Set the Traps

There’s more to building impressive traps than just the shrug.
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Old bodybuilding joke: Skinny teenager walks in, approaches the biggest guy in the gym and asks, “Hey, how do I get huge traps like yours?” The bodybuilder thinks a moment, looks at the kid and without saying a word ... shrugs.

Clearly, bodybuilders don’t do comedy. Trap training, however, they are very adept at. And while you can get serious results by doing shrugs, the best advice on the subject doesn’t end there. The following workout, meant to be done once per week on its own (separate from back or shoulders), calls into duty a number of targeted trapezius movements, building thickness and width from your neck down to the center of your back.

You’ll start with the clean shrug, a dynamic variation of the classic barbell shrug. To do it, grasp a barbell with an overhand grip outside of shoulder width, bar at midthigh. Keeping your elbows straight and core tight, dynamically shrug your delt caps upward, generating additional momentum through just a small measure of body English. Lower the bar deliberately, bringing your shoulders down to full stretch before explosively launching into the next rep.

Next up, Smith-machine shrug. Unlike the clean, you’ll keep your knees soft but provide no added bounce — the move only comes from the traps, lifting and lowering your delt caps through a complete range of motion, pausing for a short squeeze at the top. (If you choose the behind-the-back Smith-machine shrug instead, it’s the same move with the bar behind you; set the supports in a power rack so that you can easily grasp the bar and re-rack safely when finished.)

The third stop is a superset — incline prone dumbbell front raise paired with EZ-bar upright row. For the first, place your chest against the pad of a bench set to 45 to 60 degrees, feet set solidly on the floor for support and a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells simultaneously in an arc in front of you until they reach eye level, lower along the same path and repeat. The EZ-bar upright row is the same as the standard barbell variety, except you hold the inner curl of a cambered bar (which tends to be easier on the wrists at the top of the move).

Finally, you’ll wrap up with a kettlebell sumo deadlift high pull. Take a wide sumo stance over a kettlebell set between your feet. Bend your knees and shift your hips back as you lower yourself to grasp the handle with both hands, keeping your head and chest up. From here, dynamically stand, extending your hips and knees as you bring the weight straight up to chest height, raising your elbows out to each side. Lower the kettlebell to the floor and repeat for reps.

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Clean Shrug

4

12, 10, 8, 5

Smith-Machine Shrug
—or—
Behind-the-Back Smith-Machine Shrug

4 4

12-15 12-15

Incline Prone Dumbbell Front Raise
—superset with—
EZ Bar Upright Row

3 3

15 10

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pull

3

30 seconds