Home Blog How The Rhomboids Really Work

How The Rhomboids Really Work

Written on January 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

I got to talking with an athletic trainer at a recent seminar, and we were discussing how people really don’t understand how the rhomboids work.

You see, the rhomboids typically get lumped right in with the trapezius complex as scapular retractors – and that’s correct, but not exhaustive enough to illustrate my point.  What you want to observe is the line of pull of the rhomboids:


What you’ll see if that this line of pull is quite similar to that of the upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles, both of which “hike” the scapula up.  In reality, the goal with any rowing exercise should be to get the lower trapezius firing as much as possible, as its line of pull depresses the scapula as it retracts – and the muscle is involved upward rotation, which is essential for safe overhead movements.


Note how the line of pull of the trapezius changes as you go superior (top) to inferior (bottom).

As such, you want to make sure that you get your shoulder blades back and down as you do your rowing movements.  Here’s an example of what a bad seated cable row, where the scapulae are retracted, but ride up, leading to upper trap, levator scapulae, and rhomboid recruitment.

Much of this comes because of the backward lean, but it’s also possible to have it when in the right torso position.

If you are someone with shoulder issues, you’ll be surprised at what some general massage work on the rhomboids will do to alleviate your discomfort.  We know that working on pectoralis minor and levator scapulae will quickly yield results, but rhomboids falls into the same category, as (like these two muscles) they’re involved in downwardly rotating the scapulae.

Click here to purchase the most comprehensive shoulder resource available today: Optimal Shoulder Performance – From Rehabilitation to High Performance.

Sign up Today for our FREE newsletter and receive a deadlift technique video!



6 Responses to “How The Rhomboids Really Work”

  1. Rick Johnson Says:

    Just wanted to tell you how very much your site has helped me.I’m a massage school student and a golf teacher(and player for 45 years) who has seen and experienced shoulder problems.I have rehabilitated my own rotator cuff issues in part from the great insights you offer on your web site and news letter.I first learned about you on T-Nation. Keep up the great work and thanks again.
    Rick Johnson

  2. Scott Bailey Says:

    Thanks EC for the info on the rhomboids. As someone finishing rehab for shoulder surgery (torn labrum and rotator cuff) this info came at the right time as did the video on rows. Keep up the great work!

  3. Rick Kaselj Says:


    Great post.

    I find with Rhomboids they assist with any transerverse plane movement in the shoulder. So it you work rotator cuff, often times you are getting rhomboids activity.

    Keep posting!

    Rick Kaselj

  4. Thomas Lester (sumotom) Says:

    In the normal position i would think the rhomboids would be activated in doing dips especially when the shoulders are depressed, A clockwise rotation on the right side at the glenoid fossa. In an elevated position of the shoulder the rhomboids would cause protraction of the scapula.

  5. Michael Maxwell Says:

    Thomas, all the muscles involved in stabilizing the scapula would be recruited during any exercise, the question is of amount and whether or not it is an eccentric or concentric contraction. With overhead movements the rhomboid must lengthen adequately to allow optimal upward rotation of the scapular but they are still active and involved in stabilizing it. I am not sure however, how the rhomboids would be involved in protraction. Could you clarify?

  6. Thomas (sumotom) Says:

    As you state the rhomboids must lengthen to allow for upward rotation and in the opposite action must shorten in downward rotation. My mistake I said protraction when I should have said depression. Thank you Michael

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series