5 Powerful and Unique Trap Exercises for Impressive Gains
Traps are the new abs. This is my typical response when someone asks if I’ll ever chase six pack abs again.
Truth is, I prefer having monster traps. They tower high in any shirt and don’t require a 16 week cutting diet to reveal.
Traps stand out in a crowd. They make you look like a cobra, intimidating and not something (in this case someone) you want to mess with.
I’m known for my traps. When I post a training picture on social media it is usually met with comments like:
“Dem traps tho” or “trap gains” or “your traps ate your neck.”
While this is all very flattering, I’m not here to pat myself on the back. I’m here to help YOU make gains.
For 20 years my trap development was average at best. I was grinding it out with mind-muscle connection dumbbell shrugs using a moderately heavy weight, but my traps just weren’t growing. Then, the deadlift entered my life…
Up until 2007 I had never deadlifted. Shocker, right? The bodybuilding world back in the 80s and 90s didn’t place a heavy emphasis on the deadlift, so I never thought much about it. While the addition of deadlifts alone didn’t cause my traps to grow like weeds, it did teach me a lot about the capabilities of my traps.
Your traps are inherently strong. In fact, they are one of the strongest muscle groups in the human body. Even if you can’t curl 25 pounds for more than a few reps you can still hold 200 or 300lbs on a barbell. Why is this? Traps.
Your traps are the cornerstone of static holds. They prevent your arms from being ripped off your torso while holding this challenging weight. That’s always a good thing. While your grip strength also plays a role, it usually gives out long before your traps.
Your traps are isometic (static) contraction wizards. They can handle incredible loads and stress, and will stay in the fight much longer than your grip strength. So what does this tell us about trap exercises and training?
It tells us that we need to kick up the intensity. We need to place our traps under heavy, heavy loads for a substantial amount of time. We need to not only challenge the contractile ability of our traps, but also push for greater isometric strength and time under static tension.
Simply stated, we need to load up the plates, grab our wrist wraps or Versa Gripps, and perform a combination of heavy reps and static holds. Straps? Yes, straps. You are training traps to improve your traps, not your grip. If your grip is weak, train it after traps.
Don’t let a weak grip impede your trap workouts. Your trap strength will always outshine your grip strength. Never let a weak muscle group prevent you from properly challenging a stronger muscle group.
Your traps are inherently strong. In fact, they are one of the strongest muscle groups in the human body.
Now, back to the topic at hand.
I want you to think about the typical dumbbell shrug set. Even if it’s performed with heavy weight, the time under tension just isn’t there. 10 controlled reps might take a maximum of 15 seconds. That’s simply not enough time under tension to properly inspire your traps to grow.
But what about the guys crushing power shrugs with even heavier weight? Well, they get an A+ for effort. Heavy, explosive sets are a quality trap builder, but they still provide an inferior time under tension. 10 explosive power shrug reps might take 10 seconds max.
Normally I am not concerned with time under tension. Why? Because a well-thought out program will naturally place most major and minor body parts under plenty of time under tension.
Ten sets of chest work is going to yield anywhere between 300 to 450 seconds of tension. That’s plenty, in my book. On the other hand, 3-6 sets of shrugs might yield 40 to 90 seconds of time under tension. While this might produce some trap gains, but it’s not enough.
What follows are 5 trap exercises that will challenge you. They will focus on building your contractile strength through progression of weight, and on overloading your traps with brutal time under tension.
Hit the gym and destroy!
5 Trap Exercises for Powerful Strength and Growth
3 + 3 Mind-Muscle Dumbbell Shrug and Static Hold Combo
This is a simple and effective method of targeting your traps that works well with conventional bodybuilding-style dumbbell shrugs.
Simply grab a heavy set of dumbbells and perform controlled reps, focusing on a full range of motion and a quality contraction. Now, here’s the kicker. After each 3 reps hold the dumbbells at your side for a three second count.
One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three.
Repeat this “three plus three” pattern until you reach a total of 15 reps. When you are able to perform 3 sets of 15 total reps, grab a heavier dumbbell.
Deadlifts With Power Shrugs
Deadlifts are an amazing trap builder. They provide a quality time under tension, even greater than heavy power shrugs. With that said, it’s time to kick things up a notch.
This is one of my favorite trap exercise variations. After each deadlift rep perform 3 power shrugs before returning the bar to the ground. This means that if your deadlift set calls for 5 total reps, you will also be adding 15 reps of power shrugs to the mix.
Understand that this trap-destroying tag team will be more challenging than a conventional deadlift set, so you may need to drop the weight by about 5%.
40 Rep Rest-Pause Power Barbell Shrugs
This protocol is brutal.
Load 225 pounds on the bar and proceed to knock out power shrug reps. Remember that power shrugs are explosive and powerful. These aren’t your mother’s mind-muscle connection shrugs.
When you can no longer perform reps it’s time to rest, but only for a brief moment. Continue to hold the barbell. DO NOT set it down. When you feel slightly recovered, knock out a few more reps.
Continue this pattern of reps and rest until you reach a total of 40 or 50. Remember to use lifting straps or Versa Gripps during this exercise. When you are able to reach 40 reps (or more), add 5-10 pounds to the bar.
Run the Rack Dumbbell Shrugs
This is a perfect traps torturing method for those days when the gym is empty and you have the entire dumbbell rack at your disposal.
Start with 50 pound dumbbells and perform 8 reps. Rest about 15 seconds before moving on to the 55 pounders. This gives you plenty of time to release your straps, curse my name, and re-strap with the next dumbbell in the sequence.
Continue knocking out 8 rep sets until you reach the heaviest set of dumbbells in the gym. If you feel like quitting, or the pain gets to be too much, simply extend the rest between efforts by an additional 5 to 10 seconds. You can also drop the reps per set to 5 when the weight starts to get heavy.
This is a one set and done traps exercise. Once you’ve run the rack you won’t need any additional trap work for the day.
Farmer’s Walk HIIT With Shrugs
This is a top-notch way to combine HIIT cardio and trap training.
Grab a HEAVY pair of dumbbells, kettlebells or anything else heavy you can carry. Once again, you’ll need straps for this trap exercise.
Start off by performing 10 slow and controlled reps. Now instead of setting the dumbbells down, kick it into high gear and perform a farmer’s walk.
Try this combination 5 to 8 times with about 30-45 seconds of rest between efforts. It will get your heart racing and your traps growing.
Editor’s note: Have you tried these trap exercise variations? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.