Traps is short for trapezius -- the trapezoid-shaped muscle that covers much of the upper back. There are three elements to your traps: upper fibers, middle fibers and lower fibers. The upper fibers elevate your shoulder girdle, the middle fibers pull your shoulder girdle back into retraction and the lower fibers pull your shoulders down in a movement called depression. Keeping your traps strong can help make your upper back and shoulders look and feel their best.
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Barbell Wide-Grip Shrugs
Barbell wide-grip shrugs target the upper traps and also involve the middle traps and rhomboids to a lesser extent. With a barbell in a squat rack, grasp the bar with a grip that is about one and a half shoulder-widths apart. Step out of the squat rack and stand with your knees slightly bent. Lift your chest and arch your lower back slightly. With straight arms, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, inhaling as you do so. Lower your shoulders and exhale. Repeat six to 12 times.
By targeting your middle trapezius, rhomboids and posterior deltoids, face pulls are an effective postural exercise and a good antidote to doing a lot of pushing-type exercises as well as spending long periods sitting at a desk or in a car. Set an adjustable pulley machine to eye-height and attach a rope handle. Grasp the ends of the handle and step back into a staggered stance for stability with your arms out straight in front of you. Leading with your elbows, bend your arms and pull your hands toward your ears until the handle nearly touches your face at eye level. Slowly extend your arms back to the starting position and repeat. Perform 15 to 20 repetitions.
The lower traps are overlooked by many exercisers, since they are not highly visible and it's only when they are weak that they become problematic. Strengthening the lower traps can help stabilize your scapula or shoulder blades and ensure your lower and upper traps are equally developed. To perform this exercise, rest on straight arms as though you were going to perform regular parallel bar dips. Keeping your arms straight, let your body sink slightly between your shoulders and then push back up to the starting position. If the full version of this exercise is too demanding, do straight-arm bench dips instead. Perform 15 to 20 reps.
Reverse Fly with Dumbbells
The reverse fly with dumbbells, performed seated or standing, strengthens the middle trapezius, rhomboids and posterior deltoids -- all important muscles for posture and shoulder health. With a dumbbell in each hand, lean forward so your arms hang from your shoulders perpendicular to the floor. With a slight bend in your arms, raise the weights up and out to shoulder level so that when you are viewed from behind they form a T-shape. Lower your arms to the starting position and repeat. Perform 12 to 15 reps.
The waiter's walk works many of the lower and upper body muscles, including the upper trapezius. Lift and hold a heavy weight above your head. This can be dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell or a heavy medicine ball. Activate your upper traps by slightly elevating your shoulders. While keeping your arms straight and your shoulders pulled back, walk around your training area for 30 to 60 seconds. Carefully lower the weight, rest and repeat.