The best way to Train Traps

The Traps muscle is THE feature to have

The Trapezius muscle is probably my best physical feature. It’s the easiest for me to grow when I train it correctly and has always had visible potential. The shape was always there and was noticeable. My Biceps were similar, seeing a pronounced bump as I would flex, and I reminisce of a day in elementary school with my classmates wowing in awe as I flexed my (still little) right arm in the cafeteria. Despite that fond memory though, what made me love the Traps muscle more was seeing spectacular ones on guys like Tom Hardy in Warrior, Goldberg on wrestling, and even a friend of mine at the gym. I was inspired and also blessed to be put on that genetic team – despite not being where I could be, but either way, I could still feel good about how I looked without having it. I don’t NEED good Traps, but they are a bonus. You too could still be happy about how you look without them, but your Traps could probably be better than they are also.

I had a BIG influence

Probably THE main influence for what would soon become a really big focus in my training – Shrugs, was Goldberg. He could Shrug over 600 pounds and had the most memorable Traps out of any other wrestler in history. So, within the past couple of years (after training for 6) I began to really get into training them. With the dumbbells being too light, only going up to 100 lbs at my gym (totaling 200) and the Traps being a strong muscle, I switched over to the hex-bar as my go-to. Over time, I eventually worked my way up to this:

505 lbs, and OKAY form

 

But, I was quickly running out of room on the bar and had to get creative, managing to fit 605 on the bar by leaning some plates between the handles and where you actually load the weight. As you can see in the video, it wasn’t a very long Hex-bar, and I was desperate to do more than just the “sensible” weight based on what the bar was actually meant to hold. So the only other option I had was the regular Barbell. The main issue though, was that it was harder to hold onto and I’m not a fan of mixed grip (plus my hands are too small for hook grip). Even with straps and mixed grip, my grip was only strong enough to hold onto 500 pounds (partly also due to smaller hands). I then decided to buy a significantly bigger hex-bar, and worked my way up to this:

700 lbs, with a DECENT range of motion

 

I accomplished 700 lbs, despite not having the most optimal range of motion – but good enough, and was elated. I had no desire or need to go any higher because 700 is definitely adequate enough and I don’t need to keep doing it as long as I have the proof on video. Plus, the damage from spinal compression over time and continuous risk of injury aren’t worth it. I was satisfied. Will I try again someday to see if I can still accomplish it? Perhaps. But for now, it’s retired. I still get Traps into my training, but do a different variation of Shrugs on the cable machine – a more effective version and with far less weight. If I HAD to do Shrugs with a bar though, I would be doing less weight, but also have to take a few things into consideration first.

There are some issues with bar shrugs

When I would do any kind of Bar Shrugs, mainly with the hex-bar, I would get neck pain. Now, the main reason for this was neck neuralgia from the pressure on my nerves, due to my tendency to throw my head back during the lift. But when you are doing several hundred pounds, especially with Shrugs and your Trap muscle pulling against your neck, that’s a lot of pressure on not only your neck but all the way down your spine. The regular barbell wouldn’t have as bad of an effect besides the extra effort going to stabilization, but it would be less effective because of weaker alignment from the direction of weight to the Traps muscle and then more of an “energy leak” going towards maintaining posture more. Either exercise, of course, would still work good enough. The reason alignment matters though, is because the Traps muscles pulling straight up (not exactly, but for sake of example) during the Shrug and having the most trouble depends on the resistance trying to pull it back the other way. The less the resistance is pulling down, the more the muscle can pull up without issue because nothing is pulling it down as much. That being said, you want the muscle to actually have trouble. People think the barbell would be harder on your Traps because it is harder to do, but in reality, they aren’t worked as much because they can’t participate as much – not being able to pull from a directly opposite position. Using the typical barbell (compared to the hex-bar) is a harder exercise, but mainly because other things are going on. It’s just harder for your Traps to put out the effort because they aren’t in as much of a position to do so. The normal Barbell only pulls from a general direction with regards to the Traps. So, the majority of difficulty comes from stabilizing your back and shoulder muscles in that case.

Be mindful of what you’re doing

Those reasons, plus what I mentioned about grip earlier, are why I am glad I don’t have to do those types of Shrugs. I now do another variation instead:

I am pulling from an angle between horizontal and vertical with a cable out to my side. The idea is to work the muscle exactly how it is supposed to, by having weight pull the arm specifically away from where the Traps are trying to pull – up and in. I angle the cable slightly further (though not much) due to limitations, but spare myself even more from spinal compression.

I hope this is helpful, even though it’s a lot to take in. It took some time to write it, but I think it’s worth it. Thanks for reading.

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