Towering traps are simply mesmerizing and you can be sure that the guys who own them never miss a workout because they’re feeling a bit lazy that day. Building mountains on your shoulders takes time and hard work – but first and foremost, you have to know when is the perfect time to train them for maximum activation and development. Learn everything you need to know in this article!
Mighty Traps for Injury-free Weight Training
Well-developed traps are more than an aesthetic symbol of dedication and real manliness on your physique. Your traps retract, depress and help to upwardly rotate the shoulder blades, all of which are vital movements for any type of weight training exercises. This means that as you progress in terms of weight and exercise difficulty, having weak and vulnerable traps can unlock a whole new level of potentially disastrous injuries. And that’s why direct trap work is a must for any mature bodybuilder and ambitious powerlifter.
But How Should You Train Them?
Traditionally, bodybuilders use training splits to target each body part with all the love it needs to grow. And unless you’re a complete novice, your workouts are most likely already divided up by muscle groups and you’re using a variety of exercises to exhaust a specific muscle group from all possible angles. That’s great, but when it comes to trap training, most lifters are confused about which is the right road to the gains they want. Here’s the thing: the trapezius muscle has three regions – the upper, middle and lower trapezius – and each of them has a unique function.
The traps are heavily included in most back and shoulder exercises, so some people train them on shoulder day, while others claim that targeting traps on back days is the ticket to monstrous growth. Then there’s the third group who hit their traps on both of these days in order to ensure optimal anabolic stimuli. Preferences will vary from one individual to the next, but what are the facts of the matter?
Trap Anatomy 101 and the Most Effective Exercises
To answer this question adequately, we must yet again explore the basic anatomy of the trapezius muscle. The upper region of your traps, located between your neck and the shoulders, works the hardest during movements which require elevation or upward rotation (think shrugs) of the shoulder blades. You can do shrugs with a straight Olympic bar, dumbbells, the trap bar, or even cables – still, don’t focus too much on the weight you work with and instead aim to perfect your form and technique.
In addition, many delt-specific exercises actually bring the upper traps into play and work them directly and very effectively, such as lateral raises and upright rows, so you will want to promote them in your workouts. Hammering your traps on shoulder days does indeed come with plenty of benefits, especially if your back days are typically centered around mid-back and lats activation; if nothing else, you should be better able to focus on them while training your shoulders.
But that’s not all there is to your trapezii, which actually extend from your head to your mid-back. The middle portions, which perform the important function of pulling the shoulder blades together (think seated cable rows), so you can best isolate them with cable rows but as long as you make sure to keep your arms straight at all times. This often neglected portion of the trapezius deserves more attention than it’s typically given, and training it will undoubtedly bring you the benefit of improved performance in all major lifts. All in all, if your goal is to strengthen your middle traps and improve their definition, put trap training in your back day schedule or combine it with your upper trap work. Research has shown that EMG activity in the middle trapezius is the greatest during shoulder external rotation and flexion in the prone position (think mini-range lat pull-downs, voyeur shrugs, half T-raises and standing calf raise shrugs), so make the most use of that.
And finally, the lower trapezius is responsible for rotating the shoulder blades downward. This is also one of the key movements during the initial phase of pull-downs, so it’s not a surprise that guys who perform pull-downs regularly have stunning lower traps as some kind of special trophy on their otherwise greatly developed backs. That being said, the best way to isolate these low fibers is by doing just the first few inches of a pull-down by keeping your arms perfectly straight. Then, you will want to add snatches and front raises on an incline bench to build power in this portion of your traps.
Yes, everything is relative and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to issues such as the best way to train traps. Yet two things are for sure: shrugs are far from enough for trap development AND if you train back and shoulders on separate days, you’re most likely successful at exhausting different portions of the trap muscle. Still, if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should make sure to include a good variety of different movements on both back and shoulder days so that your traps can receive a true growth-promoting power punch.