One of the easiest ways to improve your overall physique is to grow a pair of big traps. A huge set of traps (technically the trapezius muscles) demands respect from those around you. Part of that might be animal nature, like a cobra hood or a lion’s mane. But it probably helps that developing your traps demands a lot of heavy lifting and dedication. Whether you are at a lifting competition or the local kick-and-stab bar, developed traps show everybody around you that you mean business. They’re essential parts of the “dominance” physique.
Look at the athletes with well-developed traps: Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and strongmen who train for heavy compound movements. It’s no surprise that these champs of strength and power have these muscles.
Yet even though traps look great, a lot of guys at the gym don’t really know how to train them. So let’s do a little workout science on these and get you going strong.
The Anatomy of the Traps
When most people think of traps, they envision the upper part of the trap. After all, it’s what they see in the mirror. But the trapezius are two of the biggest muscles in your back. They run all the way from the occipital bone (back of the skull) to the lower thoracic vertebrae (mid-back), and all the way out to the spine of your scapulae. Some anatomy textbooks will even divide them into the upper, middle, and lower sections, although they’re really all one big sheath of muscle.
That’s a long muscle and one that needs a big stimulus to grow. Here’s how you can do that.
The Best Exercises for Trap Development
Take a look at any accomplished Olympic lifter and you will see the effect the clean has on the traps. The clean works the traps in a couple different ways; during the first pull you want a tight upper back. This is accomplished by squeezing your scapulae together. Scapular retraction is a great lower/mid trapezius exercise. In addition, during the second pull of the clean, a shrug motion is performed completing your full extension, working the upper part of the trapezius muscle. If cleans are not something you want to take the time to learn, start by doing high pulls.
During a deadlift, the hips and legs work to lift the bar from the ground. The trapezius muscles (along with other muscles in the back) contract isometrically to keep a straight back. The traps also help you keep your chest up, which is critical to completing the deadlift.
Rack Pull Shrug
To perform this exercise set the safety pins in the squat rack at knee level. Load the bar with heavy weight, so it’s about 100-120% of your deadlift max. (If grip strength is an issue, strap up for this exercise.) Try to emulate your deadlift position as closely as you can. Pull the bar up to lockout and then shrug the weight, all in one motion. This will work the traps both isometrically during the rack pull and concentrically during the shrug.
This is a classic bodybuilding exercise to work the upper trapezius (the part we see in the mirror). Load the bar with a heavy weight (75-80% of deadlift 1RM) and shrug your shoulders straight up to your ears. Don’t roll the shoulders back, simply shrug them straight up, and think about touching your shoulders to your ears. Do this exercise for higher reps (somewhere in the 10-20 rep range.) This is a great isolation exercise for the upper traps.
Trap training is one of the easiest ways to improve your overall physique in the shortest amount of time. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a willingness to work hard and perform heavy exercises.