A Cool Dan John Inspired Exercise For the Rhomboids

Posted on by Ben Bruno

First things first: bigtime congrats to the Bruins! When it comes to hockey, I’m as big of fair-weather fan as there is, but whatever. It’s grown on me a lot over the last six months, and regardless, it’s always sweet when the hometown team pulls it out. Good times.


The real purpose of this post is to share a great exercise that I have been using and liking quite a bit. The exercise is inverted row isometric holds. This is not a new exercise by any stretch, but I got the inspiration for it from Dan John after reading talk about the “Batwing” in his articles called Things That Are Good For You and Reawaken Your Rhomboids. The Batwing is essentially an isometric hold where you lie with your chest on a bench, row up, and hold it at the top. It’s very simple, but it works wonder for strengthening and developing the rhomboids, which often get neglected either because people skip rows all-together in their programming, or, if they do in fact do them, they often do them incorrectly and fail to get proper scapula retraction to finish the reps. Using the isometric hold helps ensure you do the exercise properly, in turn working the muscles that are meant to be worked.

If you have followed my writing for any period of time, then you know that I’m a HUGE fan of inverted rows. With that in mind, I took the idea of the Batwing and applied it to inverted rows. I guess you could call it a “Bodyweight Batwing.” The idea is the same. Row up, pull your elbows back as far as you can and squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. Elbows should be tucked close into your body and you should be thinking “chest up.” Once you are in that position and your upper back feels like it’s on fire, hold it. Be sure to keep your body as straight as an arrow (said with Forrest Gump voice), which means you’ll have to think about squeezing your glutes. I like the bodyweight version a little better than the bench version because it gives you some good work at the same time as you’re working the upper back.

After some experimenting, I am going with 30 second holds. There is really no magic in that number, but it seems to work well for me so far. I do them after a few sets of regular inverted rows as a sort of “finisher.” I find that anything over 30ish seconds becomes more of a forearm exercise and my grip becomes the limiting factor, not my rhomboids. Once I get 30 seconds with my own bodyweight, I add weight and go for 30 seconds again. It’s always really easy to regress. If having your feet elevated is too difficult at first, just put them on the floor and shorten the straps a bit.

It really helps to have a partner to help count down the time, but it’s not essential. You could also get competitive with yourself and just hold for as long as possible and try to beat your previous time. Honestly, the details of how long to hold for isn’t all that important. The important thing is just that you do the exercise and learn to activate those rhomboids. Doing so will pay dividends of all other rowing variations as well and you will get more out of them.

Here is what it looks like in action. If you do not have a weight vest like I do in the video, put a plate on your chest.

Also, be sure to refer to my recommendation for Dan John’s book HERE because it is full of cool tips like this one. I find myself referring back to it often.

Please also remember to subscribe to my You Tube channel. I’ve got 5-6 videos I need to upload, and they should be up shortly.

Take care, and finish the week strong.

  • Scott Brady

    Excellent work Ben. I'm a big Dan John fan and have recently added the Batwings to my training. Your variation looks great as I also enjoy inverted rows. So it's win-win 🙂

    Cheers

    Scott

  • Anonymous

    IMO, you should lighten your resistance so at least your knuckles are pulled back to your chest. Dan John heavily emphasizes doing these to improve t-spine mobility (which won't happen without pulling as far back as possible) and that going light enough to do that is key.

  • Ben Bruno

    Scott- Thanks man. Let me know how you like them!

    Anonymous- Thanks for the thought. I completely agree with you. I am wearing 2 weighted vests and one of them is about 2 inches thick so I actually am pulling all the way back.

  • Andrew_s

    Ben, you blog is just killer. I come back to it multiple times during the week to try and get through most of your, and the linked content.

    If you're ever in need of content ideas, post up a Ben Bruno basic routine. I like taking your ideas (or maybe the mindset is a better way of putting it) and using them in my own training, but routines seem to be popular and maybe it could bring even more attention to your work. Take care!

  • Anonymous

    Love to add these as a finisher after a few sets of inverted rows! I agree with Andrew…. A cool routine would be very helpful! Thanks for the great content!