Do your Trapezius muscles suck?

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.

Concentration Movements

  • 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.

Compound Movements

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.

Practice the Preaching ep9

It is probably obvious by now that, I am attempting a virtual 180 on my life so far, and a big part of this is physical, I got to the stage that I couldn’t do much really, even laying down in bed hurt my lower legs and I couldn’t keep up with my children when out and about, so I threw myself into going back to the gym, and now 7 and a half stone lighter and 11 months down the line I feel like I am more fine tuning my diet and exercise routine than trying to crack a rock with a toffee hammer like I was for the first 9 months or so,

As a result and as a demonstration of a way of making time rather than trying to find the time, I thought I would share what my workout program is starting to look like, I will start to expand on this shortly and go much further into the knowledge I have gained but for now, this is pretty much how it is starting to look.

Gym – Resistance training

Essentially as I am never sure if I can go on a regular scheduled basis, I decided instead to just break it down to body parts per session and make sure that they all followed each other, so I do the following,

  • Back and Biceps – Staple exercises are Deadlifts, Lat Pulldowns, Straight bar Curls and Preacher Curls, as well as two more exercises on each muscle group depending on how I feel.
  • Chest and Triceps – Staple exercises are Bench Press, Flat Dumbell Flies, Incline Dumbell Press, Tricep Pressdowns and behind the head Dumbell Extensions, again another two more on each muscle group.
  • Legs – Staple exercises are Front Squat, Leg Press, Leg Extension and Curl, Stiff Leg Deadlifts and Calf raises, I will try and incorporate lunges and Sissy Squats as my knees allow.
  • Shoulders – Staples are Dumbell Press Overhead, Side lateral, Rear Laterals, Front raises either with Cables or Dumbells.

On Gym days I will do my cardio first thing in the morning (4:30am when I manage to get up 5:00am when not) and that has become a 5k walk as I was originally spending 70 minutes on a treadmill on incline 7 at the end of my workout but this was taking up too much time from my Kids and bedtimes, so I moved it too the morning when they are sound asleep, it is worth noting that I did start running in the morning but that seemed to halt the downward trend of the scales for some reason so I stopped.

Non Gym Days

On days when I am not going to be at they gym I will do a full Yoga flow in the mornings, I still go out for a swift walk but I like to concentrate on Yoga because the benefits so far have been exponential, my posture, strength, flexibility and I would even go so far as my mental state as well as my ability to cope with stressful sometimes inflammatory situations at work and family life, I really cannot stress enough how much I have come to value Yoga and am always looking to increase my practice of it and advance as much as I can.

Everyday

Additionally on every day I always do a 20 minute flexibility routine, one thing that has always plagued me is flexibility and so when I put all my ill informed misconceptions about Yoga to one side and started to practice it I started to become more flexible and found that this alone made everyday life more comfortable.

And I always do a mini plank workout, a simple standard Plank followed by each side and a back Plank held for one minute and repeated 3 times in each position, I actually credit this for getting rid of the largest part of my back problems due to being sat at a desk all day.

In the future

Moving from here I am going to start incorporating intermittent fasting as well as tying down a more regular Yoga routine of my own design to provide something to really concentrate on practising to find progression, I am also going to put a day of more power lifting / strength training into my gym routine, that will include Farmers Walk, Deadlifts, and Tyre Flipping that type of thing, to try and pull my physique in tighter.

Owning Demons

In this world it is no longer enough to face your demons, you have to face them, sit them down put chains round their necks and make them work for you, inner demons are not some mythical entity whispering to at night, or at least for me they weren’t ! they are the moments just before you do something and you stop because you feel silly or out of place or conspicuous.

Once you sit down and think about as I did these Demons are not entirely against you, in fact like me if you listen to them and take time to digest their message they will tell you so much about where you are and where you need to be, crucially they can sometimes be almost precognitive in nature, so thus simply facing them is not enough, to face something is to accept it’s existence to own it is to bend it to your will.

To attempt to be a superhuman without demons is to strive for the impossible, the two situations simply cannot co-exist, There are many but for me these were the main ones.

Embarrassment

One of the main ones that manifests in a number of ways, usually when starting something new or when trying to perform something for the first time in front of others, a good example of this is my returning to the gym, see I trained religiously from when I was 14 to when I was 21, I achieved quite a lot in that time, I became quite strong and was in really quite good shape at the end, then due to allowing laziness to overcome me and through losing sight of my goal I stopped, I didn’t train down or adjust my diet accordingly I just stopped, and the results were devastating I went from 23 stone with a 34 inch waist to 25 stone with a 56 inch waist in a matter of a year and a half, I was a mess I could hardly move and I was unhappy, really unhappy, this went up and down for a while as I started diets and stopped them when I didn’t lose weight immediately and eventually it started to really affect my physical well being, fast forward a couple of years and what I really needed was a comeback I needed to get back into the gym or start some kind of physical activity to save myself, but I was embarrassed, I didn’t want to be out in public because of how I looked I din’t want to do anything that drew attention to myself because of how I felt, many times I faced that demon and started something but didn’t ever see it through because the message was not understood.

If you stub your toe it hurts, and you curse, then you sit down take some deep breaths and the pain subsides then you just carry on about your daily business until you stub your toe again, that is because the pain left it subsided and you calmed down, owning this particular demon means that when the pain is applied instead of stopping and having a minute you use the constant nagging doubting voice to propel you forward because that is the only way to chain and silence the demon for ever, and every minute on a treadmill or every weight I lift the demon fades and my embarrassment with it.

Persistence

Already touched on previously this particular demon plays on our need to have instant gratification and has many helpers in the modern switched on social media savvy world, I suspect that this one is as old as time to be fair (as impatience appears to be part of the human conditon) this is the voice in the back of your head when you have eaten clean all week and the scale has not moved or the waistband on your pants is still as tight, with absolutely no exception change takes time and the further you are down the road the longer it takes to walk back, but we are bombarded every minute of every day with get rich quick schemes, fat loss programs that offer the body of your dreams in weeks instead of years, here is a real kick in the ass from reality there is no shortcut and it takes effort, and effort takes energy, so many times I listened to this demon and considered quitting what I was doing after all it was right wasn’t it I had tried and tried and got nowhere, but effort compounds and time creates change what this demon is actually saying is you haven’t been doing it long enough yet and you can either quit or keep going, I finally realised this and I kept going owning that taunting voice and making it work for me reminding me that I should not expect overnight results but rather baton down the hatch for the long haul, after all it took more than one night to get to where I was !

Fear of the unknown

This one is simple and I would imagine is a demon everybody is familiar with, trying something new is sometimes a hurdle in itself and usually you come up with a million and one different reasons why it won’t work, this is the shortest of my demons to discuss because it is so straightforward, the best example for me is yoga, I had never given it a second thought as something for me to do, after all I was a bodybuilder what did I want with yoga? , then later on I was massively overweight and completely inflexible so what did I want with yoga and how would I even start ?, of course what I should have been thinking by owning this demon and listening to what it was actually saying is “Everything I have done so far has made me what I am, so am I happy with what I am ? ” the answer predictably was no, you cannot expect to do the same thing every day and get a different outcome, somebody much more prophetic than me once said that and it is true, so instead of using this voice to stop me trying new exercises new nutrition and new experiences I used it as a marker that this was something I haven’t done before and so could not lead back to the same unhappy place I was currently in.

In Summary

It is too easy to say that life is what you make it and you get out what you put in, but I can honestly say that for me that is pretty much the truth, hopefully the above will help as it helped me to use our inner voice of dissension to drive us forward rather than keep us down, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be manipulated by anybody, let alone yourself !

Additionally I have included the first pictures of me at the top of this post, taken five months apart and with 6 stone lost, I am quite proud to say that I have owned the above demons for a while now!