Your traps, also known as the trapezius muscle, are a flat, three-pointed muscle going out and down from the top of your body and all over the center of your back between your shoulder blades. When you look at a back double biceps pose, this is the muscle in the center of the upper back area. It’s basically behind the upper rib cage. When you flex, you want your traps to stick out and be noticed – you can do this by working on them until they go high along the sides of your neck. This is the most impressive way to build them both for strength and looks.
Traps are always trained in combination with the deltoids, or the shoulders. You can also train them together with your back as they are in essence a part of your back. There are only a few exercises that work well on your traps, just like there are only a few exercises that work on your calves, but the two muscles share one more similarity – you can’t be a bodybuilder without developing both of them. If you don’t have strong traps, your back pose will look terrible, but having large and developed traps will make you look great no matter what angle has the picture been taken from.
The two main trap exercises are the shrug and the upright row. Also, you can use deadlifts, overhead pressing moves, high pulls and clean & press moves to work on the traps, but not as much as the previous two. Even though the clean & press and the high pulls are Olympic moves, they still don’t have the same effect as a good old shrug or upright row.
You can do shrugs with a Smith machine, barbells, dumbbells and a variety of bench pressing machines. You can do them in front or behind your body. This way of working out was popularized by Lee Haney.
If you want to do a standard barbell shrug, grab a barbell and hold it in your hands as they stay extended straight down. Then, shrug your shoulders directly upwards as high as you can and try to touch the bottoms of your ears. Hold that high position for a moment, flex the tense muscle once more and put down your shoulders as slowly as possible. Then, another rep. This exercise is one which will allow you to pile on the reps and the plates, so do both if possible. If not, just put on more weight. Back in the day they also told people to roll their shoulders back when they did this exercise, but nowadays that’s outdated because we realized that rolling your shoulders back doesn’t actually do anything.
There are a few varieties of shrugs. First, you have the Haney variety, which seems like a normal shrug, with a simple difference – the bar is behind your body instead of in front. Haney said that since the trapezius muscle is behind, the bar should also be behind. When you do the Haney shrug you hit your traps a little bit differently, and you have a completely different execution since you are now actually lifting the bar up instead of simply raising it with your shoulders. It’s incredibly effective, even if it doesn’t look very impressive. The second variation is two movements in one, so you take a wide overhand grip and try to do a shrug while actually lifting the bar like you would lift it in an upright row. When you try to lift it, you won’t succeed in raising it one to two inches up from its previous position, but this exercise will trigger your front and side deltoid muscles as well as your trapezius.
This exercise will work on your front and side deltoids side by side with your traps. The wider grip you take, the more it works on the deltoids. To do this exercise, take an overhand grip on a barbell and lift it up to your thigh. Hold it there with your hands about 8 inches apart and let it hang in front. Try to lift the bar as straight upwards as possible, without touching your body. It should reach the height of your chin before the movement is complete. Make sure that your elbows are consistently higher than the bar throughout the movement. Instead of a bar, you can also use a low cable bar or dumbbells.
Usually people don’t deadlift to work on their trapezius but it does have an effect, albeit not as big as the previous exercises. If you want to work on your traps on back day, make sure that you do a shrugging movement at the top of every deadlifting rep. It will stimulate your traps and it will cost you next to nothing.
Here are three different routines to build your trap muscles. There is one for beginners, which you are if you’re not doing any trap work on purpose and directly right now; one for intermediates, which means you will integrate trapezius exercises with your deltoid work as part of a split routine, or an advanced routine for trainers and people who know their stuff.
For Beginners: try doing two sets of 8-10 reps of shrugs. If you’re on a full body routine, this should be enough. If you’ve been training for a minimum of six months and you’ve had decent gains, skip over to the intermediate’s section.
For Intermediates: try doing two sets with 8-10 reps each of Haney shrugs, along with two sets of upright rows, same number of reps.
For Advanced: two sets of Haney shrugs and upright rows with 8-10 reps each, and two sets of wide grip shrugs of six to eight reps each between the shrugs and the rows.
If you’ve been neglecting your traps and they’re obviously very weak now, add a set of Haney shrugs to your routine, which would give you three total sets of Haney shrugs and seven sets all around. If you’re an advanced trainer but you’re not happy with your traps, add a set of upright rows as well for a grand total of eight sets. The trapezius muscle is worked after the deltoids, which means you don’t have to warm it up.
If you don’t exercise your deltoids before doing it, pump out a set of 15 reps to warm up. Make sure that you’re starting at your heaviest possible weight and then lower the weight on the second set and all consecutive sets. You should definitely experience muscle failure in the rep ranges listed here. Follow this detailed regimen strictly, don’t add or remove any sets, just work the existing ones as hard as you possibly can. If you do them properly, which is incredibly hard, you won’t be able to do more let alone an entire extra set.