6 Trapezius Muscle Exercises for Building Big Traps [Bonus Workouts]

Monster traps are all the rage these days. But building them can be quite a challenging task, as proved by the many bodybuilders with pencil-necks and weak traps on top of their massive chests. No matter what anyone says, impressive traps cannot be built without hard work and smart training choices.

But just like the shoulders, the traps are instantly noticeable and can make or break a physique. They certainly aren’t the biggest or most eye-catching muscles on the body, but you can bet that everyone will notice if your physique lacks mass in these muscles.

When developed properly, they are a symbol of power and masculinity, but when they’re weak and flat, they can easily harm your overall appearance and give you that “something’s wrong here” feeling. There’s nothing wrong with obsessively training your favorite body parts but don’t forget that a bodybuilder’s physique should appear complete from all angles.

That being said, one thing is for sure: half-assed deadlifts with light weights will never bring your traps where you want them to be. If you want to build intimidating traps, you need to train regularly with heavy weights and picture perfect form – there are no shortcuts here, so you might as well get serious and read the rest of this article to learn how to build some huge, pride-worthy traps.

The Road to Building Impressive Traps

Since well-developed traps are one of the ultimate physical manifestations of hard work, why are so many dedicated lifters so awfully trap deficient?

Let us be totally honest about this one: it’s because they’re still drinking the “just deadlift and shrug” Kool-Aid, sold to them by the guys with short clavicles and narrow shoulders who are able to reap almost immediate traps growth by performing some super heavy shrugs.

Furthermore, nobody should rely solely on shrugs and deadlifts for a complete traps development because they mostly emphasize the upper part of traps while under-using the mid and lower heads.

If you’ve been doing this for ages and still don’t have anything to show for it, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you – you probably have broader shoulders and longer clavicles, which means you need to hit your dormant traps on a more challenging way.

If your traps are seriously underdeveloped, you can’t allow yourself to train them casually or only as an afterthought – instead, they should get two days of tough love every week. Also, for better results, increase time under tension by pausing at the top portion of your shrugs.

But as we mentioned, stimulating some awe-inspiring traps growth requires more than performing basic moves such as shrugs in the majority of lifters. Need some ideas? Read the rest of this article to discover the best exercises for explosive traps development!

1. Paused Shrugs


Barbell Shrugs

Perform your regular shrug routine but make sure to pause and contract the muscles for three seconds at the top of the movement. The thing is that shrugs don’t offer a great range of motion, so it’s almost impossible to achieve adequate time under tension when performing them the standard way, not to mention that going really heavy translates to fewer reps which diminishes your chances of making great gains even further.

To boost up the intensity of the contraction, perform 4 sets of 12 reps of seated shrugs using a cambered bar that doesn’t hit your hams when you shrug it up, twice a week. Mix it up by including four additional sets with dumbbells as well. A good rule of thumb when training traps is to pay less attention to the weight but focus on making the contraction as brutal as possible.

2. Dumbbell Lawn mowers (one-arm dumbbell row)


One-Arm Dumbbell Row

When performed correctly, the one-arm dumbbell row, also known as ‘the lawn mower’ (because it looks like you’re struggling to start a difficult lawn mower) is one of the best upper body exercises of all time.

Not only that it involves scapular retraction and depression as well as spinal extension and compression, but it also includes anti-rotation and anti-flexion tendencies, which makes it a great core stabilization move.

That being said, for best results, the rowing movement should be done in an explosive manner and without any spine kyphosis (rounding the upper back and hunching the shoulders). Best rep scheme variations are pyramiding up to a top set of 8 or performing more than five sets in the 15-rep range.

3. Front Plate Raises


Front Plate Raises

A very common mistake when performing front plate raises is raising the plate to eye level. If you want to feel a great burn in your traps, you will have to bring that plate all the way overhead.

Now, you might think that using a 45-pound plate would work better, but that’s not the case because higher loads won’t allow you do perform as many consecutive reps as lighter ones, which is bad news because extra high-rep sets will help you secure optimal hypertrophy.

So instead of using a 45-pound plate and fatiguing your muscles before you can get some real work done, take a 25-pound one and aim for the 100 rep mark, making sure to maintain a slight bend in the elbows at all times.

4. Behind-The-Neck Press


Behind-The-Neck Press

When it comes to the best pressing exercises for overall shoulder development, the behind-the-neck press is first on the list. This press variation is an extremely effective shoulder-building exercise that unfairly gets a bad reputation because of its ability to highlight preexisting shoulder problems in inexperienced or ignorant lifters.

But back in the 70’s, this was a staple among bodybuilders who were looking to build insanely thick lower traps. And make no mistake – when compared with the barbell front press and dumbbell press, the behind-the-neck press enables a superior level of muscle activation in the shoulders. The key to optimal results with this exercise is to make sure to drop your shoulders down hard.

However, if your shoulder mobility is less than favorable or you have an emphasized kyphosis, you should start very light and work your way up once you improve your mobility and posture and get more comfortable.

Consider this exercise as a diagnostic tool to check the functionality of your shoulders – and if it hurts a lot, take that as a clear sign that the health and stability of your shoulder area should be improved.

5. Bent-Over Rear Lateral Raises or Reverse Pec Decks

The bent-over rear lateral raises and the reverse pec decks are basically the same movement, performed at different body angles. Both exercises have powerful ability to hit the posterior delts, traps and rhombs, and thereby optimize shoulder development by killing three birds with one stone – it’s always a good idea to add some extra thickness to these often neglected parts of the shoulder area.

For the bent-over lateral raises, you need a pair of dumbbells, while the reverse pec deck requires access to a pec deck machine. That means that the bent-over version requires maintaining overall balance all throughout the movement, while the reverse pec deck can help you isolate the muscles without having to worry about stability.

That being said, it’s best to alternate both exercises from week to week and get the best of both worlds. No matter what you choose to do, make sure to squeeze your mid traps hard together at the top portion of the movement. Don’t worry about the weight and just focus on proper form (don’t arch your back!) and achieving an optimal contraction.


Bent-Over Rear Lateral Raises

6. Kettlebell Upright Rows With a Rope

When it comes to building shoulder strength, performing upright rows with a kettlebell offers a greater variety of benefits when compared to other rowing variations. As a bonus, the extra thickness of the kettlebell handle will help improve your grip and add size to your forearms.

However, if you want some brutal muscle-tearing fun, get a few feet of rope, put it through the kettlebell handle, grab both ends of the rope (about 4 inches from the kettlebell on both sides) and lift until both hands are above sternum height. For maximum gains, use higher set and rep ranges.

The Workout

As we said before, in order to stimulate significant trap growth, you have to hit these bad boys with ball-busting workouts designed especially for them. That being said, these workouts are not a replacement for your back routine, so you will still need to do your regular back training with exercises such as dumbbell and barbell rows. If you’re not sure how to combine the aforementioned trap exercises into an effective workout, here are two great sample workouts to get you started:

Sample Trap Workout #1

–    Paused shrugs with dumbbells: 4 sets x 12 reps
–    Dumbbell lawnmowers: 5-8 sets x 8-15 reps
–    Front plate raises with a 25-pound plate: 1 set x 100 reps
–    Bent-over rear lateral raises: 4 sets x 20 reps

Sample Trap Workout #2

–    Behind-the-neck press: top set of 5 reps, back-off sets of 8-20 reps
–    Paused shrugs with cambered bar: 4 sets x 12 reps
–    Kettlebell upright rows with a rope: 4 sets x 12-20 reps
–    Reverse pec decks: 4 sets x 20 reps

Take Home Message

A bodybuilder with huge guns and zero trap development looks unsatisfying and incomplete and the worst part is that the traps are an area that you can’t hide when posing, no matter what! And since one of the key ideas in bodybuilding is achieving the best aesthetics possible, this body part deserves as much attention as any other.

However, the traps are more complex than most guys out there realize as they try to make them grow by performing countless shrugs with light weights and casual form. If you want your trap development to skyrocket, add the workouts described above to your weekly training routine and we guarantee that it will be your first, most important step to greatness.

Needless to say, an exercise done correctly is infinitely better than an exercise done poorly but with more weight, so make sure your form is flawless and train regularly as described above and soon enough you’ll be shopping for bigger T-shirts!

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