2 Best Exercises For Building Kick Butt Traps

Why Traps Kick Ass


“Hey dad, how did those guys get big up here?” I was pointing at my 8 year old boy traps…

My dad had the same look of confusion I had.

“Um, they lift weights.” That was his reply.

I wasn’t going to question him.

He was telling me the truth.

Sounded simple to me.

Lift weight, get traps.

See, as a kid I used to watch wrestling with my dad.

The good stuff.

WWF, Hulk Hogan, Road Warriors, Ultimate Warrior…

I couldn’t tell you who which wrestler I was talking about when I asked my dad.

But I suspect it was Ravishing Rick Rude…

One thing I can tell you is this.

A combination of traps and shoulders looks athletic and commands respect.

Killer traps aren’t exclusively seen on wrestlers.

Look at track and field athletes.

You’ll see them with muscular traps.

NFL players, gymnasts, basketball players.

They have well developed traps as well.

Built traps give off two a clear signal:

You’re athletic, you lift weights, you go heavy and you command respect.

How to Include In a Workout

So if we want to have traps that everyone will take notice of we have to have a laid out plan.

We probably don’t have gifted genetics like a pro wrestler.

More than likely we lack the same genetics as an MMA or UFC fighter.

That’s ok.  Let’s work with what we have.

Let’s make the most out of it.

If we’re going to build up our traps we have to work them the right way.

Sure, we could walk into the gym.

Do sets of upright rows and shrugs and call it a day.

Or we could throw these sets sporadically but that won’t help much either.

We won’t get the most out of our workout.

The best approach is to add these exercises on an upper body day.

On an upper body day we can hit the traps and shoulders with direct stimulation.

We won’t overdo it.

But we can give it some extra attention.

Ideally what we want to do on an upper body day is the following:

Work on chest, back, shoulders.

If you’re wondering whether we’ll be doing long workouts, this won’t be the case.

I’m all for keeping workouts under an hour.

Keep it short.

We won’t be doing 4 or 5 exercises per muscle group.

So we won’t be doing 4 exercises for chest.

We won’t be doing four exercises for shoulders.

We won’t be doing four exercises for back.

Doing so would be overkill.

It would be pointless.

Choose 2 pressing movements for chest.

Choose 2 exercises for back.

Choose a shoulder pressing movement (Military Press would be ideal).

Add Upright Rows and Shrugs and you’re set.

2 Best Exercises for Building Traps

So there’s several exercises that will work the traps.

No doubt about it.

In fact, I’ll talk about that later.

But for now I’ll cover the 2 exercises that will target the traps directly.

Here they are:

  1. Barbell Upright Rows: Hold a barbell with shoulder wide grip. Let your arms hang straight down and raise the barbell up to your upper chest area.  Stop when your elbows are parallel to the floor.  Lower the barbell in a controlled fashion.
  2. Barbell or Dumbbell Shrugs: Hold either a barbell or dumbbell in a shoulder wide grip.  Stand straight and looking straight ahead.  Shrug the shoulders as if your shoulders were trying to reach up to your earlobes.  Tip: do not bend your elbows or roll your shoulders in a circular motion.

These two exercises will hit the muscle area better than other exercises.

But in order for both of these exercises to work it’s important to use proper form.

I’ll often see guys do upright rows by holding the bar with both hands held close together.

By holding the bar with hands close together this puts too much stress on the shoulders when raising the barbell.

For best results always keep the grip at shoulder wide grip.

The same goes for shrugs.

Use the same shoulder wide grip.

And this is very important.

Do not roll your shoulders either forward or backward when doing a shrug.

Just shrug vertically up and lower your shoulders.

I have to stress this because there is the mistaken belief that rolling the shoulders will activate more muscle fibers.

Rather than activating more muscle fibers you’ll likely end up with damage to the rotator cuff.

So beware.

My Recommended Alternative

(Here I am showing a Smith Machine Upright Row & Shrug Workout)

Although I recommend free weights at all times I know a lot of guys have shoulder problems.

Or many of us have a hard time going heavy on barbell exercises like upright rows and shrugs.

For a safe alternative replace both of these exercises with Smith Machine versions of both.

Smith Machine Upright Rows & Smith Machine Shrugs will give you a big bang for your buck.

The good thing is the Smith Machine will allow for using heavier weight than if you were using the barbell version.

And a Smith Machine variation will also help with using proper form.

It’s easy to jerk your body or swing the weight when using a barbell or any type of free weight exercise.

However, when using a Smith Machine, the weight will move in a controlled and safe manner.

I actually prefer doing Smith Machine Upright Rows and Shrugs.

I prefer these variations for the reasons I have mentioned.

  • It helps me go heavier on the lift.
  • I’m able to use good form.


Now let’s break things down if we were going to use these exercises in a workout session.

Do both exercises back to back in the same session.

Start with the more taxing exercise.

In this case start with upright rows first then follow it with shrugs.

Don’t superset.

Complete your sets of upright rows before moving on to shrugs.

Do one to two warm up sets with lighter weight for each exercise.

Use three sets for each exercise.

Rest for 60 seconds per set.

  • Barbell or Smith Machine Upright Rows

3 x 8-10

  • Shrugs (Barbell/ Smith Machine or Dumbbell)

3 x 8-10

Further recommendations:

On the first set of each exercise start with eight reps.

Aim for ten reps on your second or third set.

Once you can complete ten reps on the exercise, increase the weight slightly.

A small increase of 5 pounds is ideal and safer.

This will also help with avoiding injuries.

We don’t want that.

Do these exercises only once per week.

Choose one day, ideally when you are doing upper body training and go with that.

The Workout Plan

Here’s a sample workout:

  • Incline DB Press (3 x 8-10)
  • Bench Press (3 x 6-8)
  • Military Press (3 x 6-8)
  • Upright Rows (3 x 8-10)
  • Shrugs (3 x 8-10)
  • Chin Ups (3 x 10-12)

Don’t superset and don’t perform them in a circuit.

Complete each set of exercises before moving on to the next.

Rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets and exercises.

Choose one day to do this work out.

For example, let’s choose Mondays.

The workout will then be performed once a week every Monday.

Final Thoughts

Try these trap and shoulder building exercises in your workouts.

Stick with it long term.

After 90 days you’ll notice a difference in your traps.


To your fitness,

Sam- Look Like An Athlete

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