Because our larger, stronger muscles predominantly are engaged whenever we work the back, the traps (which are part of the back complex), in particular the upper region, may not receive the specific stimulus needed to fully grow. Thus, they must be prioritized with movements best suited to their full recruitment. Like other muscle groupings, the traps, as part of the back complex, do not work exclusively in isolation, nor can the separate trapezius areas be strictly isolated with specific movements; however, there are ways we can emphasize the recruitment of the upper, middle and lower traps to reveal as much detail as possible in each. First up, keep drilling heavy, basic movements such as the bent over barbell row, deadlift and weighted chin-up
: these incorporate the entire trapezius and are essential for complete traps development (as are similarly systemic exercises such as the squat and bench press, but to a lesser extent). However, though effective, a solid regime of mass building movements will flesh out the traps only so much.
Top 4 Trapezius Movements
Probably the best traps movement of all time, the dumbbell shrug, when properly performed, targets the entire traps, from the upper to lower regions. Be sure to keep the elbows behind the body, rather than to the front, to work all three sections of the trapezius. To perform, shrug dumbbells as high as possible as if to touch shoulders to earlobes, squeeze hard at the top, and slowly lower, feeling the negative all the way down.
Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs
An excellent all-round trap builder (and a favorite of eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney), this movement builds complete trapezius size and shape. To perform, grasp a barbell with an overhand grip from behind the back (rest bar on bench and bend at the knees until bar can be grabbed). Move bar further back a fraction to avoid contacting the backside and pull bar as high as possible without bending the arms. Squeeze at top and slowly lower to starting position.
Close Grip Barbell Upright Rows
Adopting a close grip and keeping upper arms parallel to the ground, pull trap bar to nose-level and forcefully contract the traps, before lowering bar to starting position. This movement hits the upper traps and the hard to reach frontal trap area above the clavicle region.
Wide Grip Dumbbell Upright Rows
Another upper trap builder, this movement allows for a greater range of motion on the upward phase. Not employed specifically to target the upper traps, as is the close grip barbell version, it nevertheless puts tremendous pressure on this area and the middle trapezius region. Begin with dumbbells at your sides with palms facing back, pull weights to just below the front deltoid region
, and squeeze traps. Slowly lower to starting position stand with your feet, shrug your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades. Note:
with all traps movements, maintain the momentum, in a controlled fashion, from the beginning of the set to the end. No swinging and no resting at the bottom of the movement (though a slight squeeze and pause is to be achieved at the top). If the weight you are using forces you to rest at the bottom, drop down to lighter dumbbells and continue the rack pul until the prescribed rep range is achieved.
When to Train Traps
Trapezius training features in both shoulder and back training sessions. For my money, because the traps are part of the back, they should be trained with the back so as to avoid potentially overtraining this area (if we work traps with shoulders and train shoulders and back twice weekly, our traps are effectively hammered four times per week). Also, training trap bar exercises with back we may lift heavier on all traps movements, and avoid shoulder joint injury, because the spinal area will be better lubricated and adequately warmed from the preceding back work.
ARE SHRUGS THE BEST EXERCISE FOR BUILDING LARGE TRAPS?
12 Week Trap Building Program
For the purposes of the specialized traps training program to follow, the traps will be worked once a week with back and additionally in their own separate workout. s/w = super set with
Monday: Back & Traps
Schedule traps first in this workout and pick a back training regimen of your choosing (but, if possible, be sure to include deadlifts and chins ups, which work all major back muscles as well as significantly targeting the traps).
- Dumbbell Shrugs s/w Wide Grip Barbell Rows – 3 x 8-12
- Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs – 3 x 8-12
- Biceps/Triceps/Forearms – Exercises of choice
Wednesday: Chest & Shoulders
- Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs s/w Dumbbell Upright Rows – 4 x 8-12
- Dumbbell Shrugs – 3 Drop Sets x 8-12
- Wide Grip Upright Rows – 3 x 8-12