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Due to the sedentary lifestyle led by many people, it’s common to hear of sore neck muscles and shoulder pain. Have you ever considered that weak traps may be a contributing factor to these ailments.
If muscle strength is weak, this could result in poor posture. If you spend much of your day sitting at a desk, you may notice a rounding of your shoulders, causing you to hunch forwards. A primary cause of this is due to weak lower traps. This highlights the importance of building stronger traps to help with good posture.
In this article we discuss the best lower trap exercises for posture
What Are The Trapezius Muscles?
The trapezius muscle, commonly referred to as the traps, is a large, flat muscle which is trapezoid in shape, hence its name. It’s located on the back of the upper body, specifically covering the upper part of the neck and shoulders It originates from the base of the neck and continues down along the shoulders and down to the mid back area.
There are three parts of the trapezius, with each part playing an important role when it comes to performing daily activities. Collectively, they play a vital role in supporting the neck and upper back and aiding with certain movements of the upper body.
The superior is part of the trapezius which runs from the base of the skull and down to the top of the shoulders. These muscle fibers are responsible for elevating the point of the shoulder. Simply put, they help to raise the shoulders up towards your ears. The superior fibers also aid with extension of the neck, allowing you to turn your head up to face the sky and lateral flexion of the neck, tipping your head from side to side.
The middle trapezius sits directly beneath the superior fibers and span the width of the upper back and across the shoulders. The middle fibers, along with the inferior fibers, perform rotation of the scapula. Rotation of the scapula allows for adduction of the arm; this is to lift your arm up and out to the side and beyond the point of 90 degrees. The mid fibers also allow for adduction of the scapula, this is to push your shoulders back and down.
The inferior part of the traps is below the middle fibers and is triangular. This performs the action of scapular retraction. This happens when doing something such as pushing yourself up from a chair, causing contraction of these muscle fibers. Essentially, it performs the opposite action to that of the upper traps.
In this article we’ll specifically look at exercises that activate the lower trap muscles. When these exercises are performed regularly, and with proper form, you may notice postural changes that help to alleviate tightness to the upper back and shoulders.
Seven Best Lower Trap Exercises For Posture
- Farmer’s Carry/Walk
- Prone Y Raise
- Reverse Shrugs
- Cable Y Raise
- Face Pulls
- Single-Arm Straight-Arm Pushdowns
- Straight Arm Dips
Let’s take a closer look at each of these lower trap exercises
1. Farmer’s Carry/Walk
The farmer’s walk is an excellent compound exercise, great for building core stability, targeting a number of muscle groups and will help to improve cardiovascular strength and help to burn body fat.
A simple exercise to perform, all you need is some farmers walk handles. If you don’t have access to these, then using a pair of dumbbells would suffice.
How to Do The Farmers Walk
- Stand between your farmers walk handles or dumbbells.
- Squat down and pick up the weights. Your palms should be facing inwards.
- Keep your chest and head up and shoulders back.
- Walk forwards for as many steps as possible before turning around and returning back to the starting position.
2. Prone Y Raise
Researchers from Rocky Mountain University experimented to see the difference between lower trap-specific exercises and other exercises. The prone Y raise showed the highest EMG activity, indicating that it was effective for the lower trap muscles.
Beginners may find the prone Y raise challenging, so it is best to start slowly and with a light weight. For this exercise you’ll need an adjustable weights bench and a pair of dumbbells.
How to do the prone Y raise
- Set your bench at a 30-degree angle.
- Lie on the bench, chest down with your head towards the top of the bench pad.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand and with your thumbs up, keep your arms straight and lift the dumbbells up.
- Reach a point where your arms are in line with the rest of your body.
- At the top of the movement, your arms should be up and out, so that you form a Y shape.
- Hold for one or two seconds.
- Exhale while slowly dropping your arms to the starting position and then repeat.
3. Reverse Shrugs
To strengthen the upper trapezius rather than the lower, shrugs are a common and simple exercise. However, there is a shrug variation known as the reverse shrug. This will specifically isolate the lower trap muscle. In regular shrugs, the primary action is scapular elevation, while in reverse shrugs, you are doing scapular depression.
For this exercise you’ll access to a smith machine. The goal is to keep your arms straight as you pull yourself, isolating the lower trap.
How to Do A Reverse Shrug
- Load weight onto the bar of the smith machine and position at around knee height.
- Stand so that the bar of the smith machine is behind you.
- Take hold of the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you).
- Stand upright and keep your hips forward.
- Keeping your arms straight, pull the bar up by elevating your shoulders towards your ears.
- Repeat as required.
4. Cable Y Raise
The cable Y raise is derived from the prone Y raise. Attempt this exercise once you are comfortable with the prone Y raise as you’ll be adding resistance with this variation.
Whilst it’s a great movement to target the delts, it’s perfect for warming up and adding extra definition to your lower trap muscles. This exercise activates a number of other muscles, including the rhomboids, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior. You’ll need access to a dual adjustable pulley machine and two cable attachments, one for each hand.
How to Do A Cable Y Raise
- Select an appropriate weight set on each side and position both pulleys to around knee height.
- Start with lighter weights if it is your first time doing a weighted exercise for the lower trapezius muscle.
- Stand facing the pulley cables and maintain a shoulder-width stance.
- Take a cable in each hand so that the right one is in your left hand and the left is in your right hand.
- Step back from the machine to create some tension in the cables.
- Keeping your arms straight and core braced, slowly raise the cables up and out. Stop when your arms are in line with the rest of your body, your arms should be forming a Y shape.
- Hold for one or two seconds.
- Exhale and lower the cables slowly back to the starting position.
- Repeat these steps for each rep.
5. Face Pulls
Face pulls are very effective for the lower trap. This exercise will also target the upper back, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and middle traps. The shoulders should remain engaged throughout, encouraging the muscles to build up volume and definition.
Face pulls improve posture by working the upper back muscles and reinforcing a strong mind muscle connection. You’ll need access to a cable pulley machine and a rope attachment.
How to Do A Face Pull Exercise
- Position a cable pulley to around chest height, or slightly lower.
- Take hold of each end of the rope using an overhand grip.
- Take one or two steps back from the machine to create tension.
- Keep your feet around shoulder width apart, slightly bend the knees and brace your core.
- Drop the shoulders and begin to the pull the rope towards your face.
- Make sure you keep your elbows higher than your wrists and squeeze the shoulders blades at the top of the movement.
- Slowly return back to the start and repeat.
6. Single-Arm Straight-Arm Pulldown
The one arm straight arm pulldown is a variation of the classic lat pulldown exercise and is good for people who have trouble doing pulldown exercises. By keeping the arms straight, you focus on the lat muscles instead of working the biceps and mid-back muscles. Perform this exercise regularly to prevent strength imbalances and improve stability.
How to Do A Single Arm Straight Arm Pulldown
- Adjust a cable pulley to the top of the machine. Attach a D-handle and choose your weight.
- Stand in front of the cable with feet around shoulder width apart with knees slightly bent.
- Hinge forward slightly at the tops and take hold of the D handle with a pronated grip.
- Step back from the machine to create tension in the cable.
- Keep your back and arm straight throughout, slowly bring the cable down and towards you.
- Stop when your arm is in line with the rest of your body.
- Slowly return back to the starting position before repeating.
7. Straight-Arm Dips
The straight-arm dip is a bilateral exercise effective for the lower trap and improves shoulder stability and mobility. Add weights or a resistance band to increase the resistance if you want to make it more challenging.
How to Do It?
- Use an assisted dip machine or a parallel dip bar for this exercise.
- Get on the bars and take the position of a regular dip. Keep your arms straight instead of moving your shoulders and elbows.
- Your scapula should be in a neutral position before your start.
- Take a deep breath and brace your core by contracting the muscles. You can bend your knees and cross them behind you or keep your legs straight for stability.
- Allow your body to sink down as low as possible whilst the arms remain straight.
- Maintain this position for up to two seconds.
- Focus on the lower traps and push the scapula down so that you raise back up to the starting position and then repeat.
How many reps are best for the lower trap?
The exercises mentioned in this article are low impact, so you should do 12 – 15 reps and 3 sets for each. Increase the workout intensity by adding weights or resistance bands. As you become stronger, you can increase the weight load or the number of repetitions.
How many times should I do lower trap exercises per week?
You should aim for 2 to 3 times per week, this will then allow for rest days in between training. Add lower trap exercises to your daily workout schedule to strengthen the trapezius muscles along with the rest of your body.
Are shrugs effective for strengthening lower traps?
Shrugs perform scapular depression and are not suitable for training the lower traps. Instead the reverse shrugs is a great alternative that targets the scapula.
Chronic shoulder and neck pain are quite common today. The primary cause of this pain is due to weak back muscles, poor posture, and movement patterns.
Most people focus on training the upper trapezius muscle as it’s most visible and has the most impact on aesthetics, so the lower traps can be neglected. They are often underdeveloped and have little or no volume in the muscle fibers. This muscle imbalance can directly cause shoulder and neck pain.
Strong lower trap muscles give volume and definition to the middle back. Furthermore, they are vital for a good body posture and strong shoulders.
The risk of injury increases if you have weak lower trap muscles as this forces other stronger muscles to take over.
Take time to incorporate a these lower trap exercises for posture mentioned in this article.