Mine do, they are kinda there but not really and they have an annoying flat spot in the middle, I am literally going to the gym today to train back and it got me thinking, should Traps be trained with back or shoulders ?, traditionally I and many others would train them with shoulders, 4 to six sets of standing shrugs at the end of the shoulder workout and then off home for a well deserved protein shake, but hang on are they actually connected to shoulders in any way ? well from a movement perspective yes, slightly, they are attached into the base of the skull and out to the clavicle and then to the spine about midway down your back, this presents a problem when arguing for the mechanical movement of standing shrugs.
You see, looking at this picture, traditional shrugs actually only work a very small portion of the trap muscles, and are more likely to contribute to a slightly wider neck than the big blocks of muscle we are looking for, additionally they also seem to serve no purpose (other than stabilising the shoulder joint against the movement) in any deltoid activity as they are not overlapping in any way.
So I would consider that if we are looking for synergistic training they should in fact be trained along with the back muscles as they play a role in all back exercises, in fact as they are responsible for movement of the scapula ( the muscle fibres both pull back and down toward the spine ) it is fairly easy to see that these play a huge role in everything from bent over rowing to lat pull downs and chins as well as single arm Dumbell rowing.
How to best Activate them
As previously discussed the traditional straight backed approach doesn’t actually cut it for this muscle group as you are only activating a small portion of the muscle group, sure due to the nature of the muscle fibre it is easy to move a lot of weight over a small distance, but ultimately once you have fed your ego you must eventually move onto building some muscle, looking at the structure you need to draw the shoulders up and back to completely engage the large mid portion of the muscle ( the one that provides the size ) and for the lower portion of the muscle, you would try and pull down from only the shoulder, these exercises may look a little odd but once your traps start growing people will start to copy I assure you.
- Shrug – Instead of the traditional standing shrug, you should bend slightly from the waist and allow your hands with the Dumbells in them to hang naturally down, obviously you should not lean to far over as you are looking to move the weight with the same shrugging motion just in this modified position, I would also take whatever weight you are using now for shrugs and halve it too, you only have one back let’s make it stronger not damage it completely.
- Trap Pulldown – This is the one that will get a few odd looks as people will genuinely wonder what the hell you are doing, but seated on the lat pull down keeping your arms straight, you are looking to extend only at the shoulder and the shrug in reverse, so bring the shoulders down and squeeze to the back at the full contraction.
As a side note and to further illustrate the point, the Trapezius muscles are also heavily involved in the following exercises / movements
- Bent Over Dumbbell Rows – and to a lesser extent bent over Barbell rows due to the lack of mobility of your hands with the latter.
- Cable Seated Row – again the pulling back of the arms and squeezing toward the centre of the spine activates the Trapezius.
- Chin-ups – These hit the lower Trapezius along with their seated counterpart the lat pull down.
So I hope that has been informative and I am open to any questions regarding the above, always be careful when training and always be extra careful when changing a movement / introducing a new position into a routine, as there is only a small difference in the positions it may be easy to think that you can handle the same weight as previously but remember the idea is to concentrate on a muscle group more targeted than before and so this my cause injury if not used to it.
Update After Trying my Own Advice
So often people write these guides and you sit and wonder if that is how they train or if they have even lifted a weight in their life, and of course quite a few haven’t, or at least they do not follow the routines that they put out it is all just for money.
So this, and all other training tips are as a result of considered thought and trying to work out how to do everything as efficiently as possible to achieve maximum results in the minimum time, this the trainee superhuman after all!
So I have updated this post with the findings from last night (at the time of writing)
The action of bent over shrugs feels massively unnatural, this is mainly because we are always taught that we should keep the back straight, in fact the very action of leaning forward immediately puts tangible stress on the middle of the Trap muscles, the important thing to remember here is not to bend to far over, concentration exercises are all about putting the muscle group in a compromised position where they can receive little to no assistance from supporting muscle groups, once in the correct position though the feeling as easy to identify, and the significant drop in the amount of weight I could handle showed just how weak the muscle actually was compared to what I originally thought, the numbers are standing shrug 40 to 50kg for 12 to 15 reps, bent over shrug 24 to 32kg for 12 so as you can see it was significant, today the muscle actually feels sore, all the way from the top of the structure (at the base of the skull) down to the middle of my back and extending out to the scapula, so I am fairly confident that this has had the required effect, it has also occurred to me that the strengthening of this muscle group will counteract office back strain where we tend to sit hunched over a keyboard all day long, by strengthening this part of the Trapezius we keep the top of the back flatter and avoid shoulders naturally falling forward.
So again hope this has been helpful, please let me know if not, or if you have any comment or suggestion on other training routines.