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(Video) The Best Trapezius Exercise For Growth

Trapezius exerciseIf you’ve ever had trouble building up the trapezius muscle, you won’t for very muscle longer.

To discover which exercise will produce the most muscle growth we first need to look at the muscle’s function, then find a movement that can provide resistance in its maximally contracted position.


Only by working along the path of a muscle’s function is it possible to bring that muscle to a truly maximally contracted position, and it is this precise position where the maximum number of muscle fibers are recruited.

However, this is only a POTENTIAL for growth stimulation since a lot of exercises cause the resistance to drop off dramatically on or before the peak contraction point (PCP). Think of lying dumbbell flies for the chest as an example – virtually no resistance at the PCP and a wasted opportunity. The Pec Deck can remedy this problem for us very well though.

The trapezius assists in a number of functions but it’s sole primary function is the elevation and depression of the shoulder girdle.

Therefore the best trapezius exercise simply has to be shrugs. These can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell, or preferably a cable.

As many of you have spotted from my recent articles, I’ve become a big fan of working with cables. They provide smooth resistance throughout the rep, and great resistance at the PCP.

An engineer (Jermondo) who recently left a comment of my blog said the following,

“I am an engineer and started thinking about graphs of tension change with distance lift at different points. Of course I have no clue about how the human body works but Cables have a much smoother graph and maximum tension is at the end of the lift.”

I’m not an engineer so it was good to see someone articulate it in this way.

Now back to the traps. Here’s a video I’ve prepared for you guys demonstrating Cable Shrugs. Looking back at it, I should have got my hands into the shot but I think it still shows the movement well.

(Please rate 5 stars on the YouTube page if you found this helpful :) )

Note: When you progress beyond a certain level of strength, you may find lifting straps or hooks helpful to take your grip strength out of the equation and place the resistance on the traps where it belongs).

* Keep your arms straight and focus on lifting the weight solely with the traps

* Keeping a smooth motion, raise the shoulders up to the point where further elevation is impossible

* Hold at the PCP for a second

* Lower slowly and under control

* Repeat until muscular failure

Any frustration about trap development will be gone after making this movement a regular feature in your workouts!

Stay Motivated!


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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ray February 11, 2010, 4:08 pm

    Great stuff again man. I keep checking your site every day for updates. My workouts have improved beyond recognition since you started all the new stuff! :) :) :)

  • Tommy Stewart February 11, 2010, 5:47 pm

    Love all the articles. Did my first cable tricep workout the other day and it was very painful so I guess its working. Keep up the good work!

  • Scott February 11, 2010, 7:55 pm

    Mark, do you have an opinion on elastic resistance cable type devices? Are these suitable for those of us that don’t have access to a home gym with cables and pulleys? On one of your recent articles, someone commented that they had been using Bodylastics elastic cables for their workouts and that they were happy with it. Apparently these cables can provide a lot of resistance (up to 250-400lbs) depending on which kit you buy. Money is tight right now, I’ve been trying to figure out how I could create my own pulley/cable attachments for my Gold’s Gym weight bench so I can start doing your recommended cable exercises, but if these elastic cables are capable of providing the same type of constant resistance that you have been advocating lately, they might be the least expensive way. But I worry that there might be some sort of fundamental difference between having actual weight plates at the end of a cable/pulley & these elastic resistance cables that might not make them quite as effective.

    You’re doing a good job convincing me that the constant resistance of cable exercises is the key to results, and it’s an attractive thought to imagine using these resistance bands instead of having to buy more bulky equipment or construct a cable tower for myself, but not if the results would not be the same.

    I’d be interested to know your opinion, or possible a fully researched and written article, on this matter.

  • vlad February 11, 2010, 8:00 pm

    what machine are you using? my gym doesn’t have a cable machine that can hold enough weight to do traps on a cable, and i’m by no means big, i’m only 83kg and bench 90kg.

  • Yavor February 11, 2010, 9:21 pm

    Mark, I enjoy this series of articles.

    That being said, I’m not sure if cables have an advantage for trap exercises. Think about it: the selling point of cables is that the tension is not lost due to the change of angle (the way tension is lost in curls, flies, pullovers, triceps kickbacks etc ==> you are dead on there)

    But with shrugs, dumbbells and bars are good enough because there is no change in angle. You pull vertically against gravity. So, I think, cables have no advantage here. What do you think about this man?

    Now – if you substitute cables with ELASTIC BANDS – I see a potential use there.

    Keep em coming buddy!


  • Yavor February 11, 2010, 9:37 pm

    p.s. saw that you recommended the cables for the smooth motion. They are an awesome tool. Also – the smith machine (which has been bashed by ‘experts’ ) might prove useful here. I’ve seen it used for rear delt rows (behind the back)



  • Mark McManus February 11, 2010, 10:10 pm

    @Ray @Tommy Thanks again guys :)
    @Yavor. That’s why I say in the article “Therefore the best trapezius exercise simply has to be shrugs. These can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell, or preferably a cable.” It’s pretty much the same but you can feel for yourself the more even distribution of tension throughout the rep when using a cable.

  • Nick February 11, 2010, 11:11 pm

    Hey Mark. Thanks for another great article.

    In THT, should I be adding these in with the upright rows on shoulder day, or simply subsitute rows for shrugs?

    Cheers, Nick

  • Johnny February 11, 2010, 11:47 pm

    Summary: Dumbells and cables are no different from one another for this exercise.

    The cables offer no benefit to this exercise. There is no traversal across the plane normal to the force (gravity or cable coming up from ground). In other words, It is straight up and down with the full force in either case.

    Now your previous cable videos were spot on, but we shouldn’t conclude that cable exercises are automatically advantageous in every lift. For further clarification of why cables work, take the bicep curl for example. In the sitting preacher curl with dumbells, you start by moving against gravity, but as the biceps reach the fully contracted position, you are essentially moving horizontally w.r.t. the downward force gravity. If you put a cable on the ground and do preacher curls, then those will be no better than dumbell curls. The advantage cables provide is you can change where the resistance force is coming from.

    So to fix this problem of not peak force at peak contraction, you change where the resistance is coming from either via moving the source of the cable or standing in a different position relative to gravity (laying chest down on an incline style bench for example).

    So people without cables, don’t despair. Just do dumbell curls while chest down on an incline bench

  • David February 12, 2010, 1:50 am

    Hey Mark,

    I’ve always had difficulty with shrugs. I usually end up feeling as though I’m pinching a nerve in my neck, so I never can lift enough to reach muscle failure. Any suggestions here? Am I doing something wrong? Or should I be lowering the wieght and aiming for higher reps, cause that’s just the way my body is?

    Thanks man.

  • Mike "indy" February 12, 2010, 11:12 am

    you know what is funny Mark I just started doing this a week ago and felt they hit really well… great minds think alike lol In fact the second time I did these was last night 7 hawaii time woah trippy… keep up the great work brother .. I also have some idease on tweaking a few things in the tri department… check out my FB page for credibility.. I thnk you just added me

    cheers brother


  • Darshan Weerasinghe February 12, 2010, 1:57 pm


    I simply LOVE your stuff. You must also mention what a great exercise shrugs are for helping you deadlift big poundages and also improving posture for those who are a bit hunched over.

  • Mark McManus February 12, 2010, 3:20 pm

    @David. This is very common. People say they can’t reach failure on this exercise. I believe this is for 2 reasons:
    1. They are unconsciously using their arms to lift the weight. As the traps get progressively weaker, they involve the arms more and it seems they can go on forever. Think of your arms as dead weight and lift the bar with your traps only.
    2. Slow the cadence down. Shrugs is an exercise that needs to be performed quite slowly in order to reach failure.
    @Mike. Thanks for the add on FB.
    @Darshan. Thanks

  • tim February 14, 2010, 6:36 pm

    thanks for all the cable exercises mark they really do make all the difference oh and im fifty and got a six pack so it can be done took me 8 months and 3 and a half stone later i made it body fat is now 8%

  • Keith Davis February 16, 2010, 8:16 pm

    Keep looking at that piece of kit you are using with envious eyes… maybe if I win the lottery. LOL

  • Mark McManus February 16, 2010, 10:20 pm

    @tim. Great. Very happy for you!
    @Keith. It’s worth the investment. You only pay it once but you’ve got it for life :)

  • Scott February 17, 2010, 7:41 am

    Mark can you respond to my comment above, the comment was “being moderated” for a few days after I posted it and now that there are comments after it you may not have noticed it. Thank you.

  • mike pearse February 17, 2010, 2:17 pm

    mark ,i have just become a member and I’m finding all your advise people are asking you and your detail on your answers brilliant , so look forward to asking some tips on bulking up and training thanks and i no i will find your site a great help!!thanks once again and cant wait for some professional advise when needed ,cheers

  • tim February 17, 2010, 6:19 pm

    hi mark thanks for the comment am i doing the right thing working my chest and biceps in the same work out . and should i work to failure on every set

  • Mark McManus February 18, 2010, 3:17 pm

    @Scott. I’d like to see it before I advise you. Is there good resistance throughout or is there any part of a movement where the resistance drops? Can you increase the resistance in small increments?
    @Mike. Thanks man.
    @Tim. It’s fine to do so but you have to work the biceps AFTER the chest. Yes, failure on every set.

  • tim February 18, 2010, 3:50 pm

    tanks mark nice one

  • tim February 18, 2010, 3:59 pm

    oh and that should of said thanks> shakey hands lifting all that weight