Guest Post By Jordan Galida Traps, trapezoids, trapezius muscles…whatever you call them, there’s no doubt 99% of guys want them to be bigger. The other 1% are lying. Let’s face it: bulging traps ooze masculinity, strength, and power.
A pair of bulging traps can leave you walking around feeling like a cobra ready to strike its prey. Many guys think big traps are a sign of a big dose of alpha-male essence that spills out of your t-shirt. Who am I to argue? So let’s get real. It’s all about domination and commanding attention. I mean, just look at some of the strongman competitors.
Here are the three main exercises and rep schemes to build your best traps. They have worked for me, and they can work for you. You’ll pack a couple of ribeyes worth of meat onto your upper back. The image below is me. I train my traps often, and with high volume.
Why Trapezius Muscle Volume Matters The traps are a postural muscle, that is primarily slow-twitch fibered. This means that they are very good at fighting off fatigue. Think about it. Your traps have to hold your shoulders and upper back up throughout the day.
The traps are almost always active. Sitting at your computer typing, like I am now? Your traps are keeping your shoulders back and stopping them from rounding forwards. Carrying groceries into the house from your car? Yup, they are especially active there. The traps are pretty much one the most “functional” muscles in the body. They are also active a lot during your training in the gym.
But most people undertrain traps. Think of how much pressing you do in your lifting routine. Now, think about how much you actually train the traps directly. If you’re being honest, and aren’t already prioritizing them, you’ll realize you don’t actually train them a lot. This can actually be detrimental to your lifting, as there is probably an imbalance between your pushing muscles (chest and front delts) and your pulling muscles (upper, middle, lower traps, rear delts, and lats).
The best way to train the traps, and upper back, is to use high volume because they can tolerate it well. This means that training up into the 15-30 rep range is not only acceptable but recommended. The exercises I’m going to show you lend themselves very well to higher reps.
Basic Traps Anatomy
The traps are split into three heads. A descending part (upper traps) a transverse part (middle traps) and an ascending part (lower traps.) Fortunately, the movements you’ll learn today will really hit the upper and middle traps while the lower ones get enough stimulus from pull up variants.
The upper traps are responsible for moving your neck around as well as shrugging your shoulders. The middle traps are responsible for pulling your shoulders back (think military posture) and the lower traps are responsible for scapular depression (think of depressing your shoulders down and tightening your lats.)
The Face Pull For Trap Power The face pull is the ultimate movement to sculpt your upper back into a muscle roadmap. This exercise works mainly your rear delts and middle traps. To do it, grab a long rope (or two normal ropes extended all the way out) and attach it to a cable pulley system. I like to do mine seated so I can focus on just doing the pulling movement.
Pull the ropes so that your hands go back above your ears, and a little bit behind your shoulders. You should look like you’re doing a back double-biceps pose. Make sure you get that full contraction at the end of the movement and a full stretch at the beginning. Don’t be scared to use some momentum because you’re weakest in the contracted position.
Do these for:
Sets of 15-30 reps
Do them until you are about 1 rep away from failure
Do them 2-3x a week
The Overhead Barbell Shrug The second exercise for lurching traps is the overhead shrug. This is an amazing exercise for the upper traps. If you ever wanted to not have a neck, then this is your exercise. Grab a barbell and load it up with a weight that you think you can do a decent amount of reps on. It shouldn’t be too heavy, but heavy enough that you feel it.
Take a wide grip so that your arms form a v-shape. The pressure should be coming down at an angle since the upper traps themselves are at an angle. Press the bar up overhead so that it’s directly over your midfoot. It helps to look down so that you give your traps room to fully contract.
Do these for:
Sets of 15-30 reps
Do them until you’re about 1 rep away from failure
You can do this every day if you want, but 3x a week should work great
The Shoulder Pull This is the sister movement of the face pull. The shoulder pull targets your middle traps better, however. Having well developed middle traps will help you with most of your exercises as they are fundamental to being able to keep your shoulders retracted during movements like the bench press.
Again, take a long rope (or two short ropes that are fully extended) and attach it to a cable pulley system. I like to do these seated because it helps me to maintain my posture and so I don’t use any lower body movement to help me out. You can heave these back with some momentum and then resist on the negative. This will equal out your strength curve with the force curve as the exercise is really easy in the beginning and really hard at the end.
Make sure that when you’re doing this exercise that you aren’t doing a face pull. Pull your hands back so they are in line with your shoulders. When you finish the movement, you should get a full contraction and your arms should be right above, or slightly in front of your delts.
I like to do a full contraction at the end by trying to pinch my shoulder blades together and position my posture as upright as possible, almost leaning back. At the beginning of the movement, I get a full stretch by slightly rounding my upper back thus lengthening the middle traps.
Do these for:
Sets of 15-30 reps
Do them until you’re about 1 rep from failure
Do them about 2-3x per week
Doing these exercises will pack pounds of muscle onto your upper back. Don’t be startled if your shirts start to fit differently, in a good way! Your newfound musculature will help you stabilize and be stronger in all the other movements you do in the gym.
As to what you do with that newfound muscle in your personal life, well, I leave that up to you. About The Author Jordan Galida is an online personal trainer who has competed in powerlifting at the national level. He works mainly with dedicated strength trainees who lift at least three times a week and want to up their game. Check out his website.