To build up a bigger, stronger back, you’re going to have to become a trap king. Well-developed traps (aka the trapezius, or trapezoid muscles) can be the key to a well-developed, awe-inspiring back. The long, triangle-shaped muscle takes up a ton of real estate on the top half of your back, so you can seriously change the topography of your upper body by building it up.
Besides adding size to your back and shoulders, you’ll also improve strength in nearly every upper-body lift — traps are the key to scapular and spinal movement, so everything from shrugging your shoulders to supporting your arms stems from the muscle.
Start now, with these 11 great traps exercises.
1. Farmer’s Carry
- Hold a weight (dumbbells or kettlebells will do) in each hand at your sides.
- Engage your core and back, holding a strong, upright posture.
- Take even, measured steps, controlling the weight and maintaining your posture for either a set time or distance
2. Rack Pull
- Set up a rack or boxes so the barbell is elevated above your shins.
- Grab the bar at around shoulder-width with an overhand grip.
- Hinge at the waist and push your hips back and feet through the floor, pulling the bar up and keeping your back straight.
- Pause for a count at the top, then control the weight back down into place.
3. Dumbbell Shrug
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length next to your sides, your palms facing each other.
- Shrug your shoulders as high as you can.
- Imagine that you’re trying to touch your shoulders to your ears without moving any other parts of your body.
- Pause in the up position, then slowly lower the weights back to the start.
4. Incline Dumbbell Shrug
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie chest-down on a 45-degree incline bench.
- Let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other.
- Now shrug your shoulders up while pulling your shoulder blades together.
- Pause, and then reverse the movement.
5. Dumbbell Jump Shrug
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and bend at your hips and knees.
- Let the weights hang at arm’s length just below your knees, your palms facing your sides.
- Don’t round your lower back.
- Simultaneously thrust your hips forward, shrug your shoulders forcefully, and jump as high as you can.
- Land as softly as possible, and reset.
6. Barbell Row
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width, and hold it at arm’s length.
- Bend at your hips and knees and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
- Keep your back naturally arched.
- Pull the bar to your upper abs and squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other.
- Pause, then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
7. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length next to your sides.
- Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Turn your arms so that your palms are facing forward, and bend your elbows slightly.
- Without changing the bend in your elbows, raise your arms straight out to your sides until they’re at shoulder level.
- Your arms should form a T with your body.
- Pause for 1 second at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
8. Overhead Barbell Shrug
- Hold a barbell above your head with an underhand grip that’s about twice shoulder width.
- You arms should be completely straight, and your feet shoulder be shoulder-width apart.
- Lock your elbows and keep them that way.
- Shrug your shoulders, trying to raise the tops of your shoulders as close to your ears as possible.
- Pause, then reverse the movement back to the starting position.
9. Snatch-Grip Barbell High Pull
- Load the barbell with a light weight.
- Grab the bar with a wide overhand grip and let it hang at arm’s length in front of your body.
- Your hands should be a few inches from the weight plates.
- Bend at your hips and knees to squat down.
- Your lower back should be naturally arched.
- Pull the bar as high as you can by explosively standing up as you bend your elbows and raise your upper arms.
- You should rise up on you toes.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
10. Dumbbell Overhead Carry
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and press them over your head, palms facing each other.
- Your upper arms should be next to your ears.
- Walk forward.
- Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides.
- Your palms should be facing each other and your elbows slightly bent.
- Stand as tall as you can.
- Without changing the bend in your elbows, raise your arms at a 30-degree angle to your body (so that they form a Y) until they’re at shoulder level.
- The thumb sides of both hands should be facing up.
- Pause, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.