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Build Towering Trapezii: 5 Moves To Bigger Traps

You can have the biggest arms in the world, but if they're not connected to some boulder shoulders or thick, tall traps, you're going to look silly. Build the traps you want with these 5 movements!

Yeah you notice the guys with the big arms, but you're mesmerized by the guys with the big traps. You know damn well they put in their time and didn't miss their workouts because they were too "tired." You commend them for their ability to grow those mountains on their shoulders and secretly envy a flexed pair.

If your physique resembles that of a bobblehead doll, get ready to take some notes. Trap training is not for the faint of heart. It takes real effort and guts.

Not everybody agrees about which day is best for trapezius training. Some say shoulder day, and others say back day. If truth be told, you're going to hit your traps on both of these days; but if you want my opinion, I find I am better able to focus on my traps while I train shoulders. My back day is usually focused on my mid-back and lats. On shoulder day, on the other hand, I get to squeeze my traps for added benefit.

To build those big-boy traps, here are some of my favorite exercises. Add two of these five movements to your normal shoulder routine:

Towering Traps Training

EXERCISE 1 // The Shrug
(3 sets of 50 reps)

You can perform this using a straight Olympic bar, dumbbells, the diamond/hex/trap bar, or even cables. The type of weight you use doesn't matter, but how you perform the movement is what separates the men from the boys.

Obviously, I like the heavy volume approach. Picking the correct weight is the trick: let's say you can deadlift that bar 10 times but the 11th rep would be ridiculously taxing and almost unachievable. If this is the case, then I believe you have the correct weight.

Once you select a weight, pick up the bar and then let it hang so you can feel a stretch in your neck and traps. You should feel some pulling, but no discomfort. When you pull up on the bar, make sure you focus hard on your traps. Don't use your triceps or biceps and try to limit your shoulder involvement. Use that mind-muscle connection. At the top of the movement, squeeze those traps.

This amount of volume is tough, but you're in this for the long haul. You may need a cheerleading squad to help you finish. Once you complete the first 50 reps, pat yourself on the back and regroup for the next two sets.

EXERCISE 2 // The High Pull
(3-5 sets of 5-8 reps)

Grab an Olympic bar and add weight that's about 50 percent more than you would use on a strict-form upright row. Grasp the bar with an under-hand grip with your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Allow the bar to hang in your grasp. Then, lower the bar with your lower back arched and your butt and shoulders back.

When the bar reaches about two inches above the knee cap, use your traps, shoulders, hips, and legs in unison to bring the bar to your chest. Once the bar is there, gravity will bring it back down. Use your hips and legs as shock absorbers.

EXERCISE 3 // Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row
(3 sets of reps per pound)

I like to use a weight-to-rep concept scheme here. Whichever weight I use, that's how many reps I do. So, if I use a 50-pound dumbbell, I do 50 reps per set, per arm. If I bite off more than I can chew, I'll challenge myself to take a rest-pause approach.

The important thing to remember about this movement is that it starts from the elbow. Imagine a string on your elbow, with a puppetmaster pulling it to move your arm. Don't lose this concept—it'll help your form when you get tired.

EXERCISE 4 // Modified Bent-Over Duel Cable Low Pulley Shoulder Flye
(3 sets of 10-15 reps)

Add this exercise to the end of a workout as a finisher. Position yourself as you would a normal low-cable flye by grasping the opposite pulleys with opposite hands. Keep your lower back arched, knees bent, and hips set back.

The exercise starts when your elbows have a 45-degree angle to your shoulder joint. Keep your arms in the same position and focus on driving that elbow up about 1-2 inches above your shoulder. Get a good squeeze at the top of the motion.

EXERCISE 5 // Low-Cable Face Pulls
(3 sets of reps per pound)

Use a rope and attach it to the low part of a vertical adjustable cable rack. Stand about two feet from the attachment to get the correct angle for recruiting those traps. To use this exercise as a burner, don't pause or rest at the top—keep the movement constant. This will get tough, but dig deep and finish.

Challenge yourself by picking a weight that's heavy enough for you to be begging for the end of the set, but not so heavy that getting there requires cheating.

Wrap It Up!

Invest in a set of powerlifting straps on all of these lifts. If you don't use them, you'll be at a disadvantage. Your grip is going to fail well before your traps do—I can promise you that. Now get in the gym and hit those traps!


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About The Author

Craig Capurso is a Wall St oil trader, IFBB Pro physique competitor, Team Bodybuilding.com spokes model, Cellucor athlete, and fitness model.

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Mafian35

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Mafian35

awesome article, but quick question. For shrugs, wouldn't 8-12 or so reps be best for hypertrophy?

Apr 23, 2013 6:53pm | report
ViolentDefiance

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ViolentDefiance

In my experience, yeah.

Apr 23, 2013 9:11pm | report
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

high reps and tiring the muscle is still gonna build muscle bro, theres way too much overhype about low rep to high rep and that only one builds muslce...

Apr 24, 2013 2:20am | report
Marktheshark93

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Marktheshark93

I thought the same thing so for working traps I typically do drop sets.

Apr 24, 2013 6:59am | report
Mudvayne24

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Mudvayne24

In my opinion I think you'll get the best benefit by consistently switching it around. Doing lower reps will make you stronger, but not necesarily more hypertrophic. That being said, the stronger your muscles become the more reps you'll be able to perform. It all comes hand in hand to me. I could see someone really looking to build muscle doing sets of 20 one week, doing sets of 10 the next week, then maybe doing 1 massive set to 100 the following week. If I had to choose one one of the following sets for hypertrophy... I'd probably go with the set of 100. I'd use a weight you can get to maybe 25 or 30 reps with before muscle failure, give yourself a little break to recuperate, then continue until you hit 100 reps. Pushing beyond muscle failure with these types of massive sets or doing similar exercises with dropsets will make for great hypertrophy.

Apr 24, 2013 9:37am | report
FVN20

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FVN20

Just do both and play with muscle confusion

Apr 26, 2013 5:03pm | report
jakegoldy

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jakegoldy

It's mainly about putting new stress on the muscle that you are working. Whichever way you do it with more weight or a high rep range with full range of motion (or close to) you should be struggling on your last reps.

Oct 9, 2013 3:43pm | report
TMBullWork

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TMBullWork

Good article, I like the high volume of reps! Definitely gonna get a good pump

Apr 23, 2013 7:03pm | report
Busydad518

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Busydad518

Good article. Looks like I'm not doing enough reps.

Apr 24, 2013 6:50am | report
JFort93

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JFort93

Never understood people's obsession with big upper traps. Definitely not my preference aesthetically. None the less, if thats your goal deadlift and shrugs (separately) are all you need. Form over weight as always but your traps can handle some heavy loads.

Would do sets of 10-12 for shrugs, sets of 50 sounds like a waste to me. And make sure to hit those rows for the lower part of your traps (middle back) to develop that sought after diamond. Just my two cents, hope it helps.
Josh

Apr 24, 2013 9:21am | report
Egleaves22

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Egleaves22

"sets of 50 sounds like a waste to me."
That's why he looks like he does, and you look like you do. There's merit to everything, any time you pick up a weight it's not a waste.

Apr 24, 2013 12:21pm | report
ohs0fast

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ohs0fast

"deadlift and shrugs (separately) are all you need."

and that's why Craig's article is published and yours isn't. Upright rows and/or High Pulls are far better at hitting the trap than deadlifts.

Jul 16, 2013 9:21am | report
Bigbillyrocka

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Bigbillyrocka

Overhead shrugs are great too to add into your shrug routine.

Apr 24, 2013 12:03pm | report
craigcapurso

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craigcapurso

I see some of the comments about using a lower rep range for shrugs.
l go heavy and use volume, i wrap it and pull it. Don't over analyze this one. You can definitely benefit by a minor cheat rep to help get that top squeeze just make sure good arch and knees bent not locked. Use a heavy weight here at about 30 reps the nightmare begins good luck make sure to finish.

Apr 24, 2013 12:18pm | report
JFort93

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JFort93

I get what you mean, I think the difference is in the wrist straps. If grip wasn't as much of a factor I could pull for some higher reps for sure and traps definitely like the volume. I just thought 50 sounded like overkill haha but maybe not.

Apr 24, 2013 9:30pm | report
chrisschuman42

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chrisschuman42

I know I have a good deadlift, but my traps must be lacking if I am supposed to do sets of 50 shrugs with a weight I could deadlift 10 times. That would likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of 455lbs unless I misunderstood the article. I probably couldn't get much range of motion on a single rep with that weight.

Apr 24, 2013 12:30pm | report
bigriggs42

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bigriggs42

I think you misunderstood the article. He wasn't saying to use the deadlift weight, it was just a comparision. He wants you to use a weight that you can get 50 reps with, but would struggle to get any more. At least that's what I got from it but maybe I'm wrong lol

Apr 24, 2013 12:56pm | report
tmittan

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tmittan

Sounds about right to me, you're not going for a big ROM with shrugs.
BTW, 455*10 Deadlift? You're a beast

Apr 24, 2013 1:11pm | report
chrisschuman42

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chrisschuman42

Hmm, thanks for the response guys (and the compliment, tmittan). I can see how it could mean to pick a weight that you can only just get for that number of reps, though I think that it would be hard to figure without a good bit of trial and error. Also, it would be difficult to be so precise with so many reps as how you are feeling day-to-day would vary it at least 5-10 reps, I'd think. If how I originally understood it was correct, I'd guess I could only get around an inch ROM with that weight and that would only be for the first 10 or so until I got too tired. I'd guess that around 3" would be about optimal.

Apr 24, 2013 1:37pm | report
craigcapurso

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craigcapurso

Whats up Chris.. I am just trying to advise you guys to pick a weight that you guys are going to struggle with. Most people see 50 reps and pick a light weight .. I pick a heavy weight that will nearly crush me.. Yes form will be a bit suspect and I expect a small cheat rep but its about burning them up I PROMISE they will grow I use this method and I easily have some of the bigger traps in the game.

Apr 24, 2013 4:30pm | report
chrisschuman42

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chrisschuman42

Thanks for the clarification! I will try to work this into my next shoulder day. I think I may start with 225 to see how that works and adjust from there. 50 seems like a whole gob and I'm sure I'll be able to handle bigger weight the more I do it. If I think about it, I'll get back on to report how things went.

Apr 24, 2013 8:38pm | report
bigriggs42

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bigriggs42

And yea you're a beast with the deadlifts lol

Apr 25, 2013 8:33am | report
chrisschuman42

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chrisschuman42

Thanks, bigriggs42! So, I gave the 50 reps a go. I thought I would just do one set as I only sometimes train my traps and didn't want to be super sore. I was pretty tired at the end of this workout when I did it. I went with 225 and things went relatively smoothly through the first half. At 25 I was fairly spent, so I just held the weight in my hands and took a 10 second or so pause, then did another 5, another pause, then another 5 before I was out. A total of 35. I think I'll try it again with 205 next week and hopefully won't have had such a tiring day at work beforehand. I did feel a pretty good burn when I was done.

Apr 27, 2013 11:34pm | report
craigcapurso

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craigcapurso

Good man .. Its about an open mind ,, i tell people give it a shot and see what they think.. i use 315 diamond bar 3x50 its a pain but the more your body gets used to that lactic threshold the more you will benefit...keep it up Chris

May 1, 2013 10:02am | report
Veronikite

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Veronikite

In other articles they set the upright row as the worst exercise ever, since the move is awful for the shoulder

Apr 24, 2013 1:20pm | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 11'9"
  • wt: 141.54 lbs
  • bf: 25.4%
Showing 1 - 25 of 44 Comments

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