One may not think it, but the Trapezius (Traps) is a very large muscle group that is located immediately beneath the skin that extends from underneath the back of the head all the way to the middle of the middle back. The part that extends from the neck to the shoulder stretches into the middle clavicle (collar bone.) Its function is to lift the arms and break the level of the shoulders and also lift the shoulders above their level at rest. It’s shape is triangular and it inserts directly into the rear-upper neck, rear shoulder, and mid-middle back. There are two of this muscle, on the left and right side of the back. This muscle group gives people that ”meaty” and ”bulky” look from the front, aside from a wide back. It is usually a rounded belly muscle group when fully developed/bursting with muscle. The Traps’ muscle fibers ”fan-out” from the shoulder, meaning, the extension from the Shoulder to the neck is ranging from 45-degrees and down, and the extension from the Shoulder to the middle back ranges from negative 45-degrees and up. The fibers insert horizontally, essentially helping to bring the Shoulder blades back and not only up. It can be seen when squeezing the shoulder blades together or when striking a legendary Back Double-Biceps pose.
There are two ”core” exercises for targeting the Traps– the Shrug and the Upright Row. There are no other exercises for working the Traps besides engaging it as a secondary muscle group. Some exercises that would make the Traps be the secondary muscle group would be Face-Pulls, Front Lateral Raises, and Seated Rows with a higher pull. I’m sure there are some other crazy exercises that you’d see in a P90x video that would claim to work your Traps, but going back to the basics is never a bad thing to do.
The Legendary Shrug: This exercise is simple when you think about– just shrug your Shoulders! But there is a little bit more to it. As mentioned before, the Traps’ muscle fibers are horizontal, meaning that it will pull the Shoulder blades back, so, when doing a shrug, bring your Shoulders back and squeeze them and then shrug your Shoulders up until you feel another squeeze of the rest of the upper muscle. Everyday you will see guys shrugging really heavy, usually more than their body weight, and it’s usually ego inducing them to do so, and only maxing out at around four reps. The Traps should be treated typically like every other muscle group, moderate weight for 8-15 reps and sometimes heavy weight for 6-8 reps. The Shrug is infamous for giving the Traps a superb stretch because it essentially brings the Shoulders down past it’s level at rest– the opposite of what the Trap does.
There are a few variations to the Shrug:
-Using a Shrug machine
-Shrugging while holding the barbell in front of you
-Shrugging while holding the barbell behind you
-Shrugging with dumbbells in each hand at your sides
-And even holding dumbbells in a Shoulder-Press position and shrugging from there
Doing the shrug with the barbell behind you will eliminate the difficulty of pulling the Shoulder blades back like with the front barbell shrug since the barbell will limit how far you can pull you Shoulder blades back without jeopardizing good form, the bar being behind you will have already helped with a good portion of the movement, but this variation is slightly harder to maintain balance with when you use heavier weight, so the Smith Machine is suggested.
Shrugging with dumbbells is the optimal choice for shrugs since you can move the dumbbells freely and let your Traps do all the work. The dumbbells enable you to pull the Shoulder blades back and upwards with perfect form. So, dumbbells are the way to go if available, if not, then barbell shrugs with the bar behind you. Remember to bend your knees so as to not place extreme weight on the joint. Seated Shrugs are always an option, but can put a lot of stress on the spine.
Keep in mind, when Shrugging, try to bring the Shoulders back and try to touch your ears with them (not literally.)
The Upright Row: This exercise is as the name entitles, rowing weight in an upright motion. The Shrug is usually done when people are working either Shoulders or Back, but the Upright Row is almost always done on Shoulder Day because the medial Deltoid (middle Shoulder) is highly used in this variation since the arm is required to be raised away and up from the body. Grabbing the bar with a close-overhand grip will ensure a greater use of the Traps. The wider the grip becomes, the less possible it will be to raise the arms above shoulder level and will work the Shoulders to a greater extent.
These are a couple of variations for the Upright Row:
-Use a straight bar with an overhand grip
-Use an EZ-Bar with an overhand grip to put less stress on the wrists
-Use a pair of dumbbells
Doing Upright Rows with dumbbells are the optimal choice for Upright Rows because of the greater allotted range of motion and the smaller stress on the wrists. Try not to rock back and forth and let momentum do the work for this exercise. “Cheating” is okay when you’re absolutely burned out, but don’t let the momentum do all of the work. Think of raising the bar or dumbbells up to the level of your chin, but don’t push it and hit yourself.
Tips: When doing either exercise, stand with your feet slightly spread apart and squeeze your Glutes and Abs to maintain balance. Use straps when dealing with weight that’s too heavy for you to hold that enable for your grip to fail. Give the Traps a good stretch on the final rep of each set and the keep the Traps under tension for the other reps. Maintaining the Traps under tension for the duration of the set will ensure optimal muscle tearing.