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Training the trapezius muscles can often be overlooked. Whilst bodybuilders will focus on this area to get the muscles to pop, the traps actually play a very important role in upper body stability.
The trapezius is a large muscle which connects from the base of your neck, passes down across your shoulder blades and then down to the bottom of the thoracic spine. As it’s such a large muscle, different parts are responsible for different functions.
The upper traps help to pull your shoulders upwards, the middle traps work with the rhomboids to help retract the shoulder blades with the lower traps helping to depress the scapulae. So, increasing trap strength is important for keeping your upper body healthy and moving as it should.
What Causes Weak Traps
It’s quite easy for traps to become weak and one of the most common causes of this is down to forward head posture. Forward head posture can typically result from spending too much sitting at a computer, staring down at your mobile phone, carrying heavy loads on your back and even a poor sleeping position.
All of which can lead to muscle imbalances, shoulder pain, neck pain, poor posture and headaches.
Poor head posture can also put a huge amount of stress on the upper traps. Essentially, this is because the muscle is having to work that much harder to support the head and neck. When this happens, the muscle shortens and overtime becomes tight which then limits the range of motion when moving your head.
However, the good news is that you can help to build stronger traps by performing the bodyweight exercises suggested below.
As you don’t need access to any equipment, these can all be performed in the comfort of your home. As well as exercises to improve, we’ll also some recommend some stretching exercises to help warm up the muscles and help to stretch out the neck and traps.
At Home Trap Workout
Before performing the strength based exercises, do the stretching first to warm up your muscles and get the blood flowing. Make sure to perform them slowly and with good form and don’t force the position of the stretch. If any of the exercises below cause you any pain or discomfort please discontinue.
Trap Stretching Exercises
Upper Trap Fiber Stretch
How To Perform The Stretch:
- Begin either seated or standing and clasp your hands together behind your head.
- Keeping your elbows out, lower your head towards your chin.
- Carefully and slowly apply pressure with your hands to push your head down. Do not force your head at any point as this could result in injury.
- You should feel a stretch to your upper back muscle and down your neck.
- Hold this position for around 30 seconds.
Upper and Middle Trapezius Stretch
How To Perform The Stretch:
- Either seated or standing, relax your shoulders and keep your head and chest up with a straight back.
- Slowly turn your head to the right, aiming to go as far as is comfortable.
- From here, drop your chin to your chest.
- To exaggerate the stretch, place your right hand behind your hand and gently press your head down.
- The stretch should be felt down the left side of your neck and upper back.
- Hold this for 30 seconds and then switch to stretch out the opposite side.
Seated Upper Trap Stretch
How To Perform The Stretch:
- Start by sitting on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Place your hands flat on the ground, keeping them out to the sides and a little behind you. Your fingers should be pointing out.
- Then shrug up your shoulders as high as possible.
- Carefully rotate your upper body to the right so that you feel a good stretch to your left upper trap.
- Hold this for 30 seconds before returning back to the starting position.
- Repeat and stretch the other side.
Trap Strengthening Exercises
Now that you’ve completed the stretches, you’re ready to move onto the strength exercises.
The prone cobra will work the lower and middle trap muscles, making them stronger and helping to correct posture. Whilst you don’t need any equipment, this movement should ideally be performed on an exercise mat.
How To Perform The Prone Cobra:
- Start by lying down in a prone position with your arms down by your sides.
- Squeezing your glutes, raise your head and upper chest off the ground. About four inches should be sufficient.
- From here, rotate your arms and hands out so that your palms now face away from you with thumbs pointing towards the ceiling.
- Retract your shoulder blades and push your shoulders down.
- Hold this position for around 10 seconds and repeat for 8 to 10 repetitions.
Take Off Exercise
The take-off exercise helps to activate all of the traps muscles and is good for shoulder joint mobility. You can make this exercise a little more challenging by holding a pair of dumbbells.
How To Perform The Take Off:
- Begin by standing upright keeping your head and chest up with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold your hands out to your sides, keeping your arms straight with a slight bend to the elbows and parallel to the ground. Your palms should be facing forwards. This is your starting position.
- Raise your arms up and overhead. At the top of the movement, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
- Pause for a second or two before dropping your shoulders back down.
- Lower your arms back to the start and repeat for 20 repetitions. Aim to perform around 3 to 4 sets.
The overhead shrug is a great exercise for working the upper traps.
If you want to progress this exercise and make it more challenging, hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and perform the shrug by pressing the dumbbells up towards the ceiling.
How To Perform The Overhead Shrug Without Weight:
- Start by facing a wall leaving a gap of around one foot.
- Position your arms in an overhead position and place your palms flat against the wall. Be sure to keep your arms straight throughout.
- Perform a shrug movement by sliding your hands up the wall and raising the shoulders up.
- Hold this position briefly before sliding your hands back down to the starting position.
- Repeat this for 10 repetitions.
Lying Superman Raise
The superman exercise is one of the best exercises for targeting multiple muscle groups including the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
Perform this one on an exercise mat for comfort and keep your head down looking at the floor throughout.
How To Perform The Lying Superman Raise:
- Start by lying face down on your mat with your legs straight.
- Position your arms overhead, so they are extended out in front, with palms facing inwards.
- Squeeze your glutes and core muscles.
- Now simultaneously raise your arms and legs away from the ground going as high as you can without feeling any discomfort.
- Pause at the top before lowering back down to the floor.
- Repeat this exercise for 3 sets of 8 repetitions.
Behind the Back Shrugs
In this version you’re just going to use your body weight, but you can use a barbell if you wish.
Behind the back shrugs are a variation on the regular barbell shrug and an effective exercise for working the middle of your back along with the upper portion of your traps.
How To Perform The Back Shrug:
- Begin by standing upright with your feet hip width apart.
- Position your arms behind you and interlock your fingers.
- From here, squeeze your shoulder blades as tight as you can whilst raising your shoulder towards your ears.
- Lower back down and repeat for 20 reps performing them in quick succession.
- Complete 3 sets.
Banded Trap Raise
The banded trap raise, sometimes called band pull-aparts or the high pull exercise, is a good way of isolating the traps and working the rear delt muscles. Don’t go too heavy with the resistance band so that you can concentrate on proper form.
How To Perform The Banded Trap Raise:
- Start by anchoring your band to the bottom of a doorway.
- Take hold of the handles and step away from the door to create a little resistance in the band.
- Start with your hands just out in front of you with palms facing the floor.
- Your arms should be straight and just below parallel to the ground.
- Stand upright with your chest up and push back your shoulders.
- Keeping a slight bend to the elbows, raise both arms up and overhead. You should feel a squeeze to the traps and rear shoulder muscles.
- Slowly lower back down to the start.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
Banded Upright Row
The banded upright row is a good alternative for a trap shrug exercise and, as the name suggests, you’ll need a resistance band for this exercise. Depending on which band you choose will impact as to the resistance applied during the exercise.
How To Perform The Banded Upright Row:
- Position the band under your feet and stand with feet hip width apart.
- Hold the band with both hands with a pronated grip so that your palms face towards you. This is your start position.
- Engage your core muscles and bring your hands up towards your chin making sure to keep them close to your body.
- Make sure to keep your elbows flared out and above your wrists throughout the exercise.
- Hold at the top for a couple of seconds before slowly lowering back down to the start.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Banded Face Pull
The face pull exercises often forms part of shoulder workouts. However, it’s also one of the best trap exercises which is very easy to perform and suitable for all fitness levels.
How To Perform The Banded Face Pull:
- Anchor your band to the very top of a doorway.
- Take hold of the handles and step back from the door.
- Your arms should be straight out in front of you with tension in the band.
- From here, pull the band towards your face.
- Retract your scapula and squeeze your shoulders at the top of the exercise.
- With control, return back to the start.
- Repeat for 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Now that you have a list of some of the best traps exercises you can perform at home, make sure to incorporate them into your weekly workouts. By regularly undertaking these exercises will lead to stronger traps and good posture.
Whilst it’s easy to neglect this important muscle, doing so can lead to a host of other problems which can easily be avoided. Before undertaking any new workout, it’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified personal trainer, especially if you have any pre-existing injuries or want to learn how to execute these exercises with good form to limit the potential for any injury.