I have many years of experience in weightlifting, fitness, and nutrition.
How to Build Big Traps
If you want to look big, strong, and intimidating, you have to get your traps growing now. Developing your trapezius muscle can really make a big difference in your appearance. Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the Hulk in the TV series, had huge traps.
The function of the trapezius muscle is to move your shoulder blades inwards toward your spine. Shrugging is done using your traps. They also bring your head and neck in the backward direction and rotate your head from side to side. The angles of the trapezius muscle provide pulling motion in three different directions, which are up, down, and in towards your spine.
To get maximum development, you have to do more than just shrug a barbell or dumbbell. You also want to focus on your shoulders because they will accentuate the size of your trapezius. You will want to train these muscles at minimum every three or four days in one way or another. You will be training them directly and indirectly, and I will show you how to do both.
I find that different weightlifting exercises affect different areas of the trap muscles, so I am going to give you what I believe to be all the exercises you need to make sure you train all of the very important muscles to get results fast.
1. The Barbell Shrug
The barbell shrug is a great movement because you can add a lot of weight to really get your traps working hard.
Because of your hand placement, the barbell shrug works more of your upper-middle traps. This is the area that is below your skull—just to the side of your neck—and a little bit of the area that shoots out to your shoulders.
For this exercise, you will want to do one warm-up set and three work sets.
So for your first set, you will use a weight that you can perform 12 to 18 repetitions with. For your second, third, and fourth sets you will progressively add weight to each set. Make sure you do at least 8 reps but no more than 12. If you do more than 12, then the weight is too light for a work set.
- Load your barbell and grab the bar while standing with a slightly wider-than-shoulder grip with your palms facing your body and the bar against your thighs.
- Without bending your elbows, shrug your shoulders upwards as high as you can go.
- Try to touch your shoulders to your ears. At the top position hold for a second and squeeze your trap muscles
- Slowly lower the barbell in a controlled manner back to the starting position. That was one repetition.
2. The Dumbbell Shrug
The dumbbell shrug is very similar to the barbell shrug except you hold the dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing the side of your body.
Because of your hand placement, this exercise will put more stress on the area between your neck and shoulders.
Do the same rep and set scheme as with barbell shrugs—one warm-up set and three work sets. Do 12 to 18 reps for the warm-up set and 8 to 12 reps for the work sets.
For this exercise and the barbell shrugs, when shrugging the weights upwards, remember not to bend your elbows or roll your shoulders. I see some people that will shrug the weight up and then roll the weight back and down.
There is no proven evidence as far as I know that states that this rolling will benefit you. If anything, in my opinion, I think you can injure your shoulders doing this.
3. Behind-the-Back Shrugs
This is a great exercise if you really want to thicken the middle of your upper back behind your neck. This area is in the middle of your traps and gets missed by a lot of weightlifters and bodybuilders. This is a simple exercise that will have a huge payoff in the muscle department.
- You can use a smith machine or a squat rack using the safety bars.
- Using a moderate weight, back up to a barbell and grab it at about shoulder width.
- Slowly shrug the bar upward up over your butt as high as you can comfortably go.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
- When you have the weight shrugged up as high as you can go, hold it for a second, squeezing your traps upwards and together if possible. You should feel your traps filling with blood quite easily with this exercise.
- Perform a few sets with moderate repetitions.
I don't like the idea of using really heavy weights with this exercise as your elbows don't appear to be in a normal path of motion. You judge for yourself.
4. Proper Deadlifts
This exercise is performed by people who really want to get the most out of their workout sessions.
Deadlifts affect your body in a way that if you perform these on a regular basis, you will have more overall strength and power. Deadlifts will help to develop your trapezius and work other areas of your body. They work your thighs, lower back, upper back, core area, and many stabilizing muscles. This is truly an exercise for people that really want to be in great shape and become super strong.
One more thing they do is really help to improve your cardio because when doing these exercises you tax your cardiorespiratory system.
If you have ever done them, you will know what I am talking about. When I do these, right after my set, I am breathing like I just finished sprinting—I am gasping for air.
- Have your barbell on the ground and center yourself in front of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend down at the knees and grab the bar so that your forearms are on the outside of your thighs but not too far out. While grabbing the bar you want to have your back as straight as you can. Do not let your back round and don’t lean too far back. Keep your shoulders pulled back and if you can, tighten your abs. Squeeze your glutes.
- Pushing with your feet and using your leg muscles, power the weight up as you stand up. Your legs should do most of the work until you are about ¾ of the way up, and then your back will kick in.
If you find that your lower back was really working while performing the exercise, then your back was probably rounded, which is not how you want your back when doing this movement. Make sure shoulders are pulled back and your back is as straight as it can be. With practice, you will master this exercise. At first, you might not enjoy it, but once you master the movement and start lifting extremely heavy weights, you'll see the results in the mirror—and you will really enjoy doing this move.
Workout Plan for Beginners
If you don’t train all three heads of the shoulder muscles, your shoulders will actually start looking rounded once your traps start to grow, but if you train your shoulders, your traps will look bigger and thicker than they really are.
There are other exercises you can do to build your traps, but the basic barbell and dumbbell shrugs are actually great movements—and with the deadlift—your neck will get thick and strong in no time.
For training frequency, I actually do deadlifts with my back workout and no direct trap work and then on my shoulder workout, I do traps. So about every three days my traps are getting worked—whether it is deadlift day or trap day.
You can follow that method to see if it works for you. Another good place to start would be to train your traps every three or four days with the shrugs and light deadlifts until you are shrugging so much weight that training deadlifts the same day are just too much. Then you can also split them up. I hope I have helped, and I really hope you get the massive traps you want. Good luck.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on January 26, 2012:
meanandlean thank you. This is one of my favourite hubs that I have created.
meanandlean from South Korea on January 25, 2012:
wow. Great Information. Keep it Up :))
Chris Montgomery from Irvine, CA on November 10, 2011:
Cool hub! Shrugs are an awesome exercise for your traps, I like upright rows, too; hits the anterior deltoids and traps at the same time. Voted up.
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on September 23, 2011:
Spark glad I could help.
Thomas I hope you come back and can learn something new.
Hi Spencer thanks very much, glad I could help you out.
Spencer Camus from United Kingdom on September 23, 2011:
I've read a couple of informative hubs on building muscles recently. Not seen one on this specific topic though - very informative, and is an area of my body I want to develop...and I can, now!
Thomas Amshay on September 18, 2011:
Been at this a while, but never stop reading and learning. Always a pleasure to find something succint and usable. Have to run, but will come back and read more of your stuff. Thanks for taking time to put it together.
Spark on April 28, 2011:
G, Thank you, Now I know why my traps didn't grow. I'm going to direct your direction.
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on November 17, 2010:
Theo thanks very much.
I am also a fan of deadlifts power cleans and any big moves like that.
Theo Burggraaff from Kuta, Bali on November 17, 2010:
Informative article.. I always preferred good old deadlifts and power cleans.. ;)
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on September 09, 2010:
Hi fundamentallife I have had good luck over the years with my traps because of doing deadlifts and direct trap work a couple days apart. Works for me but we all have to find what works for ourselves.
Thanks for the kind words AJ.
fundamentallife on September 09, 2010:
The traps are one of those muscles which never grew for me! I don't 'bodybuild' much nowadays as cardio seems to be more of a neccesity, but I'm going to give your tips a shot anyhow.
Great work Grant, thanks for the hub.
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on June 22, 2010:
TheManWithNoPants thanks bro I appreciate it. I have been in the iron game for years and I understand what you are saying. Some people just don't get it.
Thanks for commenting.
TheManWithNoPants from Tucson, Az. on June 21, 2010:
Great hub dude! A lot of people in the gym don't get the connection between traps and shoulders, but you do. By the way, thanks for following my stuff!
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on June 07, 2010:
Thanks TnFlash much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed it.
TnFlash from Tampa, Florida on June 07, 2010:
Great Hub! I've done weight lifting off and on for a bunch of years. This is a very good article on building traps. Voted up and useful
Grant Handford (author) from Canada on May 15, 2010:
Thanks Steveo much appreciated. I think weight lifting is great for anyone any age or shape they are in. But if it is going to kill you then please don't attempt it ha-ha.
Thanks for commenting.
SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on May 15, 2010:
I am so far past body building that any of these lifts would be deadlifts for me. If I tried em I'd be dead! Seriously, this is a very well put together hub and it is incredibly informative. Wonderful easy to follow directions and great demo videos.