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Added On September 10, 2011
Do You Need Direct Trapezius Work?

/My Favorite Trap Exercises/

by Rusi
The traps seem to be one of the forgotten muscles. I've crazy heard stuff like:

"If you have narrow shoulders big traps will make them look even smaller?"

"Girls don't like big traps.",

"People with big traps are on steroids..."

My answer to this is: You Don't Know Shit!!!

The trapezius is one of the biggest muscles in the back. It's just as important as your lats. A strong trapezius equals back thickness, neck protection in sports, stronger shoulder girdle...etc.

However I think that direct trap work in the form of shrugs may be a complete waste of time for beginners and even intermediates bodybuilders. Shrugs are even less "functional" than a bicep curl which is a great exercise but this is for another article.

When do you have to perform shrugs in real life? Close to never. At the same time the shrug is very limited movement which focuses only on the upper part of your traps. This may be the visible part but the traps actually reach the middle of your back and a shrug does not stimulate the lower fibers of the muscles all that much.

Of course shrugs and especially power shrugs are probably part of any Olympic weightlifter's routine. However this is due to the second pull of the Olympic lifts which is largely assisted by the powerful shrug of the traps. In others words the shrug is a great assistance exercise if you are a weightlifter but it's not needed for big and strong traps.

Don't get me wrong I've done a lot of heavy power shrugs in the past but  I came to the conclusion that I don't actually need them. They were overloading my hips and I have a chronic hip inflammation. The actual movement of the traps was very small and to be honest power shrugs are little bit of a ego lift. I was able to power shrug well over 430 pounds when my deadlift was 300 or so. Unless you are an Olympic weightlifter you won't get that much out of it.

My favorite traps and overall back exercises are rows. Nothing beats rows when it comes to upper back strength. Nothing. Pull-ups and chin-ups don't come even close. They are more of a lat and biceps exercises. That's why many people say that pull-ups and chin-ups are good for back width while rows are responsible for back thickness. To be honest this actually means that pull-ups and chin-ups hit the lats harder while rows hit the whole back harder. At the same time the rowing movements hit the rear delts much more directly than a pull-ups/chin-up or a lat pull-down.  Below is a list with my favorite rowing variations.

Number 1: T-Bar Rows

I like doing T-Bar Rows the old-school way - using a V-handle and a bar installed at the corner of a wall or a power-cage. It's simple and you don't need a T-bar machine for doing them this way. However always use the worst bar in the gym when doing this movement because there is some stress on the bar.

I don't recommend using 45 plates on this exercise unless you can T-Bar row over 5 plates or so. Always use 35s because 45 plates will reduce the range of motion and you don't want that. I would rather lift less weight over a greater range of motion than kid myself how strong I am by doing a partial movement. So, unless you are as strong as Ronnie Coleman forget about using 45s.

Below is a video of Lee Haney doing T-Bar rows the very same way. Skip to 7:10  to see the actual T-Bar row training.
Number 2: One Arm Dumbbell Rows On A Flat Bench

The classic single arm dumbbell row is another great trap builder. Also the stress on the lower back is pretty low. I recommend doing them without tucking your elbows to the side. If you tuck your elbow to the side the exercise becomes more lat dominant and the traps and the upper back will end up doing less work. So keep your elbow close to the body but slightly out in order to hit the upper back muscles.

Number 3: Extra Wide Grip Strict Barbell Rows Or Seated Extra Wide Grip Cable-rows

In order to hit the lower traps and the rhomboids harder you need to perform wide grip rows. I like doing this exercise on a cable machine but a regular barbell will work just fine. If you want to use a barbell I would advise you to perform the so-called head supported row - you place your head at a bench, power rack or whatever in order to diminish the balance requirements and to spare your lower back since in order for this exercise to be effective your torso should be parallel to the floor ALL THE TIME - no cheating. Use the widest grip you can. Keep in mind that if you go super wide you may experience some front shoulder pain. If this is the case just narrow your grip a little but still keep it wide. Use light way on this one. If you can't touch your lower chest or abdomen at the finish of each rep the weight is too heavy.
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