If you’re unsatisfied with the size of your traps, give me just 3 minutes here and I’ll give you some advice that will have them GROWING again in no time!
If I had to name the one exercise that attracts the most negative feedback from trainees, it would be trap shrugs. People complain that they just can’t feel this movement.
This is understandable since the percentage of people in the gym that do this exercise correctly would be rather low.
Now this is a real pity since shrugs are the best traps exercise there is in my opinion. But they have to be done correctly!
So how are people getting this movement wrong?
My observations have lead me to conclude that the vast majority of people:
Involve the biceps far too much by NOT having their arms dead straight. This transfers much of the load away from the traps to the arms.
Use too much momentum/the cadence is too fast
Don’t use anywhere close to a full range of motion
Before I recommend how you should correct this and stimulate some growth, let me give you a quick warning…
Drop your ego a little and be prepared to lift a lighter load
Remember, you’re in this game to actually change your body. Not to boast about the loads you can lift. “Absolute” loads aren’t anywhere near as important as “relative” loads i.e. as long as your PERSONAL strength is increasing over time, that’s all that matters. Remember that small, incremental increases in load work best in the long term.
Here’s my recommendations. Take them and USE them ASAP!
If you do, the first thing you’ll notice is that you’ll experience soreness (DOMS) in your traps within 48 hrs. When was the last time your traps were sore? The second thing you’ll notice is that your traps will actually start to grow for a change! (I’m being facetious here )
THT should ALWAYS produce strength and growth. You can have 100% certainty about success on this program.
So here’s what you should do during your next traps workout…
(1) Try giving up the dumbbells and barbells and pick up a trap bar, use the smith machine, or even a low pulley. Trap shrugs are one of the exercises where taking stabilization OUT of the equation is a good thing.
The above methods will allow you to do this, enabling you to produce MORE force and concentrate SOLELY on the issue of producing maximal trap contractions.
(2) Reduce the cadence/go slower. You simply can’t do shrugs quickly; they won’t work to stimulate growth in the natural lifter if done rapidly. Try a 2-1-3 cadence. Lift for 2 seconds, hold at the Peak Contraction Point (PCP) for 1 second, and lower under full muscular control for 3 seconds.
(3) On the issue of the PCP, make sure you actually hit it! There’s a visualization exercise I give to people who are having trouble with this exercise. When performing the positive/lifting part of the rep, try to visualize attempting to make your shoulders touch your ears. It’s physically impossible to do so, but that’s not the point. It will FORCE you to fully contract your traps and get into that all important PCP for a maximal muscular contraction.
(4) Do the negative! You’ll often see this critical mistake being made in the gym. Guys just skip the negative and focus only on the positive. Lowering the weight under muscular control is as important as the lifting/positive part of the rep. You do NOT drop the weight. A rep is not just a lift. A rep is a lift AND a lowering. For this exercise allow the traps (and the traps only) to lower the weight back into the starting position.
(5) Let it hang! I just said to lower the load under control into the starting position. The starting position is ALL the way down. Basically, it’s the point where your shoulder blades can’t physically get any lower.
You’ll know you’re in it when there is no tension on your arms; they are straight and hanging like chains. The weight is simply hanging there and producing a real STRETCH across the traps; trust me, you’ll feel it. Mentally tell yourself to let the weight “hang” at the bottom of each rep.
(6) Straight arms. Like I mentioned above, your arms should not be assisting in the lift. In order to take them out of the equation, keep them straight (fully extended) throughout the lifting and lowering. This transfers 100% of the load to the traps themselves.
(7) Try higher reps. To begin getting this movement right, try using higher reps until you get the hang of it. Instead of aiming to reach failure on the tenth rep, try 12-15 reps for a week or 2 until you really master correct form. Then you can increase the load a little and reach failure in a lower rep range.
(8) Reduce the load. In order to accommodate all of the above recommendations, you’ll almost certainly have to reduce the load a little. This is not a big deal. If it’s bruising your ego, just get over it. The fact is that if you keep doing what you’re currently doing, you’ll produce the same result. If you’re not happy with your results, then you HAVE to change your method to produce a different outcome. Simple.
(9) On a related note, make sure you are doing deadlifts for full trap development. Heavy deadlifts are great for stimulating growth in the traps and will help you continually get stronger in your shrugs too. So don’t neglect to do this important compound movement on back day!
My personal favorite way to hit my traps is by shrugging with a low pulley. The movement is so smooth and I can really concentrate on fully contracting the intended muscle. The only issue here is if your gym has enough weight on the stack for you.
I’m sure many of you will require loads over 100kg and I know some gyms can’t accommodate this on their pulley stacks. If this is the case at your gym, use a trap bar and/or the smith machine.
Read over the above recommendations a few times and memorize them. Apply them in the gym and I can GUARANTEE that you’ll see positive changes in your traps over the next few weeks .
P.S. Here’s a short vid I shot over a year ago of me doing a low pulley cable shrug. While it isn’t a great vid, note the controlled cadence and the full range of motion.