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.


Credit: Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

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.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Upright Row

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!


Cable Rows

Pull Ups

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.

Power Clean

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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Comments 18 comments

rylittleton profile image

rylittleton 6 years ago

good set of tips!


nsiiwht 6 years ago

if i get them too big and i dont like the look, will they atrophy back to original size?


Dalyinx profile image

Dalyinx 6 years ago from New York Author

They should eventually.


tom 6 years ago

If you _really_ want big traps, just go on the juice: they respond very, very well to anabolics. Traps seem to grow much faster than other muscle groups when 'supplementing' with T. Seriously though, it's a great article; thanks!


Madame X 6 years ago

These are great tips. I used to do them all the time, the Shrugs, and especially the Upright Rows. My co-workers are amazed that I can be so small (5'2") and lift so much.

Great article :)


Casey Theriault  6 years ago

Thanks a lot!


Julian Gonzalez 6 years ago

Great advice. I'm on my 6th week of weight training and I'm seeing some good results, but I like to incorporate new exercises to shock my muscles. I'll use the "Upright Barbell Row" for sure and the "Shrug" on a rotating basis.


Raymondho profile image

Raymondho 6 years ago

Cool topic! … I love my traps! haha … my favourite are pull ups but I like to vary it either weighted or tempo. T he hardest for me is really slowing it down. I feel the best results that way.


Michael122 profile image

Michael122 6 years ago from Pleasant Grove

Pretty cool I would lift weights, but my parents wont let me until fourteen.


Rob Tyler 5 years ago

In response to Michael122 > I wouldn't start lifting weights until you are 16 even then you should only begin on resistance machines to get your body used to lifting weight and exercising then move onto free weights. In England you cannot join gyms until 16 and some places don't allow you to lift free weights until 18. Why? Because your body is still forming and growing up around until you're 18, if you starting packing weight onto that growing process you can become disfigured. Just wait, it will pay off. Also if your stacked at the age of 14 you're gonna look like a prat


bob with a nob 5 years ago

you can join hyms when your below 16 im 84


jzepess profile image

jzepess 5 years ago from Bend, OR

Don't forget deadlifts. While deadlifts are a compound movement that is great for overall back development, if I had to choose a single muscle group that it targeted best I would choose the traps.


david stillwagon 5 years ago

Great hub and very thorough!


McMahon 5 years ago

Do not listen to Rob Tyler I started out when I was 15, and do free weights they are much better than machines...


saif 5 years ago

very nice hub. thanks


Arthur 5 years ago

now all i can do is shurgs how much timewoul it take to grow a trapezius mucle


TD 4 years ago

With regard to the whole weightlifting/age thing, its a myth. I started lifting weights when I was 11 and I began lifting consistently when I was 13 or 14. Im 22 now and im not disfigured in any way, shape, or form, unless you consider the two softballs sitting next to my neck(my traps) to be a disfigurement.

Also for all you guys who want big traps, try power shrugs. They are a shrug variant which uses leg drive to overload the traps (you need straps to do these). They are way way WAY better than standard conventional shrugs. Those and deadlifts are king for big traps, I do both once a week with a LOT of weight.


Indian Freak 4 years ago

Good workout schemes for traps...

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