You might not be able to personally post the shirtless selfies of your traps, but a powerful, strong back has a way of drawing the attention of others around you. The back does not always get the workout attention it should, so by devoting time and specific lifts to your back you’ll not only see physical improvements in your muscular definition but you’ll also see gains in your chest and shoulders as well. Here’s everything you need to know about your traps workout.
Your trapezius muscles (or traps) are the largest muscles in your back. From the base of your skull to the small of your back, this arrowhead-shaped muscle group is essential in your everyday activities. Strong traps help keep your shoulders back and protect your spine.
So if you’re ready to take your traps to the next level, we’ve got the perfect workout for you.
About the Trap Muscles
The trap muscles are broken down into three different parts.
The top portion of the muscle group is the trapezius superior.
This begins right where the top of your neck cradles the rear of your skull. It then runs down the side of your neck to the edge of your collarbone.
Running directly under it is the trapezius middle, which is a rectangular shaped strip of muscle. This runs from the back of your shoulder blades to the opposite shoulder blade, starting thinner along the shoulder, expanding outward slightly along the spine and then coming to a smaller point on the other shoulder.
Right under the middle is the trapezius inferior. This is an arrow-shaped portion of muscle (it actually looks like the Delta airline logo pointed downward as the muscle is split in half, coming to a seem where the spine is).
This muscle group is completely on your back.
It starts right under your shoulder blades and comes to a point along the spine in the middle of your back. If you feel along the side of your chest for your final rib, follow the rub up to the rear of your back and this is just about where the low point of the inferior trap connects to the spine (Arizona State University School of Medicine).
Traps Workout Explained
Lifting for size gains or mass gains does slightly impact the way you lift.
While it won’t impact the schedule it will impact the weight.
The best way to see massive results it to give your body time to recover. You should never directly target a muscle group two days in a row. Realistically you shouldn’t do it every other day either. When you target one muscle group and work it continues to fail you’re going to need ample recovery time. Hitting your traps (or just your back in general) one day and returning to work on it two days later will not lead to the result gains you desire.
First, you won’t have the strength back in your traps, which won’t help in building strength. If you’re aiming at mass gains your muscles will not have finished repairing, which means the subsequent back workout will only result in tearing down traps that have not finished repairing.
With all of this in mind, it is best to work your back and traps once a week. When hitting your traps as hard as you will with this workout you need the extra time to rest and repair. Plus, you will still work the traps during back and shoulder days, so you’re not completely letting your traps off the hook. By working the traps once every five to seven days you’ll fully recover, which ensures you’ll see the best gains in size and mass possible.
Now, the reps and sets will differ between lifting for size and lifting for strength. If you want to lift for strength you’ll want to put in as many big weight sets as you can. Big weight means you can only lift the weight anywhere from one to four times until complete muscle failure.
For these lifts, you’ll want to focus on three to five sets.
This will completely blast your muscles while putting up as much weight as possible. It also allows you to continually increase the amount of weight you put up for the subsequent set until you’re unable to perform a single rep.
When lifting for size, you want big weight but you also want more reps. It’s important to increase the number of reps as this will help in tearing down the muscle fiber, which in turn gives you more of an opportunity to build it back up.
So you still want to focus on the three to five sets per lift, but instead of one to four reps you want to shoot for eight to 12. Never just stop at 12 reps though if you can pump out more. Keep going until failure. The eight to 12 reps per set is a guideline, but never limit yourself. If you can lift more it does mean you need to add weight, but don’t “save” the energy for the next set.
Push your muscles to failure.
The only way you’ll see any kind of size and strength improvements is if you push your body to failure.
Trap Exercises For Your Workout Routine
Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk
This lift works not only your traps but your shoulders. It’s also a lift that will completely wear out your muscles so you want to put this at the end of your workout (because you probably won’t be able to get much more out of your traps following a farmer’s walk).
Unlike the other lifts on this list, a farmer’s walk doesn’t have a specific set.
You’re just walking.
The target here is to grab weights equal, if not more than your full body weight. Break the amount of weight in half and grab a dumbbell for each arm. Hold the weights by your side and walk. You’ll want to shoot for 50 yards, then come back (or if you have a track around your gym walk around the track with the weight until you hit 50 to 100 yards).
This is a lift you’re going to need to fight off the strain you feel in your forearms and hands. Your hands will want to let go of the weight long before your back and shoulders want to give up. This is a pain you’ll need to fight off and avoid. The longer you can hold your forearms at bay the better off you’ll be and the longer you’ll be able to walk.
When performing the farmer’s walk you need to make sure and practice good posture. Always stand talk and keep your shoulders back. Once you start rounding your shoulders you not only open up the possibility of injury but you also push the focus away from your traps (WebMD, 2015).
The beauty of the barbell shrug is you can probably get more weight up with this lift than any other shoulder and back lift.
As you’ll notice, many of these lifts do focus on both the traps and delts, so you may want to work both your back and shoulders on the same day.
Load up the barbell and place it on a side facing rack (where the rack allows you to stand along the barbell and supports the ends of your barbell with support beams running perpendicular to the barbell.
Stand straight with your shoulders back, then lift the weight. You only need to lift it enough off the rack so you’re shoulders are fully engaged.
Now, roll your shoulders back, as if you are shrugging. By adding as much weight as possible you’ll push your traps over the edge. This should be the last lift you do of the day (you can follow the farmer’s walk with this lift).
Much like the farmer’s lift, you’ll also feel the weight in your forearms, but again, do your best to ignore the pain you’ll feel here.
With a large number of your trap lifts, you’ll be holding the weight under your traps or pulling the weight up toward your traps.
Due to this, it is good to bring in a pull-up.
With a pullup you’ll work your traps in the opposite movement, stretching the muscles up instead of stretching the muscles down. In order to fully target your traps and to get the best size and strength gains, you need to work the muscles in different directions. The pull-up (use a wide grip for this to target the majority of your traps) is a must for your trap day because of this.
With this workout pump out as many as you can with one set and still focus on performing three to five sets.
Now, if you’re able to do more than six and you are shooting for strength gains begin adding weight to your pullup. This is where the heavy chain around the neck comes in. Likewise, if you’re going for size and can perform more than 12 reps than you need to add the chain as well.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
The deadlift is one of the most important lifts you can do for any part of the body.
After all, it works just about the entire backside of it. With this particular deadlift, you’ll want to begin with it placed on lifts.
This reduces the impact on your lower back and knees and emphasizes the impact on your back.
With just about any wide grip lift, the wider your grip the more it works your back. The snatch grip lift is the same. You want to position your arms at least twice shoulder-width apart. This takes the emphasis off of nearly any other muscle group and puts it completely on your shoulders and back.
This is another lift that you can load up a good amount of weight to the barbell. As your shoulders and a small amount of your triceps help with the workout, you are able to lift more weight than other trap specific lifts.
The rack pulls work the lower portion of your traps and into the other muscles around your lower back.
You’ll also notice a pattern with this lift as is the case with many of the other trap lifts: lift big.
Move a barbell over to a power rack and set the height to right around knee level. With this lift your legs will be bent slightly and you’ll have a hitch in your pelvis.
You want to form a 90-degree angle from the rear of your thighs and your back. Grab hold of the weight leaning forward (but always keep your back straight), then pull the weight back by standing up and pulling your shoulders back.
You’ll really feel this right in the lower portion of your traps down right into where your upper body meets your lower body. This is one of the fewer lifts that work this specific area so it’s important to do this.
The rack pulls is a lift you can do right before (or after) the shoulder shrugs. You’ll be at the power rack station and the amount of weight you put on likely will not differ all that much. So put these two lifts together (Healthline, 2017).
The push press is the top half of a clean and jerk movement.
With a barbell loaded, you want to lift it to your chest, positioning it on top and against your clavicle with your elbows facing outward and an underhand grip.
Do this by beginning as if you’re going to perform a squat. Pull the weight up to your waist level. Now, lower your legs and explode upward, rotating your hands to move under the barbell and lift it to your chest. If you want, you can start at the power rack and position the barbell at chest level already, but you’ll miss out on an explosive movement you’ll perform at the beginning of every set.
With your feet positioned shoulder length apart, begin to squat down and then explode back up, pushing the weight over your head. You’ll want the weight to end up slightly behind your head but flush with the back of your feet (if you go too far back you’ll throw off your balance or injure your shoulder). Hold it here, then return back do the starting position (the barbell at your chest level).
There are some variations to this move. You can begin with dumbbells and hold the dumbbells at your shoulders before exploding upward. You may also use kettlebells if you’d rather. You may want to switch between the barbell push press and the dumbbell push press on different workout days. This way, you’ll work your traps in slightly different ways.
However, the main advantage of using a barbell is you can use a wider grip on the barbell, which again puts more focus on the traps workout.
Hex Bar Deadlift
This is a lift you likely are not able to do at home (unless you have a hex bar of course).
The hex bar is beneficial here in that it positions the weight exactly at your sides, whereas any other form of deadlift the weight is in front of you or behind you.
Barbell deadlifts held at your side can work, although with the hex bar you can load up more weight, which helps with strengthening your traps and building the kind of muscle you’re interested in.
The hex lift also places your hands to the side of your body. In many ways, it works similar to a farmer’s walk in where the weight is located and where your hands are positioned.
However, as you are still performing a traditional deadlift movement, you contract and expand your muscles in ways the farmer’s lift does not.
Make sure to keep your shoulders back and your back straight during this lift. The side handles will help with this but form is crucial in making sure you target your back. If your shoulders begin to round off the focus moves from your back to your shoulders and to the top of your chest.
This is a move you want to keep your arms close to your body. If your arms bend and flair out more of the weight is lifted using your triceps and biceps, which is not what you want.
If you have never used a hex bar before it is relatively straightforward. Look around your gym to see if there is a hex bar available.
Incline Dumbbell Shrug
As mentioned earlier, the lower portion of your traps often does not receive the kind of attention it needs.
Due to this, it goes underdeveloped as the rest of your traps receive the bulk of the attention.
With an incline dumbbell shrug, you’ll improve your ability to lift with this movement.
With an incline, dumbbell shrug adjust a bench into an inclined position. Hold lighter weights in your hands and, with your shoulders back, shrug the weights as you would with any of the other shrug exercises. Because of the placement of the weight and the position, the lower traps is targeted with this move.
It is a good idea to start out with a lighter weight during this particular lift as you may be surprised as to just how difficult it is to perform an incline dumbbell shrug.
Don’t lean your chin or the upper portion of your chest against the incline bench. You want to lean back a small amount. This will help place a crunch on the lower traps, which in turn will help boost the amount of tension you get out of the exercise.
Behind The Back Shrug
The shrug is one of the best ways to work the traps.
It is a simple and easy move, and with the number of shrugs we’ve covered, you’ll quickly discover that with just some slight changes in approach and performance you’ll feel the shrugs hit all three of the muscle groups within the traps.
With the behind the back shrug you want to position a barbell behind your back. Move to the power rack and back up to the bar. Reach behind you and take a firm grip of the barbell, then lift up. Now, shrug your shoulders. You’ll feel a limited range of movement here as opposed to the front shrug.
But that is exactly what you want. The shoulders and top of your traps all pulled tight into this position as it forces all of the weight to be lifted by this area of your body (Healthline, 2017).
The barbell row is a great lift for your entire back.
You can do this with either a barbell or dumbbell, although the barbell will help improve your form (and you’ll likely be able to lift more with this particular move).
With the barbell row begin with the barbell right above your knees. Then, pull the weight up into your waist, keeping the weight tight to your body. If the weight begins to pull away from your body you’ll end up working the front part of your upper body instead of your back. This is a great lift that is by far one of the best back and rear shoulder moves that you can perform at the gym in terms of hitting all the muscle groups.
The trap muscle group is critical in maintaining a strong back and the ability to turn the upper portion of your spine.
Strong traps also help with the development of your chest and shoulders. While these muscles are naturally thinner than the larger chest, you are able to build these muscles up by taking advantage of the individual lifts mentioned here.
So, if you’re ready to see substantial improvements in the overall quality, size and strength of your back now is the time to begin incorporating these different trap lifts into your regular workout routine.