I love training traps and shoulders together. It's the ultimate upper-body mass builder. A lot of guys struggle with growth in this area, and if that's your problem—or even if it isn't—I highly recommend this Balloon Method routine. It's intense to the max, with nine different exercises and 2 sets of each for a grand total of 18 sets.

What Is The Balloon Method?

The Balloon Method, so named because of the balloon-like effect it has on muscle growth, is a science-based approach to mixing up your workouts. It comprises three distinct types of sets, each proven to promote growth:

  • Overload sets (these use heavy weight)
  • Tension sets (these use lighter weight)
  • Intensity sets (these shock your muscles into growth)

Debate rages in the fitness community as to whether light weights vs. heavy weights are ideal for muscle growth. However, research suggests that the best approach combines a variety of rep ranges and intensity.[1]

Work through the following exercises with 100 percent intensity:

Reverse Smith Machine Shrug: 2 sets of 30 seconds time under tension

Rest 45 seconds

I like doing these at the beginning because the Smith machine allows you to control the weight, and you can't ego-lift with it.

Performing shrugs behind your back will help you maximize the effect on your middle and upper traps. The goal here is to focus on form and squeezing hard at the top to maximize trap activation on every single rep.

Note: You will see in the video that my elbows are only slightly bent at the top of the movement.

30-Degree Incline Dumbbell Shrug: 2 sets of 10-12 reps

Rest 75 seconds

This exercise also hits the upper and middle traps. As I mentioned, I want to encourage you to avoid ego-lifting. It's easier to shrug crazy amounts of weight without actually focusing on using your traps, which is the whole point of doing shrug exercises.

On these, you go for a certain rep range rather than timing, but you should still be holding each and every contraction at the top and also concentrating on the negative as you return to start. You get a little longer rest here, too.

Incline Dumbbell Shrug

Wide-Grip Trap Raise: 2 sets of 30 seconds

Rest 45 seconds

This is one of my three favorite exercises for hitting a combo on traps and deltoids.

Stick with your 30-degree incline bench for this exercise. Grab a preloaded or EZ-bar with a wide grip and lie chest-down on the bench. Starting with the bar perpendicular to the ground, raise it to where it's parallel to your head.

You will feel the trap activation here, of course, but you're also indirectly hitting the anterior and lateral deltoids. The key is to choose a lighter weight so you can hit that squeeze at the top. Try not to use momentum to swing the weight around.

Iso Cable Shrug: 2 sets of 20 reps with dropset

Rest 60 seconds

If you've seen some of my other shoulder workouts, you know that I recommend leaning away from the tower when performing cable lateral raises. You do this iso cable shrug in a similar starting position.

Perform 10 reps on one side, drop the weight by 30 percent, and do another 10 reps. Repeat on the other side. Again, this is really about activating the traps as much as possible, so you shouldn't be doing these with a ton of weight to begin with. This is a great exercise to include in the middle of a shoulder workout when you already have a phenomenal pump going.

Alpha Lion Jet Gains
Alpha Lion Jet Gains
Increase muscle protein synthesis, featuring Creapure®, L-Leucine, & Betaine

Dumbbell Shrug: 2 sets of 30 reps with double dropset

Rest 90 seconds

The classic dumbbell shrug! You want to keep the intensity high, since it's past the halfway point of the workout and you don't want to lose momentum. To accomplish that, you perform a double dropset.

Place your hands at your sides, at an angle between the sides of your legs and the fronts. Start with a heavy weight, but not so heavy that you can't control or squeeze the traps fully. Do 10 reps, drop the weight by 10-15 pounds, and do 10 more; drop another 10-15 pounds and perform your final set of 10 reps for a total of 30. Count 1-2 seconds at the top of every repetition.

Rope Face Pull (Traps Edition): 2 sets of 8-10 reps

Rest 75 seconds

Not your average face pull here! In this version of the classic rear-delt move, you do two separate movements.

First, pull the rope toward your forehead, almost as if you were doing a front double-biceps pose, and then raise the rope straight above your head.

Squeeze for a second on the face pull and for one second at the top of the raise before reversing the movement back down and repeating.

Rope Face Pull

Rear-Delt Cannonball: 2 sets of 30 seconds

Rest 45 seconds

I got this move from professional bodybuilder Regan Grimes.

Start with your hands facing in the opposite direction from what you normally would use on a rear-delt fly. Instead of having your palms facing inward, rotate them internally so that the palms are directed outward and away from each other.

Perform the movement the same as a rear-delt fly and use light weights—I use 10- or 15-pound dumbbells.

Plate Raise: 3 sets of 30 reps with double dropset

Rest 90 seconds

For this exercise, I hold three 10-pound plates together and perform a classic front raise while seated. Keep your back straight and remain upright as you do the first 10 reps, targeting your anterior and lateral deltoids again.

After the first 10 reps, drop one of the 10-pound plates and immediately do 10 more reps, then drop to one 10-pound plate and do the last 10 reps.

Obviously, you want to adjust the weight you use according to your own strength levels, but do not sacrifice form and tension for more weight. Shoulder injury is something you want to avoid at all cost.

Iso Shoulder Press: 2 sets of 8, 8, 4, 4 reps with dropset

Rest 75 seconds

Your final exercise for this Balloon Method workout will give you a satisfying burn to finish on a good note!

Use 30-40 percent less weight than you would for a normal set of seated dumbbell presses. Start with both dumbbells in the bottom position and work one side at a time. Do 8 reps on the right, 8 reps on the left, then 4 on the right, 4 on the left. That's one set and you do it twice.

Give Troy's workout a try on your next shoulder/trap day and make it a regular part of your training program to see growth! For supplements to help support your journey to mass, check out Alpha Lion Jet Gains muscle-building powder.

  1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance trainingThe Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

About the Author

Troy Adashun

Troy Adashun

Troy Adashun is the co-founder of the fitness lifestyle company Alpha Lion. He is from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and has been a lifelong athlete and bodybuilding enthusiast. In 2013, ...

View all articles by this author

Shoulders Hypertrophy Workout