Defining your back muscles
The way you stand or sit shows how well your joints and muscles are working. Poor posture alignment can lead to problems like chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain. It can also cause muscle atrophy and weakness.
But exercises can help strengthen the muscles in your back, leading to better posture and less pain as you get older.
The rhomboid muscles, located on your upper back underneath the trapezius muscle, play a big part when it comes to posture. This is especially true if you have overdeveloped chest muscles or your shoulders pronate forward.
The rhomboids are rhombus-shaped and are used to pull the shoulder blades together. They also rotate the scapula in a downward direction and provide stability for your shoulders.
These five exercises help strengthen the rhomboid muscles and improve your posture.
- Lie flat on your stomach on a mat or bench. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand. Place your forehead on the mat. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms extended and fully rested. Your palms should face in toward your body. This is your starting position.
- Lift your arms up to your sides until your elbows are at shoulder height and your arms are parallel to the floor. Exhale. Keep your arms perpendicular to your torso and fully extended through the movement.
- When you’ve reached shoulder height, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for one count. Only your arms should be lifting up, nothing else. The goal is to isolate your upper back.
- Inhale, then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position. Repeat 8 times.
- Lie down on your stomach on a mat or bench with your forehead resting down. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Have your arms straight out above you, fully rested, with your thumbs up in the air. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and then raise your arms up straight. Keep them fully extended without lifting your head off the mat. This is strictly a shoulder and upper-back exercise, so keep your torso and lower body glued to the mat.
- Squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades as you lift up as high as you can without breaking form. Hold this position for one count.
- Inhale and slowly lower yourself back down to your starting position with your arms fully rested. Repeat 15 times.
For an advanced version of this exercise, you can hold dumbbells in your hands instead of pointing your thumbs up.
Use a Smith machine or an assisted pullup machine for this exercise.
- Have a seat on the floor and have your chest directly underneath the bar. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Engage your core and grasp the bar with your palms facing away from you. Pull yourself up, keeping your shoulders, torso, hips, and knees in one straight line. This is your starting position.
- With your chest open, squeeze your shoulder blades together by pushing them down and back until you visibly raise yourself up to the bar about 2 to 3 inches. Don’t row or pull yourself up. Hold this retraction for one count.
- Keep breathing, release the contraction, and come back to your starting position. Repeat 15 times.
- Sit down on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle. Hinge forward at the hips and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing away from you. Have the dumbbells resting in the space between your legs and the bench. Your stomach should be on your thighs, and your arms should be fully extended to your sides. This is your starting position.
- Exhale and engage your core. In one motion, perform a reverse fly while lifting your torso away from your thighs and sitting upright.
- As you raise the dumbbells out to your sides, rotate your wrists so they’re now facing the ceiling, ending at shoulder height. You may bend your elbows slightly if you need to. Your upper body should be in a “T” position.
- When you’re seated tall with your palms at shoulder height, rotate your wrists downward to the floor and back up to the ceiling one time. This forces you to hold this position for an extra count. You’ll strengthen your forearms and contract your shoulder blades down and back.
- Inhale, slowly reverse the steps, and lower the dumbbells back down to your starting position with your torso on your thighs. Repeat 12 times.
- Lean up against a wall. Keep a tilt in your pelvis so there’s no arch in your back. Your head, back, and butt should be pressed firmly against the wall. Leave a slight bend in your knees so your legs aren’t fully locked. Fully extend your arms straight above you with your palms facing away from the wall. This is your starting position.
- With your chest open and back tall, squeeze the muscles of your midback as you slide your arms down toward your shoulders. Keep your back and the backs of your palms, wrists, and elbows pressed up against the wall. You should feel a contraction right away.
- Keep in mind, this exercise is difficult if you’re tight or have bad posture. End when your elbows are slightly lower than shoulder height.
- Hold this position for one count. Inhale and then push your arms back up to your starting position without anything lifting off from the wall. Repeat 15 times.
Strengthening your back muscles and learning to contract your shoulder blades can have a positive effect on your posture. There’s a sense of command, confidence, and less stress on your back when you have perfect posture.
Learning to retract and contract your shoulder blades will improve your squats, chest press, and pullups. More importantly, the more you strengthen your back, the less prone to injury you’ll be when it comes to working out or working at your desk.
Kat Miller, CPT, has been featured in the Daily Post and is a freelance fitness writer and owner of Fitness with Kat. She trains at Manhattan’s elite Upper East Side Brownings Fitness Studio, is a personal trainer at New York Health and Racquet Club in midtown Manhattan, and teaches bootcamp.