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Strong Neck and Impressive Traps

Updated on January 31, 2012

You may not consider your neck the most important body part to concentrate on in the gym, but you have at least three important reasons to work it.

1) your neck muscles are responsible for your head movements, 2) well-developed neck muscles decrease your chances of suffering perhaps the most dreaded injury of them all— fracture of the cervical spine, and 3) your neck muscles are a key component of a strong and proud overall look.

The upper trapezius is attached to the base of your skull and the ligaments of your neck. Another back muscle that figures in neck development is the levator scapulae. It's mainly responsible for raising the scapula but it will also tilt your head back and raise your chin. The trapezius muscle is made up of 3 areas. The upper, middle and lower fibers. Each division performs a variety of functions.

Moving the shoulder blade towards the spine and up and down, rotating the shoulder blade so the topmost part of the upper arm faces up, moving the head and neck in a backwards direction, rotating the neck and bending it sideways. And also assists in breathing.

People who work in office environments (sitting at desks and in front of computers), or spend many hours driving, the upper trapezius can become very sore and painful. Exercise, of course, helps strengthen this area and prevents pain.

Most of the muscles that affect head movement are small and weak, but not the sternocleido-mastoid (1). It's the major muscle responsible for forward motion — or flexion — of your head. It starts at the clavicle (2) and works its way up to the mastoid process of the skull. The sternocleidomastoid is also a lateral flexor, allowing sideways movement, as are the scalenus medius (3) and the scalenus anterior (4). Backward motion (extension) is the work of a number of muscles, including the splenius capitis (5), the splenius cervicis (6), the four erector spinae muscles, the semispinalis cervicis and the semispinalis capitis (7).

Kinesiology & Physiology

The upper portion of the trapezius can be developed, by simply elevating the shoulders, with shoulder shrugs and upright rows movements.

The middle muscle fibers can developed by pulling shoulder blades together, with rowing exercises and deadlifts. It is common for those lacking experience and muscle knowledge to focus more on the upper portion of the muscle, and forget the important middle part, resulting in muscle imbalance. This can affect posture and compromise general shoulder health.

The lower part can be developed by drawing the shoulder blades downward while keeping the arms almost straight and stiff. This exercise can be done with a machine with an overhead cable and pull-down bar.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Stand erect, with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand. Let your head hang down and tuck your chin into your collarbone; don't force it. Droop shoulders down as far as possible. Raise your shoulders as high as possible. Hold at the top, then slowly return the weights to the starting position. Do not lean forward as you bring the weights down and avoid any rotation of the shoulder at the top of the movement.

Dumbbell Shrug Demonstration

Upright Barbell Row

Standing upright, grasp barbell with both hands about shoulder width apart. Let the bar hang down in front of you. Pull the bar in an upwards direction, just under your chin, keeping it close to your body. Concentrate on pulling with your traps. Lower slowly to the starting position. The same can be done with a Smith Machine. This exercise also works the shoulders.

Upright Barbell Row Demonstration

Barbell Shrugs

Stand straight, holding the barbell with both hands in front of you and your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your feet at shoulder width. Droop shoulders down as much as possible to start, with the bar hanging at arms length. Raise your shoulders up as far as you can go as you would with the dumbbell shrug. Avoid any semicircular motion of the shoulders, go in the direction against the the force of weight and gravity. The same exercise can be done on a Smith Machine.

You can also do a Barbell Shrug Behind The Back with your palms facing backwards. "Shrug" your shoulders upward as high as you can. Best to have the barbell resting on a power rack or bench before you try to pick it up behind your back.

Barbell Shrug Demonstration

Machine Shoulder Shrug

You can work your work your traps without having to hold dumbbells or barbells. Position yourself on the calf machine, with the shoulder pads resting on your shoulders. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears and hold it for a second. Return slowly to the starting position and repeat.

Machine Shoulder Shrug Demonstration

Neck Exercises

One of the reasons your cervical spine (the part of the spine that makes up your neck) is vulnerable is that its seven vertebrae aren't as strong as the rest of the spine. But this fragility also allows the freedom of movement that lets you turn, shake and nod your head. The major neck exercises require movements in various directions. Most are done lying down to use gravity for resistance, but many use weights attached to a harness or a partner to provide resistance with his hands.

  • Partner Assisted Lateral Flexion: In partner-assisted neck exercises, your partner supplies the resistance with his hands. Flexion means moving your head sideways against his resistance. He must allow you to move through the range of motion smoothly and slowly—about one to two seconds per repetition. He shouldn't resist so much that you have to strain.
  • Partner Assisted Twists: Here you swing your head around rather than sideways. In both partner-assisted exercises, your partner must "feel" the amount of tension you develop against his slowly yielding resistance. Remember that the neck is vulnerable so approach these exercises carefully and without jerky movements. Don't overexert.
  • Partner Assisted Flexion: Strengthening the flexors in front of the neck is the most effective way of preventing hyper-extension injuries. Have your partner offer smooth, easy resistance while you raise your head forward slowly and lower it. Repeat.
  • Partner Assisted Extension: For extension strength, have your partner push against the back of your head with easy smooth resistance while you go through a full range of extension. Begin with your chin on your chest, and end with your head in line with your body


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    • Alfin Loencontre profile image

      Alfin Loencontre 

      5 years ago

      Thank you.

      Normally we do not give importance to this part when we're in the gym.

    • Eugene Sung profile image

      Eugene Sung 

      8 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Traps are one of the most awesome looking muscles and I love training them. Your descriptions are very good. Nice hub!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellent! I had doctors - 3 high ranking recommend surgery - I took up fitness and my neck is better and my overall health and energy. Surgery is not the answer. Great photos and explanation.

    • allie8020 profile image

      Allie Mendoza 

      9 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Great hub! Most people are focused on getting great abs, but you're right. Our neck and back muscles are sooo important for our health and appearance. Thanks for including helpful videos as well as detailed info on kinesiology, anatomy and physiology.

    • undagroundjoe profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California,USA

      Often overlooked muscle group indeed. Nice info.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      10 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Excellent advise for us wannabe's

    • BetsyIckes profile image


      10 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great hub! Makes me want to go exercise! Never gave much thought about the neck before!

    • lakeerieartists profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      10 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      This caught my eye today because my neck hurts from sitting for 11 hours at two art shows. Now if I could only have a masseuse travel with me.

    • Ladybird33 profile image


      10 years ago from Fabulous USA

      Excellent hub, I learned a lot and added a few ideas to my work out schedules. Thanks.

      PS; and I have booked marked this and other hubs of yours as I am changing my workout routine.

    • frogdropping profile image


      10 years ago

      Darkside - I never claimed your work. Sent it simply as helpful reference info. Be flattered. She found it very helpful - Marcus Aurelius :)

      Maybe you should turn your dead people into text reference books.

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Emailing a PDF is alright. But if I ever see a best seller called Dead Romans, I'll know who to call! :D

    • frogdropping profile image


      10 years ago

      Darkside - when you say running out of body parts you almost sound like a Victorian grave robber. But I get you. Muscle groups. And glad to hear you're going to publish an overview. I've lost count of the times I've seen folk either badly executing exercises orsmashing themselves around on machines (not to mention fallen about laughing) - plus a lot just don't understand the importance of exercising different muscle groups.

      I'm thinking you'll have almost covered a book by the end. I wish I could translate it (well) into Portuguese because a friend could really do with your guidelines. He's dedicated to the gym but is woefully under-educated as to how to exercise correctly.

      And I think you're right to avoid body-building. It's different. And not just about weights, exercises and quality dieting. For the main anyway.

      Dead Greeks and Romans. Emailed my daughter a PDF version of one of your Emperor articles - school work. She found it helpful and relative. Or was I not supposed to do that? If not - sorry.

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Yes, it's on the cards.

      This was number 13 so I've just got two more to go. And I'm running out of body parts.

      The next two are on the Serratus and Obliques. The Serratus are quite small, blink and you'd miss them. And the obliques, well there's not much info on them, and I would have probably bundled them all into one hub with intercostals but I needed 15 hubs, so I figured all 15 should be about different muscle groups, rather than 14 (muscles) + 1 (on routines or I had another idea that I'll be doing at a later date) + 1 capstone.

      The Capstone itself will cover an overview of the body, weightlifting tips, safety information, the benefits of weight training as exercise, and a few different work out routines.

      What the Capstone (or any of the hubs in the series) won't cover is nutrition and dietary supplements, because that's getting into the bodybuilding side of things, and I'm looking at it from the 'weight training as exercise' angle.

      On a whole it's certainly been a departure from dead Greeks and dead Romans.

    • frogdropping profile image


      10 years ago

      Darkside - your capstone exercise collection is great. Are you going to publish one on an actual routine? Like four days a week, alternating muscle groups etc. Many don't understand the importance of establishing some kind of routine.


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