Small traps are a travesty. We’ve all seen the guys that hit arm day like a boss, but somehow skip everything else.
Yes, traps are a glamour muscle, but to really get those slopes, you have to train a lot of not-so glamour muscles, and you need to train them HARD.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that most of your trap training comes from compound movements. All of your rows and your deadlifts hit them, and, as with every muscle, you get less gains in isolation.
So even if you add shrugs to your arm day (because EVERYONE loves arm day) but slack off the rest of the week, your traps are going to look deflated.
Long story short, no amount of trap work is going to make up for bad workout habits. However, if you find yourself worshipping the iron four or five days a week, but your traps are still lagging, there are some exercises you can do to catch them up.
Exercise 1: Smith Machine Shrugs
I know what you’re thinking: smith machines are for chicken-legs doing half squats. You wouldn’t be caught dead on one. But chances are, your shrugs are suffering because your grip can’t keep up with your traps.
If you’ve been doing dumbbell shrugs, move over to the smith machine and do barbells.
Your traps can move a LOT more weight than your hands can, so think of the smith machine as a wrist strap. You’re just giving your grip a crutch so you can overload your traps.
- Rack the bar so you have to squat the tiniest bit to grab it. With an overhand grip, lift the bar with your legs (not your back), and unrack it.
- Perform your shrugs leaning slightly back, with a slow, smooth motion. Be careful not to roll your shoulders.
Exercise 2: Upright Row
Upright rows are also a great shoulder move. Depending on how you split your workouts, it might be better to include these with the rest of your shoulders. You’re still getting that extra trap work, but you don’t risk overdoing your shoulders.
Speaking of shoulders, if you have a history of shoulder pain, try these with dumbbells. Sometimes the added freedom of motion can help you avoid the pain. If it still hurts, you’re out of luck. These can be rough on tender joints.
- Grab a barbell (or dumbbells), with your hands about shoulder width apart, overhand.
- Let the bar hang. Using your delts and your traps, lift the bar up to your chin, slowly. Avoid jerking up, and avoid shooting your head forward and straining your neck.
Exercise 3: Facepulls
Facepulls are great for your rear delts as well, which are crucial to train in opposition to your shoulders. Weak rear delts can lead to an impingement and muscle imbalance, and that’s a season killer.
- Set a cable tower to eye level. Attach a double ended rope, and pull towards your nose, pinching your rear delts.
- Avoid letting your elbows come up too high. Your hands should stay above them.
Exercise 4: Farmer’s Walk
This one comes a little out of left field. While it’s more of a leg/full body workout, you’re actually getting a lot more trap work than you realize. That static hold is really putting them through their paces. As an added bonus, you’re getting a lot of grip training from this. With a stronger grip, you’ll be able to shrug more.
Chances are your gym doesn’t have a farmer’s walk specialized piece of equipment. Your choices are either a trap bar, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a pair of 45 lb plates. Dealer’s choice.
- Safely pick up the weights, which means either lifting them off a high surface, or properly deadlifting them.
- With short, quick steps, walk about 100 yards. Maintain an upright posture, without shrugging. Safely lower or drop the weights.
Remember, there’s no replacement for a hard workout.
The best way to get big traps is to train the hell out of your big back compounds. Rows and deadlifts will hit them better than any shrug. However, you can add these in to really make them shine.