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The trapezius, deltoid and rhomboid muscles all have attachments onto your shoulder blades. Although each muscle has a specific function, they work cooperatively to move and stabilize your shoulders and arms. Compound exercises such as shoulder presses and rows strengthen several of these muscles at once, and isolation exercises such shrugs and lateral raises have a more targeted effect.
Running from your spine to your collarbones and shoulder blades, the trapezius, or trap, muscles cover your upper back and neck. The trapezius consists of three sections, each with a different function. The upper traps lift your shoulders toward your ears. Exercises such as shrugs and upward rows strengthen the upper traps. The middle traps draw your shoulder blades toward your spine, while the lower traps pull your shoulder blades both down and in. Rowing exercises, such as bent rows and seated cable rows, target the middle and lower traps. Because the upper and lower traps also work together to help lift your arms overhead, you can work both sections of the muscle with shoulder presses.
Covering your outer shoulder, the deltoids run from your collarbones and shoulder blades to your upper arm bones. Like the trapezius, the deltoid also consists of three sections. The front, or anterior, deltoid lifts your arm forward. The middle deltoid raises your arm out to the side, while the rear, or posterior, deltoid lifts your arm backward. Pushups, bench presses, shoulder presses and front raises all work the anterior deltoids. Lateral raises strengthen the middle deltoids, while bent-over lateral raises target the posterior deltoids.
The rhomboid muscles run from the spine of your upper back and lower neck to the inner edges of your shoulder blades. Their function is to draw the shoulder blades toward the spine. Rowing exercises target the rhomboids, along with the middle and lower traps. Squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end of the rowing movement will emphasize the rhomboid contraction. You can perform rows seated, using a cable machine, standing as in barbell bent-over rows or kneeling on a bench, using a dumbbell.
Planning Your Workout
The American College of Sports Medicine, or ACSM, recommends two to three strength training workouts per week for each major muscle group. Start your workout with a warm-up incorporating light, dynamic movements. To build strength, ACSM suggests performing two to three sets of each exercise, with eight to 12 repetitions per set. Beginners should start with light weights. Rest two to three minutes between sets, and allow at least 48 hours for recovery between workouts.