The trapezius muscles (traps) are one of two superficial muscles that extend longitudinally from the occipital bone to the lower thoracic vertebrae and laterally to the spine of the scapula (shoulder blade). The muscle group consists of three functional regions: the superior region (descending part), which supports the weight of the arm; the intermediate region (transverse part), which retracts the scapulae; and the inferior region (ascending part), which medially rotates and depresses the scapulae. Its primary function is to move the scapulae and support the arms.
Well developed traps round out the shoulders and assist with that tapered look that bodybuilders are always striving for. Powerlifters perform countless exercises that hit the traps in their compound movements and bodybuilders are always striving for that perfect balance between all of their muscles. Well developed traps increase arm strength a lot because of the method in which they support the arms.
I love working the traps because you go heavy and with high volume and that is how I love to lift. Take a look at some of my favorite trap exercises below. While you will not perform every one of these during every trap workout, they should all being in your trap workouts at some point.
The barbell shrug is the mother of all trap movements. While I prefer doing shrugs with a straight bar, other viable options include a trap bar, dumbbells and cables. To be honest, my trap workouts always include barbell and dumbbell work because of how I can isolate both ways.
To perform shrugs the right way, you need to go heavy. Pick a heavy weight that you can do for 10 reps and where the 11th rep would be impossible without cheating. This is the weight that you want to work with. Of course, feel free to squeeze out a couple of extra reps with cheating, but you need to perform your first ten reps with strict form.
A few things to note about the approach of your lifts are that you want to weight to hang to the point where you are stretching your traps slightly, but are still comfortable. While you perform each rep, ensure that the traps are getting the bulk of the work by limiting the inclusion of your shoulders and eliminating any use of triceps and biceps. Run through 5 sets by creating that mind-muscle connection and you will feel nice. Of course, there is plenty more to do.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row
Upright rows are great for your traps, but they get a bad rap. The main reason for the reluctance to performing upright rows is that they are often not performed properly. Pick a nice weight and connect your mind to the weight by starting from the elbow and lifting the weight straight up as if being pulled up by a string.
Low Pulley Cable Face Pulls
Utilize a rope attachment and the low pulley, stand back about 1 1/2 – 2 feet. Pull the weight back towards your face as if doing a face pull. This alternate angle will hit the traps just right at the end of a grueling trapezius workout.
The high pull is reminiscent of an upright row and a reverse grip barbell row. Grab a barbell with a wide (slightly beyond shoulder width) underhand grip and arch your back slightly as you bend and retract the shoulders. Lift and lower the weight by using your traps, shoulders and legs while bringing the bar to your chest.
Listen to the podcast on training the traps properly.