If you want to know what science has to say about the finest trap workouts and exercises for growth… then read this post.
The traps are one of the most significant muscle groups for generating a powerful appearing upper body and finishing a well-developed frame.
Not only that, but proper growth of all three sections of the trap muscle ALSO: gives significant size and definition to the back musculature between the lats and plays a key role in injury prevention and posture improvement.
Moreover, despite the fact that several typical pulling exercises will engage the traps, they can be stressed further through a variety of workouts.
However, before we can learn how to work the traps properly, we must first comprehend their anatomy.
The trapezius muscle is anatomically divided into three major areas, which are often referred to as the upper, mid, and lower trapezius.
The graphic below depicts all three regions:
The upper traps are the region that most people pay attention to, most likely because they are easily apparent from the front view. The middle and lower traps, on the other hand, are frequently undeveloped in most people, owing to the fact that they are not visible in the mirror (who wants to exercise muscles they can’t see?!)
Other, more powerful muscle groups, such as the upper traps and lats, tend to dominate them.
This is harmful because they not only help add definition to your back… but they also play a critical function in scapular stability, which is especially crucial for preventing shoulder impingement.
As a result, it’s critical to make sure you’re accentuating each part of the traps depending on their function and anatomy. And in this post, I’ll teach you how to achieve just that with an evidence-based trap workout.
Above-the-Knee Rack pulls are the first exercise (Emphasis: Upper Traps)
Rack pulls above-the-knee have become increasingly popular in trap development recently, and for good cause.
Although this exercise targets the entirety of the back muscle, the upper traps receive the greatest attention:
Both studies discovered that upper trap muscle activity is lowest during the traditional deadlift from lift-off to mid-lift, when the bar is around knee height:
Whereas from the knee to lockout, the upper traps get more involved and attain their maximum muscle activity:
As a result, by restricting the exercise to simply the upper section of a deadlift, you can specifically concentrate and overload the upper traps with big weight without affecting your lower body musculature.
Above-the-knee rack pulls are a great way to work the upper traps without jeopardizing your recovery.
It should also be mentioned that, as demonstrated in this 2011 study from the University of Kentucky, greater loads increase upper trap muscle activity during the deadlift, thus you should attempt to use big weight when executing this movement to maximize upper trap involvement. But, as usual, stay within your limitations to avoid damage. Exercise #2: Barbell Shrugs (Emphasis: Upper Traps)
Another great trap exercise to have in your arsenal is the barbell shrug:
They will once again focus on the upper traps and appear to be one of the greatest options for activating and growing this muscle.
Andersen and colleagues discovered that the shrug evoked the most upper trap activity when compared to four other standard upper trap workouts in a 2008 paper. The analysis’s findings are shown below:
In agreement with this, researcher Bret Contreras conducted a thorough EMG examination in 2010 on upper trap activation using 25 various shoulders and trap exercises. The barbell shrug was found to generate the most upper trap activity once again.
Optimal Shrug Performance:
Despite the fact that the barbell shrug already elicits a lot of upper trap activity, it’s critical that you perform it correctly in order to get the most out of it.
And, as demonstrated in this article from the Journal of Clinical Biomechanics that examined the shrug, there are two options:
1. Increase the width of your grip.
The first thing you may do is increase the width of your grasp. Because of their different muscle fiber orientations, practicing the shrug with your hands shoulder-width apart increases the involvement of the levator scapulae muscle in your neck and decreases that of the upper traps:
Instead, by expanding your grasp during the shrug, you can see how the line of pull is now more aligned with the direction of the upper trap fibers:
This increases their involvement while decreasing that of the levator scapulae muscle.
2. “Up and Back” shrug
The second thing you may do is, instead of simply shrugging the weight up and down, think about pressing your shoulder blades together as you shrug up (note: I’m not talking about “rolling the shoulders”).
Because the upper traps help to retract the scapula as well as raise it, this minor adjustment will result in a better contraction.
Prone Reverse Fly with External Rotation (Exercise 3) (Emphasis: Mid-Traps)
The following exercise is one I strongly recommend you incorporate into your training regimen.
They are known as prone reverse flies, and they will mostly target the mid traps:
This is most likely due to the way the mid-trap fibers run.
Because, as seen below, the line of pull of the arms is most aligned with the mid-trap fibers, which run almost horizontally:
To do them, simply lie on a flat or incline bench, or even on the floor, and extend your arms straight out to your sides, thumbs pointing up.
Because the goal is to feel a significant contraction in the center of your back, resist shrugging your shoulders up as you complete them to avoid upper trap involvement. I’d recommend beginning with no weight and gradually adding weight as needed over time.
Prone Y’s (Exercise 4) (Emphasis: Lower Traps)
This exercise will primarily focus on the lower traps, which, like the mid, not only add to aesthetics but also play an important role in shoulder strength and stability, as well as improving posture.
In support of this exercise, Ekstrom and colleagues discovered in a 2003 EMG study that: Prone Y’s generated the highest lower trap activation when compared to 9 other standards lower trap workouts.
This is most likely due to the way the lower trap fibers run. Because, as seen below, the arm’s line of pull is best aligned with the lower trap fibers, which run downwards at a small angle:
And the way you do this exercise is the same as the last one, but your arms are positioned in a Y configuration. I’d recommend starting with no weight and gradually increasing the amount of weight you use.
Another way to overload this workout is to use the same principle with a cable machine for increased resistance.
Kneel down, hold the opposite cables with each hand, and raise your arms overhead to form a Y-shape.
Looking for nutritional information to help get you on track with your health and fitness goals? Traps growth is a great goal to have and proper nutrition is something that can help you achieve that goal as well, on our Unorthodox Training Nutrition page we have laid out many of the basics for nutrition information that has helped to consistently get results. We go into nutrition more in-depth in our membership program as well.
So, to summarize, here’s a sample workout that incorporates the previously discussed exercises:
Keep in mind that this is just a suggestion, and the best number of sets and reps may vary depending on the individual, but I wanted to give you some ideas.
And as for how to best put this into action, you have a few options:
If your traps are really lagging and it works well with your workout split, you can do this as a stand-alone workout.
Add a few of these movements to your back or shoulder workouts to help emphasize your traps.
Run a specialization phase with these workouts for a few months to hammer the traps with more volume.
Just keep in mind that many back workouts, particularly the deadlift, already target the traps, so make sure you’re not overdoing it.
Remember that you don’t just want well-developed traps; you also want your back, chest, arms, shoulders, and lower body to be well-developed… With that being said, for full-body development, the Unorthodox Training Membership Program is created using science, time-tested methods, and a mixture of fun.