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If you carry a heavy purse, schlep bags full of groceries or tote a toddler, you depend on your traps every day. But when was the last time you included them in your workout? For too many women, the answer is rarely, if ever. Yet nothing is more stunning than strong, sculpted traps — and nothing is more important to your everyday activities.
Your trapezius is a four-headed muscle that runs from the back of your skull to the middle of your back. The muscle is divided into three regions: the superior or upper region, the intermediate or middle region, and the inferior or lower region. The upper traps extend to the back of the neck, allowing the head to turn and tilt. The middle and lower traps support the shoulders, keeping them elevated and allowing them to retract the shoulder blades. The traps are also essential for survival because they are engaged whenever you breathe, helping to expand the upper region of the chest when you inhale.
As critical as your traps are to both your form and your function, adding this trio of moves to your workout routine can strengthen and define them. Perform three to five sets with 12 repetitions per set. Start with a weight that causes muscle fatigue for the final two reps. When all three sets become easy to do, increase the resistance.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart as you hold a barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands also should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Raise your shoulders up as far as possible as you exhale. Hold the contraction for a count of one, then lower your shoulders. Repeat.
Bent-Over Dumbell Row
Hold a dumbbell securely in each hand, palms facing your torso. Bend forward at your waist so that your chest is leaning forward over your feet. Flatten your back so that a straight line is formed from your waist to your head. Keep a slight bend in your knees while keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Start with your arms fully extended and the dumbbells held slightly ahead of you. Pull or “row” the dumbbells back toward your sides. Return to the starting position and repeat. Be sure to keep your head up, back straight and your shoulders back throughout this exercise to engage your traps and ensure stability throughout the entire move.
Cable Upright Row
This exercise requires a cable station. Attach the rope to the pulley and position it to the lowest point. Set to desired weight. Grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip. Stand up straight, directly in front of the pulley. Pull the rope ends to the front of your shoulders with your elbows leading. Allow your wrists to flex as you lift. Lower and repeat.
Isometrics are static exercises that don’t rely on weights. Instead, they involve holding certain movements to create resistance by causing the muscles to act against each other. And they are an excellent way to improve your traps on the fly — whether you’re sitting at your desk, waiting in the checkout line or even sitting in rush-hour traffic. The basic idea is to contract your traps and hold the position for 30 seconds. Here’s one move you can do anytime, anywhere: With good posture, squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your chest lifted. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then release and repeat. As an alternative, you also can hold a shrug without weight. Yoga poses, such as Downward Dog, also improve your trapezius isometrically.