May 05, 2022
The muscles of the middle back are as important as it gets. It's absolutely vital that you have a strong mid-back. It's a game changer for everyone, but especially lifters. A strong mid-back will ensure that your scapula and shoulders are safe and stable during bench press, that your able to handle heavy loads with good form during squats and deadlifts, and that you can pull some serious weight, which will give all your other back muscles a boost in size and strength. Plus, having a thick mid-back is a sign of a serious lifter. It makes for an impressive look. But, before you get too excited and head to the gym to build your mid-back, take some time to learn about middle back exercises. This is exactly what we are about to cover...
When referring to the middle back, we mean the muscles in-between your shoulder blades. These muscles are your rhomboid major and minor, and your middle and lower trapezius (traps!). They are involved with shoulder and scapula movement and their strength and flexibility will ensure that your shoulders and upper back remain strong and healthy.
Rhomboids: The rhomboids are two superficial muscles that are located between the shoulder blades, and they are called rhomboid minor and rhomboid major. The rhomboid major originates from the thoracic spine vertebrae T2-T5 and inserts on the medial border of the scapula. The rhomboid minor originates from spinous processes of vertebrae (Cervical) C7- (Thoracic) T1 and inserts medially on the spine of the scapula.
The major functions of the rhomboid major and minor are:
Middle And Lower Trapezius: The traps are a large flat triangular muscle that is located on both sides of the back and is broken up into the upper, middle, and lower fibers. For the middle back, we’re focusing on the middle and lower muscle fibers. The middle fibers of the traps, originate from the spinous process of the seventh cervical on both sides of the neck and T1-T3 of the thoracic vertebrae. They insert on the medial spine of the scapula. The lower traps originate from spinous processes and supraspinous ligaments of thoracic vertebrae T4-T12, and they insert on the medial end of the scapular spine.
The major functions of the middle and lower traps are
As you’ve probably noticed, the middle and lower traps share similar functions to the rhomboid’s muscles.
It should be noted that since the traps are a much bigger muscle, they overlie most of the rhomboids, but that doesn't mean the rhomboids are any less important. Luckily, since they share much of the same biomechanical responsibilities, the middle back exercises we have for you will work both.
Yes, when the middle back is developed it looks amazing and will give you a great-looking back and even shoulders. But beyond aesthetic benefits, there are some very important reasons why you should train the middle back, some of which we've already touched on at the beginning.
1) IMPROVED BIG 3
When the middle back is strong, mobile, and engaged it plays a role in keeping the spine neutral during squats and deadlifts. It keeps the squat from turning into a good morning and it keeps the barbell close to you when you pull.
As for the bench press, you'll need to engage your middle back to ensure a better bar path and shoulder safety. If you've ever benched, then you know the main cue - "keep your shoulders down and back" - this is the job of your middle back. Without a strong mid-back, forget about lifting heavy and be careful of your shoulder joint.
2) BETTER POSTURE
Today you sit more, move less, and spend a lot of time looking down at screens. This obviously isn’t great for your posture. It can cause a forward head and rounded shoulder posture and the middle back becomes weak and stretched. Not a big deal you think, then consider this...
For every inch your ears are forward from your shoulders, you increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds (1) This can lead to the muscles of the middle back becoming weaker and weaker, and if you don’t do anything about it, shoulder and back injuries can occur.
3) STRONGER PULLS
Of course, with a strong mid back comes the ability to pull greater loads. You'll be able to maximize hypertrophy of all your other back muscles and stop compensating by using your arms so much. Think lifts like bent over rows, t-bar rows, single arm dumbbell rows.
Besides a complete lack of training, the four most common reasons people have a weak middle back, or at the very least it is not up to their fullest potential, are:
Now we’ve established the middle back is important for vanity, health, and performance, here are 9 great exercises to train this important region of your body.
Note: We've purposely selected these exercises as they change up training variables to that you can hit the muscles with different stimulus. This will lead to better muscle and strength development. You don't need to do all of them in one session, but over time, mix them in.
If you were only to do one exercise on this list the barbell bent-over row would be it. It's the king of rows. This exercise strengthens the upper and middle back, grip, biceps, and posterior delts. Plus, being in the hinge position for time improves your posterior endurance (hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae), making it a great exercise for crushing your deadlift PRs.
How to do the Bent Over Barbell Row:
Note: You can use a variety of grips and hand positions for the barbell bent over row.
Best rep range: 6-12 (moderately-heavy loads - it is NOT a 1RM-type of exercise, but you can go heavy)
The seal row is a rowing variation where you lay face down on an elevated workout bench and hold a barbell or dumbbells with both hands. Your body is sort of positioned like a seal, hence the name. This position takes most of the momentum out of the lift, so your middle back is doing most of the heavy lifting. There is a temptation to go too heavy with rows and let body English take over and this trains more biceps and less rhomboids, seal row solves this issue.
How to do the Seal Row:
Best rep range: 8-12 (moderate load)
The Meadows row is a more advanced single-arm row variation. It was created by the brainchild of bodybuilding, John Meadows. This variation allows you to go hard and heavy to strengthen imbalances between sides and add slabs of muscle on your forearms, biceps, and middle back. The Meadows row trains the hard-to-reach lower traps for more even back development.
How to do the Meadows Row:
Best rep range: 6-12 (moderate to heavy loads)
With the chest-supported row, you have the option of using chest supported row machine or a cable machine with an incline bench (you'll sit facing the back rest). Both are good. The premise is the same no matter which variation you use, your chest stays glued to the pad as you pull. Limiting assistance and momentum allows you to focus on your middle back muscles for more size and strength. The advantage of using a cable machine with an adjustable weight bench is you have the potential to train the back from a variety of angles for better muscle development (you can set the cable pulley at different heights).
Note: You can also use dumbbells with an adjustable bench for chest supported rows.
How to do the Chest Supported Row:
Best rep range: 8-15 (moderate to heavy load)
Here's another single arm row with a bit of originality. The set up is similar to the regular single arm dumbbell row, the only difference is you are using some body English, or in other words, you can cheat a bit by using some momentum. However, when doing Kroc rows, you need to go heavy and high reps, that's the point of using the momentum rather than strict form and this is what makes the Kroc row so special.
How to do the Kroc Row:
Best rep range: 8+ (go high, but towards your later sets, it's ok if you don't get so many reps, especially if you are increasing the load).
The Yates row is like the bent over row but you'll be less bent over and you'll be using an underhand grip. Essentially, your upper body will be positioned about halfway between fully vertical and fully horizontal. What makes the Yates row special is that you can lift heavier and harder. It's a great all around back exercise, and it'll hit your mid traps and rhomboids for a different angle than the other exercises here.
How to do the Yates Row:
Best rep range: 6-15 reps (heavy)
All unilateral dumbbell rows are great at ironing out strength imbalances and the dead stop row is no different. With the dead stop row, you’re pausing on the floor which does two things. One, it gives your grip a break allowing you to do more reps. Second, the pause takes the stretch reflex away from the muscle making the concentric contraction more difficult. Plus, you’re lifting through a greater range of motion making this a unilateral row one of the best.
How to do the Unilateral Dead Stop Row:
Best rep range: 8-16 (moderate to heavy load)
You might have just thought "isn't this a lat exercise?" Well yes, you're right, but actually your lats are part of your mid back technically (it's the largest muscle of your back) AND this exercise hits your lower traps very effectively. Again, remember our point about hitting the middle back from different angles - this is another prime example. As for the half-kneeling position, it'll open up your hip flexors and strengthen your glutes and core too, just for a little more bang for your buck. When you’re rowing from a half-kneeling position it gives you instant feedback on your form because any use of momentum or technical flaw will result in a loss of balance. Plus, you can vary your grip to change the angle of your pull for better muscle development.
How to do the Half-Kneeling Lat Pulldown:
Best rep range: 8-16 (light to moderate load)
No knock on the barbell inverted row but it does lock your grip into an overhand or underhand position. This is okay if you have no elbow issues but if you do the TRX row is a great option. You can go over, under, or neutral grip to change the angle at which you train the middle back. Plus, the TRXs instability trains the muscles even harder as they have to work harder to keep you in position.
How to do the TRX Inverted Row
Best rep range: 8-16
It’s important to warm up any body part before training and the middle back is no different. By getting blood flow there, your body will ready for the work ahead and it ensures better exercise positions and shoulder/scapula mobility.
Foam rolling in this area is a great start to drive blood flow to the area and work out some sore or tight areas. Then performing a few low-intensity scapula-based exercises, like face pulls, band pull-aparts and wall slides, will have your middle back ready to roll.
Training the muscles of the middle back ensures your shoulders stay healthy, your lifts stay strong, and your posture stays proper. Not to mention, your back will look amazing in a form-fitting shirt.
Related: Best Upper Back Exercises
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