Do you ever go in the weight room and see these guys with massive backs and the separations appear when they’re working out?
You know with Lats flaring out, thick rhomboids, spinal erectors running up both sides and thick traps at the top?
A big back is what separates the boys from the men in the weight room!
On one side you have the bros doing countless sets on the bench press and on the other the big boys working on the widths and thickness of their backs.
Having a big set of traps is impressive.
It makes the T shirts sit nicely on you, it makes you look bigger overall because having a big set of traps pulls your shoulders back so you get that V shape look.
If you sit all day on a desk or train too much chest training the traps is very important. It also gives the impression that you know a thing or two about building muscle.
Unfortunately for most people when you tell them about traps they think upper traps, cue the dumbbell shrugs!
The Trapezius has 3 levels, upper, middle and lower fibers.
If we take a simplistic view of the traps and their functions…
The top fibers elevate the scapula.
The middle fibers rotate the scapula inwards
The lower fibers depress the scapula.
Again it is a very simple view and in real life all the muscles work together in harmony, so just because you are depressing the scapula that doesn’t mean that the upper traps are not contracting.
Muscles contract on an “all or nothing” basis meaning that either they all contract or they don’t.
The trapezius has 4 main functions.
- Elevation and Depression of the Scapula
- Internal Rotation of the Scapula
- Moves the head and neck in all directions
- Supports the weight of the arms
Shrugs and Traps
Way too many beginners use shrugs to build their upper traps but forget that there are upper, mid and lower traps too!!
What normally tends to happen is that these people end up with thick upper traps but nothing below to support it, in other words they look unbalanced or they end up busting their shoulders because they’re using a weight that is too heavy.
What exercises should I do to target the traps?
Face pulls – this exercise retracts and protracts the scapula. Pause at the shortened range to teach your mid and lower traps to stabilise the scapula.
Holding the contraction for 1-3 seconds will also cut out the momentum and teach you how to contract.
Snatch Grip High Pull – A similar exercise to the upright row, but done with more explosive power therefore will need the traps to work harder to stabilise the weight.
Use a wide grip, hold your grip near the disks on the outside of the furthest ring.
Wide Grip Deadlift – the grip isn’t as wide as the snatch grip but wider than your normal deadlift grip. The wide grip forces the back to work much harder.
A heavy farmer’s walk will quickly fry your back, shoulders, and grip while making your lungs feel like you’ve guzzled a gallon of napalm.
The farmer’s walk is the simplest exercise you can do. Just pick up some heavy weights, walk as far as you can and repeat.
The muscles in the back and shoulders are heavily targeted, particularly the traps. These muscles must work together in a continuous contraction to keep your shoulder blades together and down, and to keep your shoulder joints stable.
Barbell Push Press
The push press is very similar to the standard standing shoulder press with the slight difference that it’s an explosive movement where you use your feet to drive the weight up.
This provides 2 benefits:
- You can use more weight than a static standing shoulder press.
- You get added the benefit of explosive strength training which teaches you to use more force in less time.
There are many more exercises that will also work the traps but for the fear of confusing you I have only listed 5. In terms of reps and sets, again there are many permutations which you can use. There is no right or wrong method, all in context of course.
Yes, a lot of these are what we call explosive and strength exercises but it doesn’t mean that you cannot use a variety of reps and sets with them.
The best way it to use periodisation.