Your trapezius muscle, or traps, is a large muscle covering your upper back. Its main function is to support your arms and shoulders, and rotate and move your scapula.
Your traps are involved in a variety of upper body movements and exercises, such as deadlifting, pulling, rowing and overhead pressing.
In this article, you will learn how to train your trapezius effectively. From trapezius muscle anatomy, to the best exercises for increasing your trapezius muscle mass and strength. And then we’ll put it all together into one effective trapezius workout.
Trapezius Muscle Anatomy
Contrary to popular belief, your trapezius is far larger than what you can see above your shoulders when you are looking in the mirror.
It spans from the back of your skull, down past half your back, and inserts on your scapula and collarbones.
The trapezius is commonly divided into three parts: the upper, middle, and lower muscle fibers.
The different parts of the trapezius has different origins, insertions and functions:
- The upper fibers originate from the base of your skull, and along your cervical spine. They insert on the outer third of your collarbone. Their main function is to support and elevate your collarbones and shoulders.
- The middle fibers originate along your cervical and upper thoracic spine and insert into your shoulder blades. Their main function is to rotate and retract (pull back and together) your shoulder blades.
- The lower fibers originate along your lower thoracic spine and insert on the lower part of your shoulder blades. Their main function is to rotate and pull your shoulder blades down.
So what are some good exercises to train the different parts of the trapezius? Let’s take a look at a few alternatives for each part.
If you train one or two exercises from each category, you will likely get well-rounded training for all parts of your trapezius!
Exercises for Your Upper Trapezius
As previously stated, the upper parts of your trapezius elevate and support your arms and shoulders via their insertion on your collarbone, and perhaps the upper parts of your shoulder blades, depending on where you draw the line to your middle trapezius.
The deadlift will challenge both your upper and middle trapezius muscle fibers hard. These muscle fibers will have to work hard to keep your scapulae and shoulders in place throughout the lift.
The middle fibers will be more challenged in the beginning of the lift, when you’re more leaned forward, and the upper fibers will have to work more when you are nearing the top of the movement.
Shrugs are probably one of the first exercises that come to mind for many people when they think of upper trap training. This exercise, which can be done with dumbbells or a barbell, pretty much isolates the upper trapezius muscle fibers.
Exercises for Your Middle Trapezius
The main function of your middle trapezius muscle fibers is to retract your shoulder blades. That is, to pull them back and together. Typical exercises that challenge this function are rows or reverse dumbbell flyes.
1. Barbell Row
The barbell row is a great exercise for your middle and upper traps. Depending on how much you lean forward, you can target these different portions of the trap as you will: an upright row will target your upper traps more, while a more horizontal upper body will target your middle trap more.
2. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes
The reverse dumbbell fly is a great exercise to isolate your middle trapezius, at least a little more so than you do in a row. However, as a bonus, you will still train your rhomboids, rear delts, and rotator cuff in this exercise.
Exercises for Your Lower Trapezius
The classic pull-up is a hard but effective exercise for not only your lats and biceps but also your lower traps. Make sure to move your shoulder blades during this exercise: let them slide upwards and rotate out in the bottom position, and pull them back and down when you initiate the pull.
Just like the pull-up, the lat pulldown is a great exercise for your lower traps. However, this exercise makes it a little easier for you to adjust the resistance, and can also make it easier to focus on and get good muscle contact with your lower traps.
Trapezius Workout for Muscle Growth and Strength
So what does a good trapezius workout look like?
Well, first of all: if you already train your back using common exercises such as deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups, then you are already training your trapezius pretty well. Our guide on How to train your back muscles contains a workout that includes these exercises. Do that workout, add in some shrugs and reverse dumbbell flyes for good measure, and you’re set.
However, if you’re still interested in what a specific trapezius workout could look like, here’s an example.
- Deadlift: 3 sets x 5 reps
- Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Pull-Up (or Lat Pulldown): 3 sets x 10 reps
- Dumbbell Shrug: 3 sets x 12 reps
- Reverse Dumbbell Fly: 3 sets x 15 reps
These exercises will together hit your upper, middle and lower traps thoroughly.
The back workout mentioned earlier is available for free in our workout app StrengthLog. You can use that and just add in an extra trapezius exercise or two if you want to. Or, spread your trapezius training out over the week, in your back and shoulder workouts.
And that’s it! Hopefully, by now you have a good grasp of your trapezius muscle anatomy, what some effective trapezius exercises are, and how you can combine them into one trapezius workout.
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Do you want to read more of our muscle group training guides? You find them all here.