Much like shredded abs are the sign of great conditioning, huge trapezius muscles, aka traps, denote power and strength. Large, thick muscles on top of your shoulders tell everyone who sees you that you lift heavy!
Since they run along your spine, traps are part of the back, and your mid and lower traps tend to get enough attention during your regular back workout. This is why the upper traps are usually included in the shoulder-training plan of many lifters. But if you're serious about building mass on top of your shoulders, give your traps the focus they deserve.
You can easily work this two-exercise, 200-rep trap workout into your own program. It doesn't matter where in your program you add it, just make sure you do it.
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Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug
The front version of this exercise is by far the most popular. However, doing these behind your back can actually hit the traps more directly. Holding the weight behind you takes overactive muscles like your chest and front delts out of the equation.
Loading the weight behind you means the focus will be primarily on the upper traps, but you'll feel this throughout your traps. The range of motion is limited. However, if you hold the contraction at the top and take time to feel the stretch at the bottom of each rep, this version can work wonders for you.
Since it's a short movement and you're using a bar, you may be tempted to pack on the plates. If you find that 20 reps is too easy, then yes, go up in weight. Just don't add weight because it looks cool. Doing so helps no one and only hurts your muscle-building potential.
Rest 45-60 seconds between sets.
You're going to need five pairs of dumbbells separated from each other by 5-10 pounds. It might help to do this exercise at the dumbbell rack if your gym isn't busy—otherwise, find an open space. The goal here is to force as much blood into the traps as you can in the shortest possible time, maximizing that pump.
Grab the lightest dumbbells from among the five pairs and knock out 10 reps. Without pause, set down those weights and go to the next, slightly heavier pair. Perform 10 more reps. Repeat this protocol until you've worked your way up to the heaviest weight and completed 50 total reps.
Rest 30 seconds.
This time, start with the heaviest dumbbells and work your way down. Think of it as a 50-rep dropset.
As you get near the end of the 5 sets, avoid the temptation to start rolling your shoulders. Straight up and down is best. Rolling your shoulders will stress your rotator cuffs, robbing your traps of any benefit.
By the time you get back down to your lightest set of dumbbells, you'll have done 100 shrugs within a few minutes.
Should You Use Straps for Shrugs?
Debate rages about using straps for trap work. If power and strength are your primary goals, go bare-handed or prioritize grip training another time. For the purpose of building the traps, I recommend using your lifting straps for this workout. A secure grip of the object you're lifting allows you to focus on working the traps without worrying about dropping your weight.
For more great trap-building ideas, or for a list of complete exercise plans, visit the Bodybuilding.com Workouts page.