These days, many people are stating “traps are the new abs”. If you want to have that eye catching bodybuilder’s physique then big traps are a must.
Along with making you an alpha male, trapezius development is also important for symmetry and shoulder, spine and neck health.
If you want to fill out that T-shirt every day, rather than just showing your abs off a few times per year, focus on your traps. Here’s 5 ways to get them massive:
- Understand How the Trap Functions
The biggest mistakes with trap development is sticking with the old fashioned shrug and only working a small percentage of the muscle. While I don’t have anything against the shrug and can see benefits as part of an overall routine, limiting yourself to shrugs alone will drastically reduce your trapezius development.
To understand why, you must learn some basic physiology of the trapezius muscle below.
In this picture, you can see the trap muscle actually runs from the skull all the way down into the mid back. While most people believe it only plays a role in pulling your shoulder up to your ear (known as elevation), it in fact plays a bigger role in scapular retraction (pulling your shoulder back into the middle of upper back / spine).
Finally, you can see towards the bottom, the muscle fibers run from the mid spine up into the shoulder, meaning it has a third function in scapular depression (i.e. pulling down).
As you can see, the shrug type movement actually only works a small amount of the overall trap muscle. If you’re sticking to shrugs alone, you simply can’t maximize growth.
In fact, movements such as bent over row, single arm rows and cable rows will maximize trap recruitment and work more of the overall muscle - which is always the goal.
Just like your legs, what will bring about more development, moving 2 inch on a leg extension machine or doing heavy squats? This is just like comparing a 2 inch shrug movement to a whole row movement!
Now you understand the mechanisms, it’s very easy to successfully grow and select exercises for your traps!
- Increase Time Under Tension
Time under tension is probably one of the most important training factors for the trap. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important for any muscle group, but even more so for traps due to its anatomical function. As we discussed, the traps are a group of multiple muscles and spend a lot of their life stabilizing the shoulder, so a few quick 1 second shrugs aren't going to do much.
As with any muscle, or muscle growth in general, you’ve got to overload it. For the traps, this means you’ve got to take it to a place that hurts; from here, the body will sense excessive stress and send proteins to the site for growth and adaptations. This is the basic principle behind muscle growth in general and for the traps, it means a lot of time under tension.
Regardless of the exercise, shrugs, bent over rows etc., try to keep them under tension for at least 30 seconds per set. Now, while this time seems short, if you do 10 reps with a 1 second explosive ‘shrug’, you’ve actually only got 10 seconds of true time under tension or more specifically, time under extreme load.
From now on, set a timer as you’re about to hit the set, this way, it will really teach you to slow down, squeeze and build time under tension. Trust me, you will be surprised how quickly you’ve been going and how brutal a controlled 30 - 45 seconds really is.
Using shrugs or bent over row as examples, try a 1 to 2 second row or pull up, then hold for a long 2 seconds at the top, squeezing the muscle as hard as possible. Slowly lower down for another 1 or 2 seconds and perform 10 reps. This will give you about 45 seconds, which should work wonders for your new trap goals!
- Add in Farmer’s Walk
As mentioned above, one of the traps’ functions in daily life is to stabilize the shoulder blades. Whenever you are exercising, carrying shopping bags or performing upper body movements your traps are likely active in some form.
Linked with the importance of time under tension, additional sets of farmer’s walk can overload the muscle, bring up your forearms, improve your core and burn calories. They are also very easy to implement and a great superset method for your workouts.
You can do this is two ways, firstly, adding a few sets of farmer’s walk into your routine as a superset after another lift. For example, training triceps or chest and going straight into 30 seconds of farmer’s walk.
If you really want to feel some pain, they can also be used as a superset add-on after the main trap exercise. For example, you could perform your cable rows, bent over row or shrugs and then head straight into 30 seconds of heavy farmer’s walks. While it’s great to do it without straps for your forearm development, you may wish to add them in here so they don’t limit your main lifts.
- Optimize Your Technique & Biomechanics
Another simple but very effective tip for your traps is to change your body position and technique when performing a typical row (i.e. bent over, cable, machine etc.).
The general row can actually be great for:
- Rear delts,
What most people don’t understand is that your technique will determine which muscle group you overload. If you don’t perform this correctly and just do a mix of all 3, you won’t actually be overloading anything (kinda like cheat reps), which limits your overall growth. Instead, perform them with specific intent on one muscle group.
To do this for traps, you must set your body position at a diagonal angle. For bent over row, this is perfectly set up, as you are normally in a diagonal position (from the hips) to start with. For the cable or horizontal row, you actually need to be leaning back, so your body is diagonal.
The typical position shown to the right will actually recruit more of the rear deltoid (shoulder) and lats. To overload your traps, you would actually want to lean back slightly, as shown with the red line.
Once in this position focus on rowing fairly high and squeezing your traps behind the lower neck.
- Use These Exercises
Now you understand the most important and scientific principles when it comes to trap training, try these exercises in your next workout.
- Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell Shrugs (hold for 2 at the top)
- Farmer’s Walks (imagine you are doing a slight shrug during the walk)
- Deadlifts (start with a slight shrug to keep the traps engaged throughout)
- Leaning Back Cable Row
- One Arm Dumbbell Row on slightly inclined bench (to set your torso diagonal, rather than flat)
- Upright Row (go lighter and focus on technique).
As discussed, shrugs will tend to respond best to higher time under tension and therefore reps. While all rep ranges may have a place, I recommend the 10 - 20 rep range. Don’t be afraid to hit 20 reps, as explained, the traps are a very fatigue-resistant muscle as they are working all day to stabilize and engage the shoulder.
Lastly, don’t take all this great information and only hit them once per week... they simply won’t grow at a noticeable rate. Instead, hit them every other day, or at least 3 times a week. You don’t need to spend a whole workout on them either. Try adding 15 minutes towards the end of your session, as part of your back workout, or, as discussed, use them as a superset as part of the normal workouts.