One of the most overlooked muscle groups in your training routine, you guessed it, your traps. Your back and shoulders are not complete without a set of killer traps. Traps make or break a well-defined upper body physique, and with the best trap exercises in your training program, you’ll create a bigger and better build, to help with heavy lifts by adding more size and strength.
What Is The Trapezius
The trapezius, commonly referred to by gym bros as the “traps” are responsible for pulling your shoulders up, when you perform a shrugging motion, and pull your shoulders back during scapular retraction. The traps stretch from the back of your head down to the shoulders, into three easy to remember sections; upper, middle, and lower traps.
6 Best Trap Exercises
Through electromyographic (EMG) research, investigators were able to identify which trap exercises stimulate the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles with the greatest level of EMG activity.
1. Shoulder Shrug
Of course, shoulder shrugs the first on the list. But not just any shoulder shrug, the unilateral shoulder shrug. The unilateral shoulder shrug was found to produce the greatest EMG activity in the upper trapezius [R]. With greater muscle stimulation in the upper traps, you’ll be able to gain more muscle and strength, to build a stronger physique. The upper traps can also help with pull strength in Olympic movements, such as the clean, and snatch. You can perform the shoulder shrug with a variety of different implements, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, smith machine, and/or cable pulley take your pick.
2. Barbell Deadlifts
Deadlifts aren’t just good for your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and posterior chain muscles, but also your mid and upper back, including your traps.
Deadlifts are a compound movement, meaning they use multiple muscle groups, joints and stabilizing muscles, in unison, giving you more bang for your buck when it comes to building more strength.
According to a study published in the Journal Of Strength & Conditioning, deadlifts activate many of the large muscle groups in the lower as well as the upper body, including the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, and latissimus dorsi (lats) [R].
If the goal is strength and body aesthetics, deadlifts are going to hit all the sweet spots, and help you build bigger quads, active your glutes to build a bigger butt, stronger abs, better hip mobility, and a more defined back.
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3. Power Snatch
The snatch is a powerful and explosive Olympic movement, in which you drive a loaded barbell from the ground, over your head through the sheer power of your hips, legs, and traps, bringing the bar overhead as you squat beneath it. Sounds complicated doesn’t it, that’s because it is. The snatch takes timing, skill, strength, and precision, but it can build your traps like no other movement. However, the power snatch, a slightly varied type of snatch is a bit easier to learn and master. It also focuses a bit more on the upper back as opposed to the traditional snatch, since you don’t end up in a squat position. Either way, practice practice practice, your traps will thank me later.
4. Vertical/Upright Rows
The vertical row or upright row, performed with an EZ bar, barbell, or cable pulley is going to be one of the best trap exercises to build bigger and stronger traps. These are not only a great exercise to add to your back day training split, but will also help you build size and strength in your anterior delts and rear deltoids.
5. Face Pull
Face pulls are a must have if you want a killer set of traps. Not only do they stimulate and engage the traps more so than most other exercises, they can be performed in a very controlled motion, increasing range of motion, which is crucial to build more strength and muscle mass.
6. Power Cleans
The power clean is a full body compound movement. It stimulates and works multiple muscle groups, joints, and secondary muscles in the posterior chain as well as your hip flexors. The power clean is often used in Olympic weightlifting, or training modalities like high-intensity functional training or CrossFit.
Power cleans stimulate the major muscle groups in your posterior chain, such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, core, and erectors. These specific muscles are heavily recruited in the initial phase of the lift, starting from a loaded barbell on the floor, while secondary muscles such as your deltoids, quads and core are more emphasized in the catch position.
Best Trap Exercises: Takeaway
If you're looking to build monster traps, and a well defined physique, built for power and speed, then you should definitely include a few of the trap exercises in your weekly accessory lifts, or training split. Traps can complete your body and provide the extra strength you need to perform high intensity olympic movements, with power and precision.
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Ekstrom RA, Donatelli RA, Soderberg GL. Surface electromyographic analysis of exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003 May;33(5):247-58. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2003.33.5.247. PMID: 12774999.