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
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
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
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 Fly
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 Pull
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!