One of the easiest ways to improve your overall physique is to grow a pair of big, nasty traps. A huge set of traps demand respect from those around you. I think the main reason traps send off a “don’t mess with me” message is because to grow a nice set means that you are performing big, powerful exercises in your training.

Take a look at the athletes who usually have well-developed traps, they are the Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and strongmen who train heavy compound movements. Whether you’re at a lifting competition or the local kick-and-stab bar, developed traps show everybody around you that you mean business. They are one of the main aspects of a “no-nonsense” physique.

A lot of people in the gym are clueless when it comes to trap development. They add in a few sets of dumbbell shrugs at the end of shoulder day and wonder why their traps just won’t grow. This is not sufficient stimuli to elicit massive growth.

Anatomy of the traps

When most people think of traps, they envision the upper part of the trap, after all it’s what you see in the mirror. But the trapezius is one of the biggest muscles in the back. It runs longitudinally from the occipital bone (back of the skull) to the lower thoracic vertebrae (mid-back). That is a long muscle and one that needs a big stimulus to grow.

Best exercises for trap development

1) Clean

Take a look at any accomplished Olympic lifter and you will see the effects the clean has on the traps. The clean works the traps in a couple different ways; during the first pull you want a tight upper back. This is accomplished by squeezing your scapulae together. Scapular retraction is a great lower/mid-trapezius exercise. In addition, during the second pull of the clean, a shrug motion is performed completing your full extension, working the upper part of the trapezius muscle. If cleans are not something you want to take the time to learn, start by doing high pulls.

2) Deadlift

During a deadlift, the hips and legs work to lift the bar from the ground. The trapezius muscles (along with other muscles in the back) contract isometrically to keep a straight back. The traps also help you keep your chest up, which is critical to completing the deadlift.

3) Rack pull shrug

To perform this exercise set the safety pins in the squat rack at knee level. Load the bar with HEAVY weight, 100-120% of your deadlift 1RM. If grip strength is an issue, strap up for this exercise. Try to emulate your deadlift position as closely as you can. Pull the bar up to lockout and then shrug the weight, all in one motion. This will work the traps both isometrically during the rack pull and concentrically during the shrug.

4) Barbell shrug

This is a classic bodybuilding exercise to work the upper trapezius (the part we see in the mirror). Load the bar with a heavy weight (75-80% of deadlift 1RM) and shrug your shoulders straight up to your ears. Don’t roll the shoulders back, simply shrug them straight up, and think about touching your shoulders to your ears. Do this exercise for higher reps (somewhere in the 10-20 rep range.) This is a great isolation exercise for the upper traps.

Trap training is one of the easiest ways to improve your overall physique in the shortest amount of time. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a willingness to work hard and perform heavy exercises.