I’ve tried every kind of shrug imaginable — barbell, dumbbell, machine, low rep, high rep — but my traps won’t grow. What’s your secret?
Traps are the most neglected muscle group — not because they’re ignored, but because they’re so difficult to reach. In cases like yours, shrugs just don’t cut it. This is because, in some ways, traps are the most remote and inaccessible muscle group in your body. They are protected by a virtual fortress of other torso muscle groups, such as lats, rhomboids, erectors and shoulders, and even by such distant arm muscles as biceps, triceps, forearms and hands. So, before your traps can be worked, the exercise must pass through several of these ancillary muscles, each of which saps it of some of its power. By the time it reaches the traps, it has been rendered essentially ineffective.
That means your traps must be worked through all dimensions, not only with shrugs, but also by extremely heavy lift-pulls through a backward-upward, or upwardbackward, arc. The following exercises achieve that effect. If you want great traps, include them regularly.
Here’s the bad news: You can’t have great traps without them. Now for the good news: They’ll give you the thickest and highest traps possible. “Deads” are the perfect trapezius exercise, because they combine all total-mass principles for this fractious bodypart: maximum poundage, full range of motion, and intense stress on the traps through all dimensions and from top to bottom. As you start the lift, you’re bent over, which pulls your traps forward and stresses them over their entire area of mass, from bottom to top and side to side. As you raise your body, the stress moves progressively downward, from the top of your traps, across your rhomboids, pulling hard at the lateral extremities. At the top, you “lock out” the lift, shrugging your shoulders up and back, which serves as a peak contraction, especially for your upper traps. As you lower the weight, the entire process is reversed, but with the same beneficial effects. You can’t ask for more. Always do deads.
Besides being one of the greatest back classics of all time, this exercise makes your trap peaks look as if they’re birthing alien twins. To that end, barbell rows are even better than shrugs: Your traps roll farther forward, inducing a heavier and more intense peak contraction. Don’t bend all the way to horizontal; keep your torso angled upward, so your upper traps get more work. Also, the deeper you pull into your gut, the harder you’ll contract your lower traps. Again, use a full range of motion.
Similar to barbell rows, except that because the weight travels through a forward arc, the initial stress pulls harder at the lower traps, then spreads to the outer traps as it progresses. This results in a fierce contraction across the base of the trap peaks at the top of the movement.
SEATED LOW-PULLEY ROWS
When the pulley is lower than your feet and you pull low into your midsection, your traps rotate upward and forward, which builds separation and thickness in your lower and center traps.
This is how Olympic lifters get their tremendous traps. Yanking the bar from the floor to your shoulders in one motion is all trap strength, and the explosiveness of the movement multiplies the benefit.
A classic deltoid exercise, but an even better exercise for the upper traps, where the stress remains concentrated over the entire range of motion. Don’t explode. Keep the movement smooth and consistent.