5 Exercises for Bigger and Stronger Traps

By Mike Dewar - BarBend.com | Sept. 30, 2019, 12 p.m. (ET)

The following piece comes from our Official Media Partners at BarBend.com.


Few things let bystanders and other lifters know that you lift like two slabs of muscle running up the upper back and neck. Aside from their aesthetics, the traps are also key muscles in many of the most demanding and tested movements within strength sports. In this article, we will discuss the traps and how you can increase the size and strength of these powerful muscles.

In this article we will discuss:

  • Common Trap Training Errors
  • Trap Training Techniques
  • 5 Exercises for Bigger Traps

Common Trap Training Errors

Below are a few common trap training errors that beginners and advanced lifters make that can decrease trap development and potentially add unwanted stress and damage to the body.

Using TOO Much Weight

Don’t be mistaken, you can lift high amounts of loading with the traps, however there is a big difference between using heavy loads with full range of motion and controlled repetitions versus ego-boosting shrugs. Many lifers will simply load the shrug with excessive amounts of loads for the sake of lifting it however they can, rather than emphasizing a strong contraction, a controlled eccentric phase, and a full range of motion.

Bigger Traps Exercises
Bigger Traps Exercises

Limiting Range of Motion

To maximize trap development, be sure to train through the entire range of motion. This means you may have to drop the loads and really emphasize feeling the muscle contraction and stretch both as you lower the loads (eccentric phase) and at the very top of the movement (terminal elevation).

Rolling Shoulders Forwards

Rolling the shoulders forwards every repetition (and then backwards) can create a great deal of stress on the shoulder joint. While many people choose to roll the shoulders forwards and backwards, this has little, if any impact on the trapezius muscle itself, and often takes loading off the muscle and transferring it to the joint.

Protracting Shoulders In Set Up

Protraction of the shoulder blades in the set up position often results from the lifter making sure the barbell is clear of the front of the hips. If this is the case, simply angle your torso forwards 10 degrees and bring your shoulder blades back into a neutral position. If you are protracted in the set up, the shoulders will often then roll forward as you elevate, resulting in the error discussed above.

Deadlift Plateau

Trap Training Techniques

While some of these are advanced, others can be done by most lifters. Integrate some of these, or all or them, within you current trap training program to help increase muscle activation, training volume, and growth.

Lifting Straps

Lifting straps can be very helpful when training traps, as the grip muscles are often a limiting factor. If you are after trapezius muscle growth, heavy loading and higher repetitions are often necessary. Using straps can help you train harder and get a few more repetitions per set, without having the grip fail on you. Now, if you are also looking to train grip, start without straps and train regular until you grip give out. Then, strap up.

Power Shrug Reps

While controlled, full range of motion repetitions are recommended, more advanced lifters can employ “cheat” and/or power shrugs to get a few more repetitions out of the set and/or overload the traps. Additionally, athletes like Olympic weightlifters will find the power shrugs can transfer over to snatch and cleans as well.

Eccentrics

Eccentric training has been shown to increase muscle growth, however it is also responsible for high markers of muscle damage, soreness, and inflammation. If you are up for the challenging, employing eccentric training can help induce great gains of strength and muscle growth. As a standard, you should be lowering the loads under control, however you can lower the loads even slower to increase time under tension in the eccentric phase as well.

5 Exercises for BIGGER TRAPS

Below are five (5) exercises athletes and coaches can use to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles.

1. Trap Bar Shrugs

Trap bar shrugs are a great way to overload the traps with external load, use a grip placement that allows for high terminal elevation, and minimize the stress on the anterior shoulder.

To do trap bar shrugs, simply stand erect and elevate the shoulders upwards and slightly in towards the ears. Focus on high elevation of the shrug without the shoulders rounding forward. Once at the top, lower the shoulders under control and feel the muscles lengthen in the eccentric phase.

Stay by performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads.

Trap Bar Deadlift Exercise Guide
Trap Bar Deadlift Exercise Guide

2. Barbell Shrugs

The barbell shrug is a trap training staple, however is often done incorrectly.

For starters, perform this exercise with your body slightly bent forwards in the start, roughly having your torso angled ~10% forwards. This will allow the lifter to achieve a higher terminal elevation range of motion while keeping the shoulders back. Try to elevate the shoulders and pull them inwards at the top as if you were touching the shoulders to ears.

Start by performing 3-4 sets of barbell shrugs for 8-12 repetitions with moderate loads, focusing on a full stretch during the eccentric phase and minimal momentum during the shrug itself (unless employing power reps). The hands themselves should be wider than shoulder width.

Shrugs
Shrugs

3. Dumbbell Shrugs

The dumbbell shrug allows for unilateral trap training. While it may be more difficult to use high amounts of external loading relative to barbell or trap bar shrugs, you can increase repetition ranges and work to maximize contractions.

Start by performing 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions with light to moderate loads, working to maximize the full range of motion. Use straps if needed.

[Want more shrugs in your life? Check out Kirk Shrugs and how to perform them correctly!]

4. Rack Pulls

Rack pulls are a great way to overload the traps, upper back, and grip and. This partial range of motion movement can also have direct transfer to powerful mass gainers like deadlifts and carries as well. For trap-specific rack pull training, be sure to use a double overhead grip that is slightly wider than shoulder width. Use straps if need

Start by performing 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps of heavy loads.

5. Farmer’s Carry

The farmer’s carry is a great way to add upper body muscle mass, increase trap development, and add grip strength. While this movement does not include a full range of motion in terms of shoulder elevation and depression, it does allow for significant loads to be used. In doing so, you can stress the eccentric aspect of the shrug and add a high amount of stress to the system.

Start by performing 3-5 walks of 30-45 seconds using dumbbells, kettlebells, a trap bar, or farmer’s handles. If your grip is failing use straps if you your goal is trap growth.