, will strengthen the muscles in your shoulders, upper and middle back and give your rhomboids a rigorous workout. Begin by sitting on the edge of a chair or bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lean forward at the waist until your chest touches the fronts of your thighs. Allow your arms to extend down by your sides with palms facing each other and elbows slightly bent. Exhale, and slowly lift your arms to your sides in a fluid sweeping motion until they’re at shoulder level. Inhale and return to starting position. Perform eight to 12 reps for three sets. You can also do reverse flyes in either a standing position with your torso bent forward at the hips or prone on an incline bench.
Target your rhomboids by doing a variation of a bent-over row in which you mimic the shape of bat wings. Hold a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand and lie face-down on a bench. Allow your hands to hang down and rest the weights on the ground. Exhale and slowly raise the kettlebells up toward your ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, inhale and then slowly lower the weights to starting position. The exercise’s range of movement should only be about 6 inches, which makes the reps almost seem like isometric contractions. Perform 15 reps for four sets.