Big traps are one of the signs of a serious lifter and also one of those muscles that just make somebody look jacked. That’s probably the reason that one of the most common exercises I see in the gym is the shrug.
It’s common to see guys in the gym performing shrugs a number of different ways. Often I’ll see dumbbell shrugs (performed with woefully inadequate weight) or barbell shrugs on any given day. Barbell shrugs are pretty popular since they allow you to load plate after plate onto the bar and lift. Who doesn’t want to be the guy who has 5 or 6 plates on each end of the bar?
While shrugs are still one of the best trap developers around there are a few issues that limit their effectiveness. The number one problem I see with shrugs is that they seem to only be done for high reps (sets of 15-20 usually). This kind of rep scheme fails to take advantage of the fact that the traps are incredibly strong muscles and doesn’t thoroughly recruit the high threshold muscle fibers.
The second issue with shrugs is that whenever you try to go heavy enough to solve problem #1 the form becomes terrible and the range of motion basically disappears. Both of these problems can easily be addressed by modifying the basic shrug. More on that later. First here are some other excellent trap builders.
The deadlift is really one of the best movements you can possibly include in your program. It trains pretty much everything from your calves to your hamstrings to your spinal erectors to your grip and more. And as you can probably assume from its inclusion here: your traps. The thing to remember here is that the deadlift trains your traps through a static contraction. No need to actively shrug the weight at the top of the movement. Just pull heavy and often.
Ah, the clean. If you want to see some impressive trapezius muscles take a look at some Olympic weightlifters. Although cleans don’t allow you to lift as much weight as the deadlift, they have a distinct advantage here: concentric contraction. While the deadlift trains the traps with an isometric, the clean trains the traps with a strong, explosive contraction. If you perform the clean properly there should be a forceful contraction of the traps at the top of the movement (during the second pull). Since this movement uses a significant weight and an explosive movement it will recruit the more powerful muscle fibers in the traps.
The Farmer’s Walk is a staple strongman exercise that, like the deadlift and clean, trains the entire body. Some of the benefits of heavy farmer’s carries are a stronger grip, stronger legs and a stronger upper back (including the traps). Like the deadlift, the farmer’s walk trains the traps in a mostly static way but do to the motion involved the traps will be required to do some extra work in stabilizing the weight.
I said I would address the above issues with conventional shrugs and the power shrug variation does just that. This simple modification allows you to use heavier weight than a conventional shrug with a better range of motion. If you’re unfamiliar with the power shrug it’s very easy to do. Set up like you would for a regular shrug but instead of doing a strict motion use a small amount of leg drive to power the weight up and hit a maximal contraction of the traps at the top of the movement. I generally recommend doing this movement for a lower rep range due to the explosive nature and the massive weights you can move.
Start rotating this movements into your training program and be prepared to buy new shirts.