The Trapezius muscles are an often forgotten piece of the puzzle when it comes to developing a beastly physique.
And you can’t appear to look big and powerful without having two massive mountains on either side of your neck. So… what do we do about this? Well, we hit them with the best trap workouts possible…
Now, the traps extend from your upper back to the top of your head and it’s a large muscle which needs plenty of growth stimulus.
But, everyone responds differently to certain exercises and it’s important to experiment. According to John Porcari, Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, each individual activates and recruits muscles differently. (1)
This could be due to genetic reasons (Naturally larger muscles), or exercise technique. So, take these exercises and try out different trap workout combinations for optimal muscle hypertrophy and strength gains.
Trapezius Muscle Function
The traps don’t just sit there and look intimidating, oh no… they support the spinal column and contribute to movements like head turning, side bending, internally rotating the arms, retracting the scapula, plus elevating and depressing the shoulders. (2)
So, other than their aesthetic diamond shape, they play a role in several very important functions of the body.
And now that you know the Trapezius muscle anatomy… we present to you 12 effective trap exercises…
1. Barbell Bent Over Row
The barbell bent over row is one of the best overall exercises for targeting the back muscles. It’s so effective that ACE research tested most back exercises to find that the bent over barbell row shows the best overall muscle activation. (1)
It also came in second for trap activation to the I-Y-T raise which is also on our list.
Tip: Use a full range of motion to activate the traps sufficiently.
Performing the Barbell Bent Over Row movement
- With a hip-width stance, bend your knees and arch your lower back while keeping your upper back slightly rounded.
- Grip the barbell with a shoulder-width grip and pull the barbell to your lower chest.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lower the barbell back down and repeat for reps.
- Exhale during the pull and inhale when lowering the barbell.
2. I-Y-T Raises
In an ACE-sponsored study testing several back exercises, the I-Y-T raise beat out the bent over row, seated row, pull-up/chin-up, cable pulldown, TRX row, and inverted row for electromyography (EMG) activity in the muscle. (1, 3)
But, most people have never heard of the I-Y-T raise… and this means there are gains being left on the table… (No Bueno).
So, let’s not waste any more time as you need to get those mountains rising…
You can do this exercise so many different ways but the prone (Facedown) incline version is ideal for its effectiveness.
Tip: Use lighter dumbbells to maintain good form and ensure shoulder safety.
Performing the I-Y-T Raises
- Grab two light dumbbells and Lie prone on an incline bench with your head hanging off the end. Let the dumbbells hang down toward the floor.
- Lift the dumbbells straight up like an “I” while keeping your elbows slightly bent. Then lower them down to the start.
- Now, lift the dumbbells to form a “Y” with your arms. Then lower them back down.
- Finally, raise them out to the sides to form a “T” and then lower them back down.
- Repeat for reps.
3. Lat Pulldown
Cable pulldowns are a great movement, especially for lat development but you can really involve the traps with a small tweak in your position.
The lat pulldown actually came in third behind the I-Y-T raise and bent over row for trap activation in the same ACE study mentioned previously. (1)
Tip: Squeeze your traps when you pull the bar down to really activate your traps.
Performing the Lat Pulldown
- Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Pull the bar down to your clavicle area and squeeze your traps.
- Let the bar go back up slowly and don’t lock out your elbows.
- Repeat for reps.
4. One-Arm Cable Shrugs
One-arm cable shrugs are quickly becoming the next best thing for trap training and for good reason. They provide constant resistance and you can use multiple angles to stimulate your traps. Plus, they promote unilateral (Affecting each side at a time) development which is good for overall growth. (4)
Now, you can do the cable shrug with both arms at the same time. But, you won’t have the same range of motion and angles to work with.
Tip: The twist during the shrug allows you to get a deep contraction in the traps.
Performing the Cable Shrugs
- Grip the low attached handle with your left hand and face the machine with the left side of your body.
- Shrug your left shoulder but turn your body slightly counterclockwise at the same time.
- Hold for 2 seconds.
- Return to where you started and repeat for reps.
- Switch arms and repeat the exercise but twist in a clockwise position during the positives.
5. Barbell Shrugs
The barbell shrug is quite possibly the most iconic exercise when you think of trap training movements. And back in the day before we learned of newer techniques, the shrug was the main mass builder.
And it’s still super effective which is why it’s a must on any list of best trap exercises.
Now, the big benefit of utilizing the free weight barbell is that you can train extremely heavy to force your traps to get bigger and stronger.
Tip: If you don’t feel your traps working then you’re likely using too much weight. Make sure to shrug slightly back to engage the trap muscles.
Performing the Barbell Shrugs
- It’s best to set up the barbell on a rack as high so you can lift it off without having to bend down too much.
- Grab the barbell with a shoulder-width grip and stand up straight with feet hip-width distance apart.
- Lift your shoulders up and slightly back while squeezing your trap muscles.
- Repeat for reps.
6. Dumbbell Shrugs
The dumbbell version of the shrug allows you to have a freer range of movement.
But, there’s an element of unilateral muscle development since each side has to pull its own weight without the help of the other muscles. Dumbbells are a great tool for correcting imbalances and full body stabilization development. (4)
Tip: Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs for a larger stretch and range of motion.
Performing the Dumbbell Shrugs
- Grab two dumbbells and let them hang by your sides.
- Shrug your shoulders up and slightly back while squeezing your traps for 2 seconds.
- Lower your shoulders back down and repeat for reps.
7. Rack Pulls
The rack pull is an overall effective movement for posterior chain development.
It’s essentially a shortened version of the conventional deadlift but the back has a little more responsibility. Your hips have to engage earlier since your legs are only used for a small portion of the movement.
But, your spinal erectors also have to engage earlier and this activates the traps as well. (5)
Tip: Focus on your hip movement to lift the weight.
Performing the Rack Pulls
- Set the bar at knee height and use a shoulder-width grip with back arched and knees bent.
- Push through your heels and thrust your hips forward while keeping the shoulder back and down.
- Extend your spinal erectors upward until you’re body is erect.
- Then lower back down until the bar touches the weight supports.
- Repeat for reps.
8. Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk
You generally see Strongman competitors using the Farmer’s Walk for training and it’s even an event in the competition.
But, it’s used for specific purposes which include; metabolic conditioning, posterior development, unilateral function, and core strength. Holding massive amounts of weight will without a doubt make you a much stronger person and your traps will respond. (6, 7)
Now, the actual movement involves simply carrying heavy weight in each hand for distances. This also improves grip strength and forearm development.
Tip: Use weights that will allow you to walk a reasonable distance. If you go too heavy, you won’t have enough time under tension as your grip will fail quickly.
Performing the Farmer’s Walk
- Determine a distance and time you’ll walk beforehand.
- Grab two dumbbells and walk the distance for the set time.
- Maintain a neutral posture. Do not lean forward or backward.
9. Cable Overhead Trap Raise
This exercise is like a front delt raise but your arms will lift above your head. And cables keep tension on the muscles so you’ll really feel the burn with this effective movement.
Now, for the set up you’ll have to attach two single grip handles to the bottom of a small cable station where the pulleys are located close to each other. And then you’ll kneel down on the floor on your lower legs with an upright torso.
Here are the exercise instructions…
Tip: Try to keep your arms completely straight for a fuller range of motion.
Performing the Trap Raise
- Kneel down on the floor so you’re sitting upright on your knees.
- Grab the left handle with your right hand and the right handle with your left hand. The cables should cross each other.
- Keep your arms straight and lift both up above your head as high as you can.
- Squeeze your trap muscles and hold for 2 seconds.
- Repeat for reps.
10. Hang Snatch
A weightlifting movement… the hang snatch looks very complex and it very challenging. But again, if you want those monster traps you got to be willing to work for them.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to have someone teach you how to do the movement with lightweight before training heavy. Or, you can practice with just the bar to learn the technique.
Tip: Use light to moderate resistance since this complex movement utilizes more muscle groups.
Performing the Hang Snatch
- Squat down and grip the barbell on the floor with hands very wide.
- Push up through your heels and thrust your hips forward until you’re standing straight. The barbell should be on your hip crease.
- Then, bend your torso forward to get momentum and thrust your hips forward while pulling the bar overhead and bringing your body underneath. Squat back up to a standing position.
- Repeat for reps.
11. Power Shrugs
Power shrugs are a great way to cheat a little (Not that we advocate cheating) and overload the traps.
Now, don’t get us wrong having good form most of the time is essential for good results and safety. But, there’s also a time and a place for using momentum to lift heavier. Muscles grow when they experience a lot of stress and the power shrug is a great way to place them under larger amounts. (8)
Tip: Don’t jerk the weight too excessively. Maintain some momentum to perform the shrugs.
Performing the Power Shrugs
- Hold the barbell in front of your thighs as you would a normal shrug.
- Then, bend your knees so the barbell lowers to your knees and shrug up with momentum.
- Repeat for reps.
12. Smith Machine Shrugs
In a list full of free weight and cable exercises, we wanted to add the Smith machine because it’s a fantastic option which is often overlooked.
Depending on the movement, Smith machines actually can allow you to lift heavier resistance loads since there are little stabilization and balance required according to one study. So, the benefit is great in that you can focus solely on performing the movement correctly. (9)
And in many cases, the Smith machine is just as effective as using free weights for effectively stimulating the target muscle. (9)
So, this evidence would convince us that using a Smith machine is not much different than using a free weight barbell.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to go a little heavier than usual but always maintain good form.
Performing the Smith Machine Shrugs
- Grip the bar at about knee height with hands shoulder-width distance apart.
- Lift the bar until you’re standing straight.
- Shrug using your traps and repeat for reps.
Sets and Reps
Set and rep ranges vary based on your training experience.
But on average, the recommended set range is 3-4 per exercise and rep ranges become even more complex.
For reps, it’s best to mix up the ranges. So, do 6-8 reps one day, then 10-12 the other, and 15-20 the next. There’s no right or wrong way to do this but for most workouts, an 8-12 rep range is generally recommended for muscle hypertrophy.
However, using heavy weight is not always necessary and it’s even discouraged. You can overload a muscle with higher rep ranges and give your nervous system, joints, and tendons time to recover.
Our list of 12 amazing exercises is all you need to develop massive, monster traps.
Using a combination of different movements is ideal for hitting the traps from different angles for optimum growth stimulus.
And whether you’re using free weight, cables, or machines; you can put together the best trap workouts possible. But, the most important thing you should take away from all of this great information is to never neglect trap training if you truly want to look as freaky as possible!