You want a stronger upper body? Make sure to train the front and back side of your upper body. Most people know how to train the front side. Do bench presses, overhead presses, dips, and push-ups. But training the backside of the upper body can get pushed back because most people want a bigger chest and heavier bench press. However, in order to really develop a well sculpted upper body you need some muscle mass around your shoulder blades.
The upper back muscles are comprised of the trapezius muscles, rotator cuff muscles, and rhomboids. The lats can still be considered in this boat but most people train the lats from doing pull ups, heavy rows, and deadlifts. I’m more concerned with directly isolating the muscles around the shoulder blade.
Why should you train these muscles?
Stability and Strength
Stability for the shoulder blade is essential for pressing exercises. A stronger upper back holds the shoulder blade in a better position during the bench press when they need to stay locked in against the bench. The shoulder blade needs to stay stable during heavy deadlifts and olympic lifts. Shoulder blade stability even helps hold the upper body in a better position during back squats.
Having trouble with your posture? Most of us do. From sitting and driving so much we tend to hunch forward and let the shoulder blades rotate forward. Pulling your shoulder blades back into perfect posture feels taxing. Training the shoulder blades correctly can help pull them back into a better position.
This exercise is mostly thrown in on a typical back workout. And yes, this exercise is great for the lats but can also train the upper back. To make this exercise more potent try going lighter than usual and pausing at the top. Pull the dumbbell into the ribcage and hold it there while trying to retract the shoulder blade. Slowly lower the dumbbell and make the eccentric difficult.
One of my favorite exercises to train the muscles of the shoulder blades is the band pull-apart. This strengthens the external rotators of the rotator cuff, the traps, and the rhomboids. These muscles need to be trained to counteract all the pressing we do including bench, overhead presses, and dips. The muscles responsible for retracting the shoulder blade into a good position will help with better posture and stability. Banded pull-aparts can strengthen those muscles and also give an awareness of a better shoulder position. These can be done with a higher volume of 15-30+ reps for multiple sets. Aim to feel fatigue between the shoulder blades and the rear delts.
Horizontal pulling, like the dumbbell row, helps to counteract the horizontal pushing performed during bench pressing. As the dumbbell row focus more on the lats and middle traps, the banded face pull trains more of the upper traps and shoulders. I recommend pausing with your fists near your face and squeezing the shoulder blades together before slowly extending the arms out. Similar to the band pull-aparts you can do these at a higher volume of 15-30+ reps depending on the resistance. If you do these correctly you should feel a burning sensation in your shoulders, upper traps, and shoulder blades.
These exercises can be placed at the end of your workout after you’ve done the main lifts. They should be used as accessory lifts to help promote muscle growth around the shoulder blades.
Having a strong back and jacked shoulder blades will help with overall upper body development. Training the muscles of your shoulder blades creates a solid foundation for your arms to express power.