Do you want to catch a movie or stay home? Soup or salad? Legs on Monday and Chest on Wednesday?
If you don’t really care and shrug your shoulders, you can thank your traps for that.
Developing this diamond-shaped muscle group helps give your body that V-shaped look by developing your upper back and shoulders.
And if your upper traps are really developed, they’ll be visible from the front on either side of your neck right on top of the clavicles.
You might get plenty of trap training when you work your shoulders or train your back. But that partly depends on the lifts in your routine, along with your reps and sets.
The upper traps, middle traps, and lower traps help support your arms and raise and lower your scapula.
In other words, you need your traps to reach something on the top shelf at the store. And you’ll be working your traps if your training plan for the day calls for exercises like the barbell shrug or shoulder press. And if you’re among the masses who like to take progress-pic selfies, you’re using your traps.
You might not have monster-sized traps like 12-time Olympia competitor Johnnie Jackson, who can deadlift 800-plus pounds as a forty-something bodybuilder. But you can train your traps to get bigger and stronger.
The next time you’re in front of a mirror, give your traps a closer look with a rear-double bicep pose or crab pose.
Want to fit in some trap training the next time you train your shoulders, back, or delts?
Here’s what you need to know:
Reps and Sets
Everybody is going to respond to trap training a little bit differently. But if you’re training for hypertrophy (building muscle), plan on 3 to 5 sets, and 6 to 12 reps per set.
Start with a light-weight warm-up, or resistance band moves to engage your traps before you lift heavier weights.
Pick a weight you can handle for 6 to 12 reps per set. If you’re not familiar with the exercises, go light at first to get comfortable with the movement. Then increase the weight.
Rest Between Sets
For hypertrophy training when you’re working your traps, rest for 30 to 90 seconds between sets. This gives your body enough time to replenish ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores your muscles need to crank out another set, and maximize muscle gains.
Stretch Your Traps
If your traps feel tight before a workout or during the day. A little stretching can help. Do this:
- Shrug your shoulders. Try and lift your shoulders all the way to your ears. Squeeze your traps at the top of the movement. Hold it for a couple of seconds, and release.
- Forward stretch. Tilt your head downward, until your chin rests on your chest. Hold the stretch for up 30 seconds, and release.
- Side stretch. Tilt your head to one side, like you’re trying to get water out of your ear. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds, and release.
- Get a massage. If your traps are really tight, get a massage to work out tightness, knots, and adhesions.
6 Moves to Train Your Traps
If you’re following a 4- or 5-day split or a 3-day full-body workout program, your traps are probably getting. But trap-specific training can be a great way to bring up this body part, or simply build muscle, strength, and endurance to enhance your physique and improve other lifts that engage the traps.
Here are six moves that target your traps that I recommend:
1. Barbell Shrug
You can use a standard barbell or a Smith Machine for this exercise.
Start in standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Use an overhand grip to hold the barbell in front of you, with your arms hanging down. Raise your shoulders as high as possible towards your ears. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
2. Dumbbell Shrug
Start in standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Use an overhand grip to hold the dumbbells at your sides, with your arms hanging down. Raise your shoulders like you’re trying to touch your ears. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
3. Incline Dumbbell Shrug
Adjust a bench to a 45-degree angle. Place dumbbells on the floor at the head of the bench. Lay on the bench, chest down, and press your toes into the floor. Pick up the dumbbells with an overhand grip. Bend at the elbows slightly, and shrug your shoulders. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
4. Bent-Over Barbell Row
Load a barbell on the ground with enough weight you can handle for 6 to 12 reps. Stand behind the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend over, using an overhand grip on the barbell, slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend at the knees slightly, and pull the barbell towards your hips, keeping it close to your body through the movement. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
5. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Here’s an exercise that will work your traps from a slightly different angle than shrugs and rows.
Hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip in front of you, arms hanging down. Bend slightly at the waist. Then keeping your arms straight, raise your shoulders until your arms are about parallel with the floor. Return to the starting position, and repeat. Hint: If you feel the need to kip the weights up, use a lighter weight.
6. Dumbbell Overhead Carry
Pick a set of dumbbells you can shoulder press. Start in a standing position. Pick up the dumbbells with an overhand grip. Press the weights over your head, extending your arms. Lock your elbows, and take 30 to 50 steps, holding the dumbbells over your head. Rest, and repeat.
Last but not least. The deadlift. This classic compound movement works your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. But it also gives your traps a workout.
Load a barbell with a weight you can handle for 6 to 12 reps. Start in standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend down and grip the barbell (overhand, underhand, or reverse grip). Keeping your back straight and arms extended, pull up on the barbell until you’re in standing position. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
Want to build bigger traps and a better physique? Check out my customized training and nutrition plans to get started.
1. Smith, D. (2015). Back to the basics: Hypertrophy. National Academy of Sports Medicine. From: http://blog.nasm.org/sports-performance/back-to-the-basics-hypertrophy/.
2. McCall, P. (2014). How to select the right rest intervals and post-training recovery for your clients. American Council on Exercise. From: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/4954/how-to-select-the-right-rest-intervals-and-post-training-recovery-for-your-clients