The teres major muscle is a small muscle that runs along the lateral side of the scapula. The teres minor muscle lies above the teres major and is one of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff.
Together, these muscles are responsible for many movements, including shoulder adduction, extension, medial and external rotation, and stabilization of the shoulder joint.
If you'd like to improve your shoulder joint stability and upper body performance, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to the best teres major and minor exercises from a personal trainer for improving strength and mobility.
Table of Contents
- 13 Best Teres Major And Teres Minor Exercises
- Anatomy Of The Teres Major And Minor
- Benefits Of Training These Muscles
- Frequently Asked Teres Major & Minor Questions
13 Best Teres Major And Teres Minor Exercises
1. Dumbbell Pullover
Dumbell pullovers are a great complement to your upper body exercises and an excellent teres major workout. Also known as a lying pullover or a chest pullover, this exercise will build your chest and lats.
The lats work together with the teres major as well as the pecs to perform the movement. Be sure to start with a lighter weight and gradually add weight as your strength improves.
How To Do A Dumbbell Pullover:
- 1Rest your upper back on a bench or stability ball. Ensure that your shoulder blades and neck are supported by the bench and that your feet are flat on the floor
- 2With the dumbbells touching, extend your arms out toward the ceiling and engage your core. This is your starting position.
- 3Slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears.
- 4Pause at the top of the rep before bringing your arms back to starting position.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
2. Inverted Row
If you’re looking for bodyweight exercises to target teres major and teres minor muscles, this is the ideal solution!
Also known as Australian pull-ups, this exercise is extremely versatile. They don’t require much space to perform and can even be performed using household items.
Whether it’s using a barbell in a low squat rack or a TRX system, you can even use a broomstick set up between two chairs.
Aside from the teres major and teres minor, this exercise targets all of the back muscles. These include the latissimus dorsi, middle and lower traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus, and posterior deltoids.
How To Do An Inverted Row:
- 1Standing beside your setup, set the bar height above the height of your waist.
- 2Lie beneath the bar with your legs stretched out.
- 3Reach up and hold the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- 4Engaging your core and glutes, retract your shoulders.
- 5Pull yourself up, bringing your chest toward the bar.
- 6Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. Avoid sagging your hips.
- 7Pause at the top of the rep before slowly lowering yourself to the starting position.
- 8Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
3. Pull Ups
The teres muscles both play an important role when doing a pull-up. Although both muscles work together with the infraspinatus to perform the pull-up, a neutral grip pull-up will focus more on the teres major, while a wide grip works the teres minor more.
How To Do Pull Ups:
- 1Starting with your arms straight, position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold the bar with an overhand grip.
- 2Pull your body up, squeezing your lats until your chin is above the bar.
- 3Pause at the top of the rep before slowly lowering yourself to the starting position.
- 4Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Read Also - Pull Ups Vs Lat Pulldowns
4. Chin Ups
Chin-ups are a great exercise for shoulder health. Compared to pull-ups, the palms-up grip of chin-ups puts the shoulder in a more comfortable position of external rotation.
The benefits of doing chin-ups include improving your strength and definition of the upper arms.
More specifically, your biceps, posterior delts, teres major, and lats. In addition, you'll improve your grip strength too.
How To Do Chin Ups:
- 1Starting with your arms straight, position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold the bar with an underhand grip.
- 2Engaging your core and upper back, retract your shoulders.
- 3Pull your body up until your chin is above the bar.
- 4Pause at the top of the rep before you slowly lower yourself to the starting position
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
5. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
If you’re looking to do more teres major exercises with dumbbells, this one is a great choice!
Primarily targeting the traps, rhomboids, teres major, and the lats - the dumbbell row is a simple yet powerful exercise for growing your back muscles.
When doing this exercise, it’s important to avoid pulling with your bicep. Instead, focus on using your back (lats and rhomboids) more.
How To A Single Arm Dumbbell Row:
- 1Using a neutral grip, hold a dumbbell in your right hand.
- 2Position your left knee and left hand on a flat exercise bench. Your left elbow should be straight, and ensure that your left shoulder is adequately supporting your left arm.
- 3With the right hand extended, brace your core and retract your shoulders.
- 4Pull the dumbbell towards your hip before lowering it back to the starting position.
- 5Repeat for the desired amount of reps before you switch arms.
- 6Aim for 4 sets of 8-12 reps (2 sets per side).
Related Article - 14 Most Effective Dumbbell Back Exercises
6. Lat Pull Downs
Some of the largest and strongest muscles in the human body are found on your back. Commonly referred to as your lats, the latissimus dorsi muscle is the biggest muscle in the upper body.
If you want more teres minor exercises, compound exercises like lat pull downs will target both the teres major and teres minor muscles. This will help give you the width of your upper back, below your armpits.
To target specific muscle groups when doing lat exercises, switch your grip between a wide, narrow, underhand, or overhand grip. A close grip will focus more on the forearms, whereas a wide grip engages the back muscles more.
Additionally, opting for an underhand grip will activate the lower lats more, while an overhand grip will target the upper lats.
How To Do Lat Pull Downs:
- 1With a wide grip, grasp the bar attachment of a cable machine and sit down facing the machine.
- 2Lean back slightly and retract your shoulder blades.
- 3Pull the bar down to your collar bone, squeezing your lats at the bottom of the rep.
- 4Avoid leaning forward as you allow your arms to return to the starting position.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
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7. Rear Deltoid Fly
For more teres minor exercises, we have the rear deltoid fly. Although this is a teres minor workout, the rear deltoid flys also work the teres major.
This exercise can be done standing in a bent-over position or on an incline bench with your upper body against the chest pad. You'll want to opt for a lighter weight for this exercise, focusing more on correct form.
How To Do A Rear Deltoid Fly:
- 1Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- 2While keeping your spine in a neutral position, hinge your torso forward. Your arms should be extended out in front of you, with a slight bend in your elbows and your palms facing each other.
- 3Squeeze your posterior deltoids to begin the upward action, bringing your arms out laterally.
- 4Bring your arms back to the starting position, repeating the movement before your hands meet.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
More Workout Options - Best Rear Delt Dumbbell Exercises
8. Face Pulls
If you’re looking for exercises to improve posture, face pulls are one of the best. Face pulls primarily target the rear delts, rhomboids, as well as your external rotators (your infraspinatus and teres minor muscles).
This exercise can be used either as a warmup exercise for tight muscles or as part of a back or shoulder routine.
To get the most out of the exercise, use a lighter weight and focus on form. Concentrate on drawing your shoulders back and together.
How To Do Face Pulls:
- 1Using the rope attachment on a cable machine, set the pulley to just above head height.
- 2Hold the attachment and take a few steps back.
- 3Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
- 4Ensure that your elbows remain higher than your wrists throughout the movement.
- 5Retract your shoulders and pull the rope towards your face. Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the rep.
- 6Return to the starting position to complete the rep.
- 7Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Related Article - 11 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises
9. Bent Over Rows
No more wondering how to workout teres major with this exercise! Bent over rows is an essential exercise for training your back.
Along with your teres muscles, you’ll also be working your lats, middle and lower traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids.
The bent-over row (also known as a barbell row) is a crucial exercise in most muscle-building routines.
You'll often see weightlifters doing bent-over rows as a carry-over exercise to improve their strength for the "big 3" (i.e., the barbell squat, bench press, and deadlift).
How To Do Bent Over Rows:
- 1Holding a barbell, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- 2Hinge forward to a 45-degree angle, keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent.
- 3Bring the bar up towards your abdomen, keeping your abs and glutes engaged through the movement.
- 4Pause at the top of the rep before slowly returning to starting position.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Related Article - Bent Over Barbell Row Vs Pendlay Row
10. Band Pull Aparts
If you're looking to improve shoulder stability, band pull-aparts are an excellent choice. This exercise helps to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, such as the infraspinatus and teres minor, which support the shoulder joint. It's also great for working the traps, rear delts, and rhomboids.
This exercise is suitable for beginners and experienced lifters alike, and can even be done in the comfort of your own home gym.
Additionally, the variation of an underhand grip allows you to place even more emphasis on the rotator cuff, which means you’ll be working the teres minor even more.
How To Do Band Pull Aparts:
- 1With an underhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart, hold a resistance band out in front of you at about chest height.
- 2Pull the band and extend your arms laterally, bringing the band toward your chest. Ensure that you are squeezing your shoulder blades throughout the movement.
- 3Slowly return to the starting position.
- 4Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
11. Seated Cable Rows
Major exercises for major muscles! Seated rows are one of the best all-rounder exercises for training your upper body. Aside from working the teres major, you’ll also be training the spinal erectors, middle and lower traps, rhomboids, and lats.
In addition to this, you’ll also work your posterior delts, infraspinatus, teres minor, biceps, and pecs!
Aside from the muscle-building benefits, seated cable rows offer an excellent carry-over to squats and deadlifts.
In addition, by strengthening your shoulders, you will improve your throwing ability too. Furthermore, the benefit of strengthening your lats means better injury prevention as well as back pain relief too!
How To Do Seated Cable Rows:
- 1Sitting on a seated cable row machine with your knees bent, extend your arms and grab hold of the handle.
- 2Maintaining a neutral spine, brace your core, and retract your shoulders.
- 3Bring the handles in toward your sternum, keeping your elbows close to your body through the movement.
- 4Pause for a moment before slowly extending your arms.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
12. Cable Straight Arm Pulldowns
In order to train your back muscles adequately, it's important to include plenty of variation within your workout.
Although this exercise will predominantly work the lats, you'll also work your posterior delts, triceps, rhomboids, and teres major muscles.
When performing cable straight arm pulldowns, the focus should be on performing the full range of motion rather than the weight used.
How To Do Cable Straight Arm Pulldowns:
- 1Using a straight bar attachment, stand facing the cable machine.
- 2With an overhand grip, position the bar at shoulder height to start the exercise.
- 3Keeping your elbows slightly bent, bring the bar down to your hips.
- 4Maintaining tension, return your arms back to shoulder height.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
13. Side Lying Shoulder External Rotation
This shoulder external rotation exercise is ideal for anyone wanting to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and teres minor), as well as those looking to rehab an injury of your shoulder muscles.
This includes issues such as shoulder impingement, a rotator cuff tear or tendinitis, dynamic shoulder instability, labral tear, a SLAP tear, as well as posterior capsule impingement.
How To Do A Side Lying Shoulder External Rotation:
- 1Using a light weight, lie on your side, holding the weight in your top hand, and place a towel under the same arm.
- 2Keeping your elbow in line with your shoulder, bend your elbow to 90 degrees, and position your hand against your abdomen.
- 3Slowly lift your arm, keeping your elbow pinned to your side as high as possible.
- 4Pause at the top of the movement for 3 seconds before bringing your arm back down.
- 5Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Anatomy Of The Teres Major And Minor
Despite sounding similar, the teres muscles each attach at different locations on the humerus (the upper arm bone).
This means that they each have their own functions. Let’s take a closer look at these two muscles and how we use them in everyday life.
Teres Major Muscle Explained
The teres major is a small but thick muscle located below the teres minor. It starts on the lateral border of the scapula, passes through the armpit, and ends on the front of the humerus.
The teres major function is essentially to support the latissimus dorsi muscle. Since all three actions of the teres major are to assist the lats, some refer to it as the "lats' little helper."
The three actions of the teres major muscle are to:
These three actions are used daily for tasks like lifting and carrying objects, opening doors, or even climbing.
Since we use this muscle so much, there are a number of routine tasks or movements that can cause teres major pain.
Repetitive movements like using a computer mouse for hours at a time with your hand and arm rotated slightly inward is one very common cause. Additionally, activities like prolonged writing sessions can cause the teres major to shorten.
When this happens, there is often a domino effect that causes numerous issues to form as a result of this. This includes increased strain on other muscles as well as a weakening of the shoulder joint.
Pain in the middle back, shoulders, and neck are commonly experienced when the teres major muscle shortens. People often become aware of teres major pain when reaching above shoulder level.
Teres Minor Muscle Explained
The teres minor is an even smaller muscle located above the teres major. It also starts on the scapula but goes directly from the scapula to the greater tubercle of the humerus.
It's one of the four muscles that make up your rotator cuff, and the teres minor function is to stabilize the humeral head in the socket of the shoulder joint when the shoulder moves.
The three actions of the teres minor muscle are:
These three actions are used every day for tasks like pulling and throwing objects, or any arm swinging movements. Additionally, the teres minor eases the free fall of the arm after the overhead task has been performed.
Just like with the teres major, certain repetitive movements commonly cause pain and inflammation. With the teres minor, these are generally overhead movements like throwing a ball or doing pull-ups.
Since the teres minor forms part of the rotator cuff, the other muscles involved ( the subscapularis, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus) are also susceptible to developing shoulder impingement syndrome (also called rotator cuff tendinitis).
People often become aware of teres minor pain when raising their arms above shoulder level. Additionally, an audible clicking sound can sometimes be heard.
Benefits Of Training These Muscles
Helps Stabilize the Glenohumeral Joint
Since the teres minor forms part of the rotator cuff muscle, its function is to help stabilize the glenohumeral joint. This ball-and-socket joint is commonly referred to as your "shoulder joint."
The teres minor helps to keep the humeral head (the ball) in the glenoid cavity (which is the socket).
Additionally, the teres major also assists in keeping the shoulder joint stable. Put simply, the teres minor and major help to prevent the shoulder from dislocating.
In today’s modern world, with desk jobs and frequent smartphone use, rounded shoulders are a popular appearance.
While the best way to improve your posture is to focus on the muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis, strengthening the supporting/ stabilizing muscles is important too.
By training smaller muscles like your teres major and teres minor muscles, you can help reduce rounded shoulders and improve your overall posture.
The teres major muscles are often referred to as the lats’ little helper since it works together with the latissimus dorsi muscle. If you want a wider back, focusing on the teres major can help you achieve this and improve your overall physique.
May Reduce Neck Pain
One of the most prevalent musculoskeletal conditions is neck pain. In 2016, neck pain accounted for the highest health care spending in the United States.
While there are several different causes, experiencing neck pain can interfere with your day-to-day activities as well as your sleep. In addition, poor sleep quality can further impact your productivity the following day.
Since training your teres major and teres minor muscles can improve your posture, as mentioned above, this can help to reduce neck pain and lower your risk of developing it in the future.
Frequently Asked Teres Major & Minor Questions
What is teres major myofascial release?
Myofascial release, also called trigger point therapy, is a form of physical therapy. Teres major and back muscle myofascial release specifically looks at relieving pain within the teres major muscle.
Performed either standing or lying down, the therapy involves placing a massage/ lacrosse ball under your rotator cuff towards your armpit, on the outside of your shoulder blade. From there, you’ll use your body weight to drive the ball into the muscle and release the tension/ trigger points.
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What is teres minor trigger point release?
Just like with teres major myofascial release, teres minor trigger point release is also referred to as myofascial release or trigger point therapy. It’s a form of physical therapy that relieves pain within the teres minor muscle.
Since the teres minor is situated above the teres major, you’ll position a massage/ lacrosse ball on the outer edge/border of your shoulder blade. Slightly above where you would for the teres major muscle.
What are the best stretches for the teres major and teres minor?
Stretching should be a part of every workout routine to prevent pain or shoulder injury. Since we use our arms every day, stretching the teres major and teres minor muscles are crucial.
For stretching the teres major, you can perform a dead hang, overhead side stretch, or standing elbow wall stretch. For stretching the teres minor, a crossbody stretch, winged door stretch, or sleeper’s stretch will work well.
Related Article - Why Is Stretching So Important?
What does a torn teres major feel like?
An acute pain that suddenly develops in the armpit, upper arm, and shoulder is a common sign of a teres major tear. The pain is typically dull and gets worse with activities that involve retracting your shoulder and moving your hand behind your back (such as reaching for something in your back pocket).
How do you rehab teres major?
Physical therapy is the best way to rehab an injured teres major. However, the specific exercises for teres major and minor rehab will largely depend on your type of injury and pain. It’s important to speak to your physician for treatment that best suits your condition.
That wraps up our guide to the best teres major and minor exercises. Training these muscles helps to improve the strength and mobility of your shoulders.
Working these muscles is essential for enhancing your performance and reducing your risk of injury when performing other exercises.
Now that you know the basics of the teres major and minor muscles, the benefits, and the best exercises to target these muscles - you’ll be able to build bigger shoulders in no time!
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Last Updated on December 18, 2022