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The latissimus dorsi, trapezius and rhomboids are among the main muscles of the back. The lats and traps are large muscles that can be seen superficially, or from the outside. The rhomboids are much smaller muscles that cannot be seen superficially and are thus called deep muscles. All of these back muscles can be strengthened with the use of free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells.
The latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle of the upper body. This wing-shaped muscle originates at the ilium bone of the hip and attaches to the sacral bone of the spine and the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae of the spine. It inserts at the humerus bone of the arm. The lats mainly function to adduct, or retract, the shoulder and to extend the shoulder. The most effective exercises for this muscle are the weighted pullup, the lying dumbbell pullover, the bent-over barbell row and the bent-over dumbbell row.
The trapezius is a triangular-shaped muscle group comprising three muscles: superior trapezius, intermediate trapezius and inferior trapezius. The superior, or upper trapezius originates at the back of the skull and inserts at the clavicle, or collarbone. This muscle primarily acts to elevate the scapula. It is best targeted with the standing barbell shrug and the standing dumbbell shrug. The intermediate, or middle trapezius originates at the cervical and thoracic vertebrae and inserts at the acromion and spine of the scapula. The inferior, or lower trapezius originates at the thoracic vertebrae and the spine of the scapula. Both the intermediate and inferior trapezius primarily act to adduct the scapula. These muscles are best targeted with the bent-over barbell scapula retraction, the bent-over barbell row and the bent-over dumbbell row.
The rhomboids are a muscle group consisting of an upper part, the rhomboid minor, and a lower part, the rhomboid major. Both muscles originate at the cervical and thoracic vertebrae and insert at the scapula. The rhomboid muscles mainly function to adduct the scapula. Therefore, the same arm rowing and scapula retraction exercises that target the middle and lower trapezius also target the rhomboids.
Sets and Repetitions
It is recommended to perform three sets of six to eight repetitions per each back exercise for strength-increasing purposes. Do the repetitions using the maximum amount of weight that allows for the aforementioned number of reps. This means that you should go to muscular failure, or close to it, during each set.