The back is one of the most notoriously difficult muscle groups to train and make progress in. An especially difficult part of the back to train is the traps. It is a small muscle group and there are only a few ways to target it. As a result, a lot of people find it difficult to grow their traps and achieve the definition that they are looking for.
As with shoulders, traps help to define your body and gives you an overall more athletic and fit build. It accentuates the muscles around it and helps to complete your physique. This article will explore exactly what the traps are and will look at the best trap exercises that will help you to see results from your training.
What are traps?
Traps, officially called the trapezius muscle, represents one of the muscles that make up your back. It is a postural and active movement muscle that is essential for the proper execution of many functions in the body, such as tilting and turning the neck and head, steadying the shoulders, and twisting the arms. The trapezius muscle is found in the upper back at the base of the neck and is a large triangular muscle that raises, lowers, rotates, and retracts the scapula.
(Image source: G Noussios. The Variational Anatomy of the Trapezius Muscle: A Review of the Literature. The Internet Journal of Human Anatomy. 2014 Volume 3 Number 1.)
Traps are important for shrugging your shoulders, raising your arms, and performing other basic tasks. They also help to frame your body, improve your posture, and give you an athletic physique. Traps should definitely be trained regularly and are an important muscle group to not overlook.
Best trap exercises
You use your trap muscles more often than you would think when working out, even when you aren’t training them directly. You utilise your traps a lot in bigger compound movements, such as bench press and deadlift. However, there are many exercises that can be used to isolate and train your traps outside of these bigger movements.
Probably one of the most used and recognisable exercises you will see when you walk into a gym, shrugs are a staple of a good back workout and are an excellent exercise to build bigger traps. When training traps, shrugs are most likely the first exercise that popped into your mind and this is for good reason. The shrugging movement directly targets and isolates the traps and works both your upper and middle back.
Shrugs are also versatile in terms of the equipment that can be used to complete the exercise. Regardless of your strength level, workout experience, or equipment preference, you can do shrugs. Shrugs can be performed using barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, trap bars, cables, and can even be performed without weights. When training traps it is essential to include shrugs into your workouts.
To perform a shrug, hold weights at your sides (or simply have your arms at your sides if you are doing them without weights) and pull your shoulder blades back. Bend your knees slightly and perform the shrugging motion, squeezing at the top of the motion for maximum engagement of the traps. Lower your arms back to the starting position and repeat this motion for 3-4 sets, with 20-25 reps in each set. If you are doing this exercise with a barbel, the movement is the same, but you want to hold the barbell in front of you with your arms shoulder width apart to ensure maximum engagement.
(Image by womenfitness)
There are many variations of shrugs that you can do, such as incline and jumping shrugs, so experiment with different variations. Shrugs are a versatile exercise and should definitely be included into your workout regimen.
If you have ever watched the world’s strongest man competitions, then you are familiar with this exercise. The farmer’s carry involves carrying/ walking with weights across a certain distance. It can be done with either dumbbells or kettlebells and is an excellent exercise to work your traps. Farmer’s carry also has the added benefit of improving both posture and grip strength.
To perform the exercise, hold a weight in each hand at your sides. Engage your core and hold an upright posture, then walk forward, taking even measured steps ensuring that you are not swaying. Do this for either a set distance or a set time and do 2-4 sets.
One of the lesser-known exercises on this list, the face pull is an excellent and underrated exercise for working, not just the traps, but many other areas of the back as well. This exercise can be performed using either cables (if you are at the gym) or band (if you are at home). The face pull specifically works the lower traps and, when done right, is able to accurately isolate and target the traps.
When performing this exercise your starting position is important. Ensure that you are pulling from about eye level. Stand squarely in front of the cables or bands with one in each hand. Pull the ropes towards your face, making sure to pull back your shoulder blades and engage your back. Squeeze your back at the end of the movement and release the cables back to their starting position. Repeat this exercise for 3-4 sets, doing 8-12 reps each time.
(Image by workouttrends)
As mentioned above, the traps are worked when you perform big compound movements such as bench press and deadlift. The rack pull represents a variation of the deadlift that is an excellent way of targeting your traps. The rack pull is similar to the deadlift in terms of the way you move your body and lift the weight. It differs from the deadlift due to its starting position. Rack pulls are performed higher up than the deadlift (usually performed on a power rack) and has a shorter range of motion. This exercise does require some specialised equipment and is, therefore, better suited for the gym rather than home workouts.
To perform this exercise, set up your barbell on the power rack at your desired height. Have your arms shoulder width apart and hinge at the waist, pulling the bar up and keeping as straight a back as possible. Execute a standard deadlift motion and repeat this exercise for 4-5 sets, doing 4-6 reps with heavy weight.
Barbell and dumbbell rows
Like shrugs, rows are a staple in a good back workout. This is because they target every aspect of the back and improve both strength and muscle mass. To improve your traps, you can use either a barbell row or, if you prefer dumbbells, you can use a single arm dumbbell row. Barbell rows target more of the middle traps while dumbbell rows target more of the lower traps. Either exercise works great and it is perfectly safe and fine to include both of them in your workout.
To perform the barbell row, hold the weight in front of you with your arms shoulder width apart. Bend over in a 90-degree position, keeping your back as straight as possible. Bring the weight towards your stomach, keeping your shoulders back and squeezing at the top of the movement. Repeat this for 3-4 sets, doing 8-12 reps.
To perform the single arm dumbbell row, hold a weight in your arm by your side. Place your free hand on a bench, or something else to hold your weight and help you to balance and bring the weight up towards your stomach. Keep your shoulders back and squeeze at the top. Repeat this motion for 3-4 sets, with 8-12 reps.
Traps can sometimes be difficult to train especially if you don’t prioritise them and train them directly. Not knowing the proper exercises or how to do them is another handicap that people experience when trying to grow their traps and train their back in general.
By implementing these exercises above into your workout regimen, you will see great results and will experience a lot of improvement with both your trap strength and definition and will start seeing growth in no time. Traps are important to train, not just for their aesthetic benefits, but also because they are important functional muscles and training them will positively improve your day to day living and lifestyle.