How to Get Big Traps
The Trapezius Muscle
The trapezius muscle is a large muscle in the middle of the upper back that is primarily used to support the arm, although it is also used to rotate and move the scapula. The most noticeable portion of the trapezius muscle is the superior region, which is used to support the arm. This is the part that extends out from the next and creates a "hump" on top of the shoulders. The muscle derives its name because the two muscles create a shape similar to a trapezioid.
Practical uses of strengthening the trapezius muscle include better posture, more raw lifting ability, and better arm / shoulder stability. Posture is important because uneven trapezius musculature correlates strongly with scoliosis and other spine defects.
The most common part of the trapezius to work is the upper portion due to the relative ease compared to the other portions. In order to get a big traps, many people do shrugs or similar lifts, like the upright row. There are ways to work the lower of the traps, but most of these methods are not direct like shrugs are, for example. It's close to impossible to isolate the lower traps, but barbell rows and pull ups do a wonderful job of building them up.
Why You Want Big Traps
Large traps are an easy way to tell if someone works out or not. They are a very large muscle if worked properly and highly pronounced, creating large slabs of meat on the sides of the neck and on top of the shoulders. Aside from looking menacing, which they certainly do, strong traps are also functionally useful. They can help you lift stuff off the ground, like a heavy refrigerator.
Since we've established that having large and powerful traps are important, here are some tips on how to build them up properly.
Superior Trapezius Workouts
Shrugs: These will be the core of your trap workout. They put a tremendous amount of strain on the muscle and are very good for strengthening it. You'll be able to use a heavy weight early on, but make sure to not strain yourself or roll your shoulders. Rolling your shoulders could damage your rotator cuff which'll put you out of commission for a long while. Try doing them behind your back also (with a barbell.) This is probably the most important exercise to get big traps with.
Upright rows: The upright row is, in my opinion, a superior functional lift to the shrugs, although they don't place as much direct stress on your traps. They do, however, put a good amount of stress on your shoulders and create a large range of motion for your traps, which actually promotes as much muscular growth as shrugs. Be careful of how much weight you use when doing this lift because it is very easy to hurt your shoulder with them. The same shoulder rolling advice holds true for these - be careful not to tear your rotator cuff!
Intermediate and Inferior Trapezius Exercises
Cable row: The cable row is a great exercise that primarily hits your lats, but it'll also work your traps if you know how to do it correctly. When doing the cable row, be sure to pinch your shoulder blades together, which'll place additional stress on your trapezius muscles. This is probably the most direct and easiest way to work out the intermediate muscle fibers, although it'll also hit the inferior fibers. You can substitute the cable row with dumbbell or barbell rows, but it is more difficult to pull your shoulder blades together with these lifts. The T-bar row is another great choice and probably the best upper back lift around. Row exercises will make your back thicker and stronger.
Pull up: Pull ups are a largely underappreciated exercise that place a tremendous amount of stress on your shoulders, lats, and traps. These are very effective for working the inferior and intermediate fibers and will grant you a larger back overall. These are best for building width (from left to right) and highly recommended for anyone that wants to take their workout seriously. Lateral pull downs are a similar exercise that you can do if you are unable to do pull ups.
Power Lifts For Traps
While isolation and compound lifts are good for building up your traps, power exercises might even be better. I'm not going to list complicated and excessively difficult olympic lifts, but their derivatives are worth doing and will build power and build up your traps. These are better overall exercises than the lifts I mentioned above, but they do not target the traps as specifically and you'll get less stimulation per work out since they'll tire you out so much.
Cleans: Any type of clean is effective, although I prefer to do a full power clean from the ground. Hanging cleans will isolate the traps more, but I feel like I'm cheating my core if I only do them. The power clean is arguably the best power-building exercise in the world of weightlifting and will benefit you more, overall, than probably any other lift sans the olympic ones.
Power Straight: This is a two-part exercise that is similar to the pull up, except it's much more difficult and also much more rewarding. This is another great core exercise that puts a ton of stress on your upper back and shoulders, but also works your triceps, abdominals, and hips. This is my personal favorite exercise, although it is very, very difficult. Unless you're lean or very explosive, you'll probably have a hard time with this one. Unfortunately, this is a relatively unknown exercise and I was unable to find a video detailing how to do it. I may make one of my own in the future.
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