Build Bigger Traps
A common body part that lags behind other body parts is the traps. Many lifters I have spoken with have asked if I know any good ways to build the traps up besides normal shrugs. Today I will share that with you, but first let’s look at what the traps are designed to do.
Functions of the Traps
The traps, or trapezius, (so-called because altogether the three sections of the muscle are shaped like a trapezoid) is a muscle with many functions. While they are most visible at the top of the shoulder, they also extend down the back.
There are 3 segments of the trap, each with a different responsibility.
1. Upper Trap: Primarily responsible for elevating the shoulders and shoulder blades. Secondarily responsible for pulling the shoulders and shoulder blades back.
2. Middle Trap: Primarily responsible for pulling the shoulder blades together.
3. Lower Trap: Primarily responsible for pulling the shoulder blades down.
Now, when it comes to “building big traps” most people think of the section of the traps above the collar bone and shoulders. Dave Batista, pictured in the image at the top of the page, had some of the biggest traps I have ever seen in all my years as a wrestling fan.
Classic Trap Building Exercises
The classic exercise for building big traps are Shrugs and their variations. These are usually done with a barbell at the front of the body or with dumbbells at the sides of the body.
However, just because Barbell and Dumbbell Shrugs are what “everybody does” doesn’t mean everybody loves them.
Here are a few reasons why Barbell Shrugs and Dumbbell Shrugs fall out of favor with some trainees. Maybe you agree…
1. Barbell Shrugs, when done in front of the body, can be hard on the back if you have back injuries, especially when you start getting into serious weight.
2. Barbell Shrugs can also be done behind the body, but they can be uncomfortable on the shoulders and can force poor posture.
3. Dumbbell Shrugs are a fairly safe alternative, but some gyms are limited in their heavy dumbbell sizes and may not have loadable dumbbells that can be used to go heavier.
4. Because Dumbbell Shrugs are often done with lighter weights, you can find yourself doing very high rep sets in order to get the feeling that you have accomplished some effective muscle-building stimulation of the traps.
Because of all of these things, and possibly others you can think of, today I am going to show you one way you can intensify the Shrug to help build bigger traps.
In my garage gym, the heaviest matched dumbbells I have are 100’s. For anything higher than that, I use my loadable dumbbells and 25-lb plates. However, it is hard to do Shrugs with 25’s on loadable handles because the plates roll up your thighs, so to keep the movement legit, I have to stick with the 100’s until I get bigger dumbbell pairs.
I have gotten to the point now where I can perform upwards of 20 reps with my 100’s, and it doesn’t even feel like I have stimulated the traps unless I have already pre-exhausted them with another movement, like High Pulls. Unfortunately, those are tough on my back, so I don’t do them that much.
Instead, I have found a way to make the traps work even harder on every single repetition of the Shrug. You see, as listed above, the upper two portions of the trapezius are involved in pulling the shoulders back, as well as elevating them.
If you perform a shrugging movement, and then combine that with pulling the shoulders back, you will feel a much more solid contraction when you combine both movements. Even though the change is subtle, it has a big effect.
Try it now, even without weight in your hands and you’ll feel the difference.
Now, you can obviously just pull your shoulders back while you shrug in order to engage the traps differently, but I have found that there is a better way to accomplish this by combining bands with the exercise.
Watch the video below to see exactly what I mean.
Band Resisted Shrugs to Build Bigger Traps
So, as you see in the video above, the heavy band resistance makes you fire the traps and other musculature of the upper back intensely. This creates a movement that hits the traps in a much different way to help build them better.
Putting it Into Action to Build Bigger Traps
If you try this, I encourage you to start out with light dumbbells and band tension. This way, you can get used to the feeling of this movement, which is much different from a normal Shrug. Then, over the course of a few short sets, work up in weight and tension.
Also, you can play with the point the band is rigged to the structure. Since shooting this video, I have movement my anchor point higher for an even better feeling with this movement.
I think you will be surprised how much harder it is to perform Shrugs in this manner compared to just holding dumbbells. To give you an idea, I can Shrug the 100’s for more than 20 reps, and have yet to hit 15 reps with the blue bands on without taking a rest period mid-set.
Suggested Trap Building Workout
Barbell Clean or Log Clean – 6 Sets of 2
Overhead Lifting (Military Press, Dumbbell Press, or others) – 4 Sets of 3
Horizontal Band Resisted Shrugs – 4 sets of 10 to 12
Grip Training: Open Hand – Work up to a Max, then perform 10 doubles with 70 to 80% of Max
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All the best in your training.