Building strong traps is crucial. Forget about pecs and biceps! Nothing is more impressive and intimidating than a round set of traps sticking out of the top of your t-shirt. Guys with decent-sized arms are a dime a dozen, but to really stand out in the crowd, you need big traps.
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So, how do you get big traps, and why are they such a rare sight to see?
To be quite honest, building big traps is harder work than most guys want to endure. That's because the exercises that build the traps are also some of the biggest, baddest, most taxing exercises in existence. For those reasons, you don't see too many guys with massive traps.
But you're not most guys. You want to stand out from the crowd. You want to be the alpha male with the look of a cage fighter or professional running back. Here are the three exercises that will get you there:
1. Rack Pulls
Deadlifts are a great overall back and leg building exercise. But to really focus on the traps without having to worry about technique and mobility issues, rack pulls are your best bet. Set a bar on pins in a power rack at so that the bar is slightly above or below your kneecap. If the bar is resting directly against your kneecap at the start, adjust the pins or stand on some plates.
Get in position with your back arched and arms locked, then simply stand up with the bar. Repeat for 5-8 reps. Work up to one or two heavy, top-end sets once per week. Track your weights in a training log and get consistently stronger on this exercise. When you can pull 500 pounds from below the knee for a set of six reps, you'll have pretty big traps.
2. Snatch Grip High Pulls
Look at any Olympic lifter, and you'll immediately have some important information about how to build bigger traps. Their traps always stand out because of all of the explosive pulling they do. All Olympic lifting variations will build the traps, but my favorite is the snatch grip high pull. The clean grip high pull is effective, but often leads to more elbow stress than the wider, snatch grip version does.
To do them properly, grab the bar with a wide grip - putting your index finger in the outer rings is a good starting point for most guys. Start with the bar just above your knee, back arched and elbows straight. Explosively stand straight up while shrugging hard and getting up on your toes. The momentum generated by your hips should get the bar up past your navel. At that point, pull up and back toward you at the top, trying to retract your shoulder blades while keeping your chest up.
Your arms should not be perpendicular to the floor with your elbows way up high, like you see most guys doing incorrectly, but rather closer to parallel to the floor like you were doing a row while standing up. This will keep your shoulders safe while doing this exercise.
Do five sets of five twice per week with about a minute or two rest between sets. Never go to heavy on this exercise, as it's meant to be explosive.
3. Farmer's Walks
While snatch grip high pulls are somewhat difficult to master, farmers walks are probably the easiest exercise you'll ever do. In fact, you do them all the time in everyday life. A farmer's walk entails simply picking up a heavy weight in each hand and walking with it for time or distance. Ideally, you would have specific implements for this such as steel missiles or briefcases filled with sand or lead shot. But if you don't have a well-equipped gym with strongman tools lying around, you can simply use kettlebells or heavy dumbbells.
Grab an implement in each hand and stand upright with your chest up and shoulders back. Now simply walk for a predetermined time or distance. In order to keep the traps under tension and give them a decent growth stimulus, I prefer to have the sets last somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds. If you're inside, this could be a lap or two around your gym. If you're outside, this could be one trip down your block or even a couple trips back and forth across your front lawn or driveway.
Use caution on these and don't walk too fast at first. Missing a step or tripping with a few hundred pounds in your hand could result in a serious knee or ankle injury. Keep your abs braced the entire time you are walking and keep everything drum tight from head to toe.
Do about four or five laps of 30-60 seconds once a week, and you will expect to see some nice growth in, not only your traps, but your forearms and calves as well. It's a great bang-for-you-buck exercise and works almost every muscle from head to toe.
For a fully detailed 12-week trap building specialization workout check out my Yoked program here.
– Jason Ferrugia