Let’s face it: big trap muscles (a.k.a. the trapezius) get noticed. As longtime bodybuilders will tell you, the best way to develop these big, physique-defining muscles is to perform standing dumbbell shrugs—simple motions that, when done correctly, can pay major muscle dividends.
But as with any exercise, doing the same shrug over and over will earn you diminishing returns. Try these 5 variations, too, and watch yourself transform into trapzilla.
1. Seated or Kneeling Dumbbell Shrug
Sometimes, gym-goers who do the standard dumbbell shrug will start to look like Will Ferrell’s character from A Night at the Roxbury—spastic, with way too much hip movement. Don’t do that.
To fix that problem, take your legs out of the equation by performing a seated or kneeling dumbbell shrug.
How To Do It: Grab two dumbbells and either sit on a bench or kneel on the floor. Drive your shoulders up and contract your traps for 2–3 seconds. Perform 3 sets of 20–25 reps.
2. Haney Barbell Shrugs
Made famous by Lee Haney, an eight-time Mr. Olympia winner, this unique twist on the classic bar shrug is sure to test your traps.
How To Do It: Set the crash bars on a squat rack at about mid-thigh level. Unlike a conventional bar shrug, the resistance will actually be behind you. This slight deviation stresses the mid traps more than a standard bar shrug. Hand placement on the bar can also serve as a way to recruit different parts of your traps. Try it with a close grip, shoulder-width grip, or a snatch grip to really tax the upper back from different areas. Perform 3 sets of 20-25 reps.
3. Laying Bar Shrugs
The traps are a huge muscle and cover a lot of real estate. While the upper portion of the muscle gets the lion’s share of attention, the mid and lower traps are important for establishing a well-developed upper back. Many lifters find the mid-traps tough to hit. This move, while rarely used, should hit them hard.
How To Do It: You will need a bench, a couple of 12”-18” boxes, and a barbell. Place the bench on top of the boxes and position the bar on the floor underneath. Lay on the bench face-down; the bar should be in a direct line underneath your shoulders. Pick the bar up with your arms completely straightened (the bar should not touch the ground).
This position should put a considerable stretch on your mid traps (load the bar with 25 pound plates to insure you can get a full stretch). From there, pull your shoulder blades back, keep your chest on the bench, and hold for 2 seconds. Return to the starting stretched position. Perform 3 sets of 20-25 reps.
4. Farmer’s Walk Shrug Combo
A tremendous trap taxer, the farmer’s walk is a staple in strongman-style training. The pro guys use gas cylinders that weigh around 400 pounds in each hand. Chances are your name isn’t Magnus and you don’t eat 10,000 calories a day, so we will leave those big boys to the pros. Instead, we tried a wrinkle that can still hammer the upper back and send those traps to Valhalla.
How To Do It:
Pick up a heavy set of dumbbells and hold them next to your side. Make sure your posture is pristine (chest up, neck straight) and the core is braced tightly, as this exercise can put extra stress on the spine. Walk ten deliberate paces and then perform ten controlled shrugs. The combination of locking the upper back in place while walking and then stopping and shrugging will get the traps screaming. Perform 6 rounds (10 paces, ten shrugs x6).
5. Overhead Shrugs
Nothing wrong with lifting heavy. However, too much and the shoulders can rotate downward or become depressed. A chronically depressed shoulder can often lead to rotator cuff issues. The overhead shrug can rebalance the shoulders and make them feel pain-free and as mobile as a circus performer.
How To Do It: This is definitely not an exercise to load up with plates. Keep it light and stay tight. Press a bar overhead as you would in a military press. Hold it at the top. Brace your core, squeeze your glutes and drive your shoulder blades upward and contract your traps intensely. Control your shoulder blades as you bring them back down. Repeat for 2 sets of 8-12 reps.
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