BEST TRAP EXERCISES
I’m going to show you a simple yet effective technique to train your trapezius muscles for size, guaranteed to make you sore the following day.
There are a number of excellent exercises for traps out there, like the rack pulls and cleans Olympic lifters do. But for this workout regimen, we’re going to combine just two simple traps exercises, the classic Barbell Shrug and the Overhead Plate Raise. This standard shrug variation is a popular exercise and the overhead raise is a common trap exercise as well. These traps exercises may look familiar, but the effort won’t be!
We’ll be doing a drop set of the Barbell Shrug with an isometric hold, with one set of 10 Overhead Plate Raises every time your grip gives out during the drop set.
I’ll explain this effective trapezius workout itself in more detail at the end, but first let’s go through proper form for these two effective traps exercises!
THE BARBELL SHRUG
The barbell shrug is a classic trap exercise for your upper traps muscles. Use a power rack if you have one, adjusting it so the bar is just above knee level.
For this common exercise, you’ll want to load the bar up, but not all the way to your heaviest load. We’re not trying to break any records on this classic exercise! You should still use a heavier load, but your focus should be on volume and not stronger traps, so choose a lighter load you can lift for a little bit longer period of time. Starting position is in standing position holding the barbell in both hands with an overhand grip.
Before we get into sets and reps, let’s look at the correct way to perform a simple shrug movement from an anatomy-based perspective to really hit those upper traps.
Proper posture for the shrug movement is important because of where the trapezius muscles attach to the shoulder joint.
The traps insert on the lateral portion of the clavicle and the acromion. So as I’ve said before, we want to follow the muscle fibers to get the best contraction.
The key for effectiveness in the shrug movement is the way in which you move the shoulders on each rep. Rather than lifting the shoulders straight up and down, you want to lift up and back at an angle, pulling your shoulders up toward your ears for correct posture in this exercise.
On the way down, let your shoulders round forward a bit rather than lowering them in a straight line. This additional forward eccentric motion provides a greater stretch and fuller range of motion.
As you can see above, to get the best results from the shrug movement let your shoulders protract forward as you lower the bar toward your knees. Retract up and back, then protract down and forward. We’re not talking about rolling the shoulders here.
Exercise Notes: Starting position is standing, grabbing the bar using an overhand grip (NOT an underhand grip), hands and feet shoulder width apart. We’re not using a wide grip here. Use upright posture keeping your core tight. Avoid excessively heavy loads for this exercise.
THE OVERHEAD PLATE RAISE
The Overhead Plate Raise movement works the lower and middle traps that many people don’t train nearly enough, and helps stabilize the shoulder blades.
You’ll be performing one set of 10 Overhead Plate Raises every time your grip gives out during your Barbell Shrug drop set, without rest in between these demanding exercises.
For the Overhead Plate Raise, select a plate you can do at least 10 reps with using good form, because again guys, this isn’t an upper body strength workout.
Exercise Notes: Starting position is standing, grabbing a plate in both hands, and holding your hands down in front of your body, thumbs pointing up, raise the plate as high over your head as you can by squeezing the mid-back between your shoulders. Continue squeezing your mid-back, maintaining constant tension, as you lower the plate in front of your body with control. This really hits those often-neglected lower and middle trap muscles as you work to stabilize your shoulder blades. Maintain core strength throughout the movement.
HOW TO PERFORM THE TRAPS WORKOUT
For this effective trapezius workout regimen, you’ll be performing a drop set of Barbell Shrugs with isometric holds that are really going to test your grip strength!
Every time your grip strength fails, you’ll grab a plate, perform 10 Overhead Plate Raises and return to where you left off in the Barbell Shrug drop set, until your grip strength gives out again. These are effective trapezius exercises that will get you the results you’re looking for in your traps.
Here’s how the workout plays out:
- Set a timer for six minutes. You’ll begin with 10 repetitions of the Barbell Shrug, followed by an isometric hold for 10 seconds, then nine repetitions, holding for nine seconds, then eight reps, with an eight second hold, all the way down to one repetition, one second hold. Your overhand grip strength will give out before your traps do. When it does, immediately grab a plate and perform 10 reps of the Overhead Plate Raise, before picking up where you left off with the Barbell Shrug.
- If you’re able to make it through 10 reps of the Barbell Shrug, the 10 second isometric hold, then 9 reps of the Barbell Shrug, then 9 second isometric hold, and then your grip strength gives out, stop and perform 10 reps of the Overhead Plate Raise. Then return to do 8 reps of the Barbell Shrug and an 8 second isometric hold, etc.
- Keep following this technique, performing 10 reps of Overhead Plate Raise every time your grip strength gives out until you reach and complete one rep of the Barbell Shrug and a one-second hold.
- If you finish your Barbell Shrug drop set before the 6 minutes is up, finish with one long static hold in shrug position until the time is up.
Try incorporating this trap workout into your regular workout routine if your traps aren’t growing or if the workout you’re doing now never leaves you sore the day after.
This isn’t the only way to induce trap soreness, and soreness doesn’t always equate to new muscle growth. But because we’re overloading, and because we’re applying a heavy dose of science to this trap workout, we’ve incorporated all the necessary elements to help you build bigger traps.
If you’re looking for all the best exercises and techniques to build muscle mass from head to toe, with every exercise chosen based on anatomy and science you’ve come to the right place. Let me coach you to the best physique you’ve ever had! Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which one is the best fit for your goals and fitness level.
- This trap workout combines two effective trapezius exercises: a Barbell Shrug drop set performed with an eccentric stretch at the bottom, and an Overhead Plate Raise.
- Shrugs are an excellent exercise to work the upper traps muscles while the Overhead Plate Raise works the lower and middle trap muscles.
- Set your timer for 6 minutes. Start with 10 Barbell Shrugs followed immediately by a 10-second hold, then nine shrugs with a nine-second hold, and so forth until you get to one rep with a one-second hold, or until your grip fails (which will probably happen first). Perform the Overhead Plate Raise for 10 reps every time your grip gives out, and then resume your Barbell Shrugs drop set where you left off.
- For proper Barbell Shrug form, let your shoulders protract downward as the bar travels toward your knees for an eccentric stretch. For the Overhead Plate Raise, squeeze the lower and middle traps while raising the barbell plate (concentrating to not turn it into a deltoid raise).
- If there’s still time remaining after your last set of shrugs, do one long isometric hold until time expires to maximize time under tension.
TRAP WORKOUTS FAQS
The Barbell Shrug is the best exercise for traps because it allows you to overload the trapezius muscle. Proper posture is important for the Barbell Shrug. Instead of lifting the shoulders up and down, lift up and back at an angle.
It’s good to workout your traps to create a balanced physique. A set of well-developed traps contributes to a jacked muscular-looking upper body.
Trap training is using strength training exercises to work the trapezius muscles. These muscles contribute to a balanced looking physique and help provide strength for other upper body lifts.
Just like with any other muscle, the time it takes to build traps will depend on how much effort you put in, the frequency of your workouts and to some degree your genetics. If you use the best trap exercises you should be able to see some growth in your trap muscles within a couple of months.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.