The trapezius muscles are rarely overlooked in the bodybuilding world, if anything, they are often overdeveloped as large traps are an important part of physique training. But among sports performers and the general public? The traps are seriously underrated.
While there are few advantages to building them other than aesthetics-based ones, they can still help you to improve your lifts in squats and deadlifts, and a strong trapezius can help to reduce the risk of neck injuries in contact sports.
The trapezius muscle is made up of three parts, the upper, middle, and lower trapezius and these muscles are responsible for the shrugging movement as well as tilting and turning your neck. The trapezius is also important for posture.
In this article we are going to look at five of the best trap exercises and help you to learn how to perform them.
Exercise #1 The Face Pull
The face pull is probably the best resistance warm-up exercise around, strengthening the rear delts, the trapezius, and rhomboids. While your traps are not the primary focus of this exercise (that would be the rear delts) they are still targeted, making the face pull an excellent choice for a warm-up before training them.
For this exercise you will need a cable station with a rope attachment. Set the cable station so that the rope is above head height. Grab a handle in each hand and walk backwards until the cable is taught. Pull the handles towards you so that the center of the rope is almost touching your face (hence the name).
You need to keep your elbows high throughout this movement, and if your elbows need to drop then the weight is too heavy, or your range of motion is not large enough yet. If this is the case then try lowering the weight, but you may just need to be patient if your ROM is not large enough. Performing this exercise regularly will help to improve ROM quite fast.
Exercise #2 Shrugs
The barbell shrug is one of the biggest trap building exercises there is, while many will say that the dumbbell shrug is superior, no trap exercise allows you to lift as much weight. Dumbbell shrugs are great though, so feel free to use them instead, the movement is the same except that you are able to use a neutral grip which allows for a better shrug.
Place a barbell on a rack, this is one of the few exercises where using lifting straps is a good idea because you are more concerned about lifting as much weight as possible rather than grip strength. So feel free to use them. Grab the bar using an overhand grip, use a modified deadlift position (chest out, shoulders back, and a slight hip hinge) to lift the weight off the rack, then walk back slightly so that you have enough space to shrug.
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your chest should be pushed out as you stand fully upright except for a very slight bend in your knees. Keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders up as high as you can and then hold this position at the top momentarily before lower the bar back down to the starting position.
Exercise #3 Farmer’s Carry
The farmer’s carry is one of the simplest exercises you will ever learn, but it can also be one of the most difficult to perform! All you are doing is walking in a straight line while holding a dumbbell in each hand, but the idea is to hold a very heavy weight.
Grab a dumbbell in each hand, make sure that they are very heavy so that you are struggling to hold them after 30 seconds or so. In an ideal world you would have a length of corridor to walk down, but in most gyms you may need to be prepared to walk around in a random direction.
Hold the weights by your side with your chest pushed out and your shoulders pinned back, this will ensure that your traps are doing the majority of the work. Walk at a medium pace with the weights by your side and chest pushed out, stop when your form has degraded from this.
Exercise #4 Dumbbell Upright Row
The upright row is one of the most controversial exercises on this list, and on any list really! The barbell version of this exercise is absolutely one to avoid as it can do damage to your shoulders rather than strengthening them. Luckily, the dumbbell upright row is perfectly safe, and a great trap exercise.
Grab a light pair of dumbbells and stand upright with them resting in front of your thighs. Lean forward very slightly and then pull the dumbbells up towards your armpits, raising your elbows. Pause when your elbows are in line with your shoulders and then lower the weights back down again.
Exercise #5 Rack Pulls
Rack pulls are a deadlift variation where the range of motion has been reduced. This can range from a small decrease in range of motion to a massive decrease.
For building traps, you want a large decrease in range of motion so that you can increase the weight quite a lot. Like the shrugs exercise, you can use straps for this exercise. In fact, the rack pull is identical in execution to shrugs except that instead of shrugging you just return the bar back to the start.
So, there you have it, five exercises that will help you to train your traps more. For hypertrophy you would want a mix of rep-ranges and loads. So, you could perform high rep, low weight shrugs in one session and low rep, heavy weight shrugs in another. Training the traps will also have an added benefit that your grip strength will increase as many exercises work both.
If you train on a body split (leg day, chest day, back day etc.) then you should add trap exercises to the shoulder or back sessions – shoulders would probably be preferable as there are less exercises that you need to fit into 45 minutes.