The trapezius spreads across your back, neck and shoulder blades, covering the rhomboids and helping define the V-shape of the latissimus dorsi. Because of its size, various zones perform different functions: The upper traps draw your scapulae upward and allow you to shrug, the lower traps pull your shoulder blades downward, and the middle traps pull your shoulder blades inward toward your spine.
Though these functions all take place on the reg, your upper traps tend to get the most work, either from sitting slumped over at work or because of too much shoulder work where the traps are primary or secondary movers. To maintain a balance of power and achieve optimal symmetry, it’s necessary to intentionally strengthen your middle and lower traps with moves like this.
Form: Cable Wide-Grip Row
- Set a cable pulley to about shoulder height and attach a lat pulldown bar to the end. Hold the bar with your hands outside shoulder-width apart with an overhand or underhand grip — whichever is most comfortable. Your grip does not make a huge difference when it comes to engaging the target muscles.
- Face the machine and hold the bar with your arms and elbows straight and slightly below shoulder height. Above this level, your scapulae start to rotate and slide upward, disengaging the lower and middle traps and allowing the upper traps to take over.
- Keep your elbows high and drive your elbows rearward, drawing your shoulder blades together as tightly as possible as if squeezing a pencil in between them. As you pull the bar toward your upper chest, exhale forcefully. This will remind you to keep your core engaged to support your spine.
- You may not be able to get the bar all the way to your chest — this is normal. Don’t try to increase your range of motion by arching your back and/or flaring your rib cage, which only stresses your lower back. Instead, keep your core braced and your ribs positioned over your hips.
- Also, avoid thrusting your chin forward in an effort to pull the bar back a little farther. This engages the neck extensors and upper traps and trains poor posture, so ensure your chin stays tucked and level with the floor, aligned with your ears and shoulders.
- Slowly extend to the start, resisting the pull of the cable to work the eccentric muscle contraction on the return.
- This move can be done standing or seated: Standing requires more core and gluteal engagement to maintain balance, while sitting allows you to focus more on the mind/muscle link with your back.
Sample Form Trap Workout
Function: Power Shrug
This exercise is less about shaping your traps than it is about developing explosive power, such as is needed in the final phase of a clean or a snatch. These moves require a triple extension of your knees, hips and ankles, with the shrug providing that little extra lift to maintain upward momentum and allow you more time to drop underneath the bar for the catch. Power shrugs help develop upper-body strength and the speed you need to improve your lifting potential and help you push past PR sticking points. And even if powerlifting isn’t your thing, this move is a novel way to train your traps, especially if you’re used to (or bored with!) slow, controlled shrugs.
- Load the bar with a moderate weight, something you might use in a warm-up. You don’t want to go so heavy as to cause fatigue, but you don’t want to go so light that your muscles don’t engage properly.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the barbell in front of you with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Allow the weight of the bar to gently draw your shoulders down a little, giving you a bit of a stretch and pre-loading your muscles for the pull.
- Dip down by bending your knees slightly while maintaining your erect upper-body position and keeping your heels on the floor. Keep the bar in contact with your thighs as you dip to encourage a vertical bar path, directing your power upward and minimizing the possibility of the bar swinging out and away from you, reducing your power and control and possibly stressing your shoulders or lower back.
- Dip quickly, then explosively extend your hips, knees and ankles and rise up onto your toes as you shrug your shoulders upward. This should generate enough momentum that the bar feels almost weightless at the apex of the pull.
- Instead of dropping underneath the bar and catching it as you would with a clean or a snatch, either release the bar at the top and drop it back to the floor or control its decent back to the starting position to go into the next rep.