If you had asked about traps training earlier in my bodybuilding career, I probably would have suggested either barbell or machine rows and called it a day. However, in 1995, I suffered a relatively minor forearm injury that limited the amount of weight I could lift with my hands in a prone position. Mind you, I was performing my shrugs with up to 650 pounds at the time, so I had to find a way to work around my injury to continue my traps training.
Before the injury, I had never considered doing dumbbell shrugs to work my traps. The equivalent of 650 pounds in dumbbells would be two 325-pounders, and dumbbells that heavy simply don’t exist. I had no other option except to use dumbbells totaling a much lighter weight. At first, I thought I’d lose size in my traps as a result of the lighter weight, but the opposite wound up being the case. The dumbbells allowed a range of motion I couldn’t experience with a barbell. The result was growth and unprecedented traps stimulation from bottom to top. As with all of the other exercises in my routine, there is a specific form that must be adhered to for the dumbbell shrug to be maximally effective.
A note of caution: do not attempt to keep your arms perfectly straight. Locking your elbows can put severe stress on your joints and lead to injury. If your elbows bend a little as you raise the dumbbells, so be it. If you can bend them enough to turn the movement into a dumbbell raise, it’s an indication that you need heavier weights.
I recommend training traps twice per week, say Monday and Thursday. If you are training your full body — which I hope you are — consider limiting the traps workout to once a week, paired with a shoulder routine. Shoulder training invariably works the traps, especially with exercises like front lateral raises. I’m including a sample shoulder/traps routine to show you how to structure a workout to include both bodyparts.