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Home > Stretches > Rhomboid Stretch

Rhomboid Stretch

Setup

  1. Get on your hands and knees on the ground or in your bed.  Do not do this rhomboid stretch on a slick surface like a wood floor, it won’t work very well.  A yoga mat is ideal.
  2. Drop down to your elbows
  3. Slide your left arm across your body as far as it will go
  4. Drop your left shoulder to the floor
  5. Turn your head to the right and place it on your right forearm (which is supporting your torso).  Most of your weight should now be on your left knee.

Execution rhomboid stretch

Using your left leg, push your body forward and to the left and at the same time you should concentrate on trying to rotate your torso to the left (although you can’t actually do so because the floor is there).  This will tuck your shoulder across your body.  You should feel a stretch in your upper back between your left shoulder blade and your spine.  Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat with right arm as desired.

Tipsrhomboids stretch

  1. As you’re doing this rhomboid stretch, vary the angle of your upper arm relative to your shoulder (i.e. have your arm point pointing up and across your face or down and across your sternum, more towards the belly.  This will put the rhomboid stretch more into the rhomboid minor or rhomboid major, respectively.
  2. Continue to breathe during the stretch.
  3. Do this rhomboid stretch on a soft surface.  Otherwise, your knee and/or elbow will hurt about ten seconds into it.
  4. For this rhomboids stretch, the orientation of your forearm (supinated vs. prone) doesn’t matter.
  5. If you're looking for a more general stretch of your upper back, check out the Floota.com articles on (1) thoracic stretches and (2) the stability ball back stretch.

Background

The “rhomboid” is actually two muscles, the rhomboid minor and the rhomboid major.  The rhomboids connect your thoracic spine to your shoulder blades.  The rhomboids function is to pull the shoulder blade (and with it, your shoulder/arm) back and inwards toward the midline of your body, toward your spine.  As you’re reading this, stick your chest out and pull your shoulders back.  Congratulations, you just used both sets (i.e. right and left) of your rhomboid muscles simultaneously.  The rhomboid major is twice the size of the rhomboid minor and sits lower on the back.  Activities that heavily recruit the rhomboid muscles include anything that involves stabilizing the shoulder or especially squeezing the scapulae together, like rowing (done properly). 

So who cares about the rhomboids?  Everyone should care about the rhomboids because the rhomboids improve your appearance more than any other muscle in the body.  The rhomboid muscles are probably the most important postural muscle.  Good posture isn’t a conscious thing.  It’s not like you sit down in a chair and consciously think about pulling your shoulders back and sitting up straight.  People with good posture don’t have to think about it; they just have good muscle tone in their postural muscles, like the rhomboid and the erector spinae (i.e. the “paraspinals”), and this causes them to sit and stand in a certain way.  If you have strong rhomboids, your rhomboids will constantly be exerting a healthy pull on your shoulder girdle, pulling your shoulder back and giving you that “squared shoulder” look, as opposed to that “rounded shoulder” look.  Bottom line: if you want better posture and a healthier back, do rhomboid exercises regularly.

Best Rhomboid Stretch

Most people have no business doing a rhomboid stretch because most people have loose and weak rhomboids because most people sit down all day long, a position which puts the rhomboids in a stretched and relaxed position.  That’s right, sitting with rounded shoulders at a computer actually tightens your pectoral, abdominal, and anterior deltoid muscles and loosens your rhomboid muscles (and other muscles).  Muscles adapt over time to the position they’re in so if your rhomboids are stretched and relaxed 24/7, they will get weak and loose.  So a rhomboid stretch is really a stretch that only rowers and weight lifters should have much interest in, but give this rhomboid stretch a try.  If, when executing this rhomboid stretch, you feel tightness or the rhomboid stretch is pleasurable (i.e. “productive pain”), I would continue to do the rhomboid stretch on a regular basis if I were you.

The rhomboids play tug-o-war over the shoulder blade with two other muscles, the serratus anterior and the trapezius (upper fibers).  These three muscles have to all cooperate in order for the shoulder to be healthy.  If any one of these three muscles is too strong, too weak, too tight, or too loose, you can end up with shoulder problems.  If you’re a deskjockey, chances are your rhomboids, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior are weak and your upper trapezius is strong.  This is not good for the health of your glenohumeral joint.

inferior rhomboid stretchI am so sick of seeing and hearing about the classic, useless rhomboid stretch, which, in my opinion is a triceps and posterior deltoid stretch primarily, and only incidentally stretches the rhomboid muscles.  Here’s a picture of that inferior rhomboid stretch.  Give it a try before doing the rhomboid stretch I detail above.  Notice the difference.

My experience and invention (no joke, never seen or heard of this stretch before doing it) of this rhomboid stretch is as follows: I had a “left c curve” in my thoracic spine since puberty.  That is, my thoracic spine was curved to the left and then back to midline to such a degree that was significant but not enough to warrant a diagnosis of scoliosis.  I was told it was “structural” (which means the bone/spine is actually malformed, causing the curvature) as opposed to “functional” or “mechanical” (which means there’s nothing wrong with the vertebrae but the musculature of the back is pulling/twisting the spine out of whack).  I went to a physical therapist about 13 years later for a back injury and, as part of an overall back health regimen, he showed me a standing rhomboid stretch which takes two people to execute.  It felt like a million dollars every time we did the 2-person rhomboid stretch.  After weeks of trying to mimic the stretch at home by myself, I attended a yoga class which put me in a posture similar to this stretch.  After some toying around a bit I came up with this stretch.  I did it multiple times a day for three weeks and I kid you not, the next time I went to see my physical therapist, he did a routine check of the “c-curve” in my spine and practically feinted.  He whipped out a black marker and started marking the skin over my spinous processes and showed me my back in a mirror.  The c-curve had almost completely resolved (straightened out).  Turns out it was functional after all.

References

  1. Whiting, William C., and Zernicke, Ronald F.  Biomechanics of Musculoskeletal Injury. p.120, 2008 (2nd ed.) (discussing skeletal muscle adaptation).
  2. Rhomboid major muscle @ wikipedia.org & exrx.net
  3. Shoulder Savers Part 1 & Part 2 @ t-nation.com
  4. Hugging Stretch @ exrx.net

*There is a dearth of information relating to the rhomboids on the internet.


Last Updated: 2/13/2009
Originally Posted: 4/7/2008