Quickly becoming known as the ‘calves of the upper body’ – more guys in the gym seem to be neglecting their traps.
If you’re not sure what traps are – Congratulations! You’re part of the problem!
But don’t worry, after this you won’t be.
The trapezius muscle is that thick piece of muscular action that sits proudly between your shoulder blades and is responsible for a range of movements in the body.
Don’t look like much, do they?
So why do we need to train them, and more importantly… how?
We’ll answer those questions and more, but first: let’s learn why traps are the silent hero of every workout.
How Traps are essential to your progress:
The Trapezius is possibly one of the most essential muscles to an upper body workout. Muscles don’t work alone. Any push or pull exercises you have planned to do today – you should know that your traps are going to be the guys spotting you.
Traps have a multitude of responsibilities, but these are the ones that concern us:
- Elevating Shoulders
- Squeezing Shoulder Blades Together
- Stabilizing the shoulders, upper spine and neck
Whatever way you slice it, these are all essential factors when it comes to lifting. Traps affect both form and strength – not training them is only going to hold you back.
Imagine doing a bench press without your traps. Unable to elevate your shoulders, you’d struggle to get the bar off the rack – and don’t even get me started on pressing. Pretty much all of the stabilizing work on that lift comes from your traps. It’s the guiding force of this lift as it is with most upper body workouts.
What’s that? You think you’ve got a powerful bench and you’ve never trained traps in your life?
Good for you. Now, sit back and imagine how strong that lift would be after building up those supporting muscles. You’re missing a whole world of opportunity.
Not only that – developed traps look awesome…
Scientifically proven to stop bros looking like pinheads since the discovery of iron.
What are the best ways to train traps?
This is the easy part. Traps are fairly simple to train and give pumps like you wouldn’t believe.
We’ve established a list of the top 5 trap exercises to boost mass, and improve their overall strength.
1. Barbell Shrugs
Most people are familiar with barbell shrugs – however not so much with the execution of it. Done right, this exercise brings serious results.
Let’s run over the basics.
You’re going to need a barbell – a heavy one. Aim for 8 – 10 reps for 3 sets:
1. Stood up: hold the barbell with your arms straight and hanging down in front of you. Palms should face inward towards you.
2. Raise your shoulders like you’re trying to touch them to your ears. Get them as high as you can and hold for a second.
3. Return to the starting position and repeat.
This exercise can be also be performed with the barbell behind you, as well as in front of you. It’s incredibly effective for building up those upper back muscles.
Most people make the mistake of thinking rotating their shoulders is the best way to shrug – This causes shoulder injuries. Raises will always be safer than rotating, but living dangerously, your best bet is to only rotate to the top of the lift and never all the way around.
2. Bent Over Lateral Raises
Lateral raises are thought more of as a shoulder exercise. However, traps serve an important role due to the shoulder elevation – especially when bent over.
This exercise will require two dumbbells that you can achieve 8 – 10 reps with for 3 sets:
1. Stood up and bent over: Holding dumbbells, your arms should hang down below you. Keep your back straight and have palms facing each other.
2. With slightly bent elbows, raise your arms out by your sides until parallel to the ground – hold it for a second.
3. Return to the starting position and repeat.
When performing this exercise, try to squeeze your shoulders blades together at the height of the lift. You should really feel your traps and get a solid pump.
3. Calf Machine Shoulder Shrugs
We did say traps are the calves of the upper body – and this exercise is incredible for bringing out the best in them.
We’re sticking to the usual rep range – but we’re going to need that calf machine.
1. Standing with your shoulders against the pads of the calf machine, make sure your body is straight and your arms are by your sides.
2. Just like with the barbell shrug, raise your shoulders to your ears. Hold at the top of the lift.
3. Lower shoulders back down to the starting position and repeat.
Obviously this has similar aspects to a standard barbell shrug. However, using the calf machine allows a lot more opportunity to test new weights and perform drop sets.
4. Upright Rows
This exercise features more of the shoulders than it does the traps – however it really helps stretches out the muscle and is a good exercise to finish a session with.
This exercise works best with a barbell – this keeps both sides at equal levels. Aim for 8-10 reps for 3 sets:
1. Standing straight, hold the barbell below you – shoulder width apart. Make sure there’s a slight bend in your elbows and that your arms are fully extended.
2. Keep your chest out and head up. Lift with your shoulders and raise your elbows up and outward. Your hands will follow, but will stay central to your body. Imagine it as if your trying to pull your shirt up.
3. Continue to raise the bar until it is just below the chin. Hold the weight for a second.
4. Lower it back down to starting position and repeat.
This exercise has many variations – dumbbells, Smith Machines, cables and bands can all be used to preform an upright row. We feel the best successes come from the bar – keeping it balanced during the pull further develops the muscle and deters imbalances.
5. Smith Machine Shrugs
Similar to the first exercise we’ve covered. The Smith Machine in general has had criticism in the past – but doing shrugs on them is such a guilty pleasure… and great for building mass.
With this exercise you don’t need to worry about putting the weight down, or picking it back up. It saves you the energy that’s usually used from lifting the weight up in the first place.
For this exercise you will of course, need a Smith Machine:
1. Standing straight, make sure the bar is set slightly below your arms after extension.
2. Unrack the weight and raise your shoulders (like you would in Exercise 1) and hold for a moment.
3. Lower the weight and repeat.
This exercise is aimed at going heavy, it’s very hard to mess this up unless you break form or rotate your shoulders. It allows you to put a lot more pressure on your traps, encouraging them to grow.
So there you have it. You now know more about how traps have been saving your ass in the gym, and how to make them keep up the good work!
These exercises should be relatively easy to perform in any gym, and are a surefire way to make your traps explode!