22 Nasty Trap Exercises To Build Bigger Traps (With Workout)

September 10, 2021

I don’t know about you, but when I think of huge traps, I think of someone like Bautista. If you’re old enough, you’ll know him from the WWE. If you’re from the younger generation, you may know him as Drax the Destroyer from Guardians of the Galaxy.

He has massive traps in both roles! But enough of that. We need to know how to build big traps not just admire them. Having big traps is a powerful look. No wonder everyone is after them.

Having big arms and a big chest is nothing without having the traps supporting them. In my eyes, without having the upper back shelf, you can still look skinny and weak no matter how big your arms are.

Having big traps also contributes to having that thick-neck look. But before we dive deep into the exercises that will build mountains on your shoulders, we need to understand how the traps work as those mounds are only a small portion of your trapezius muscles.

Anatomy Of The Traps

The traps are made up of three main areas:

  • Upper traps
  • Mid traps
  • Lower traps
Anatomy Of The Traps

Each portion of the trapezius muscles has distinct roles in movement. The upper traps elevate and rotate the shoulder blades upwards. The middle traps help retract the shoulder blades (bring them together). And the lower traps depress (move them down) and inwardly rotate the shoulder blades.

This means to maximize trap development; we must perform movements that target all three of the trapezius muscles. While the upper traps are what most lifting enthusiasts are after, addressing the mid and lower traps is important for overall shoulder health and function.

Further, well-developed mid and lower traps will give you a dense-looking upper back to match meaty upper traps. Because different movements target different areas of the traps, I'm going to split exercises into upper and mid/lower traps exercises.

Upper Traps Exercises


Shrugs are a staple movement for the upper traps. They can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, even a trap bar. Whatever you can hold in your hands for weight, can be shrugged. It’s important that you let the weight pull your shoulders down to put a big stretch on your upper traps.

A big mistake you’ll often see at the commercial gym are meatheads going too heavy and using too much momentum. While it may stroke the ego, it’s doing nothing for growing big traps. To make your upper traps grow, you must squeeze every rep at the top when performing shrugs.

Performing a 2-3 seconds squeeze at the top will maximize the effectiveness of the shrug.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Incline DB Shrugs

While the incline DB shrug targets the upper traps for a massive shelf, it also targets the mid traps to give you the upper back thickness from behind. The most important part of this exercise is to let your arms relax and stretch at the bottom of each rep. This will place the mid trap muscle fibers at the greatest stretch.

We know that putting the muscles through stretch under load is one of the key factors of muscle growth [1]. Place your bench at a 45° angle and lie chest down against it. Support yourself by remaining with your toes on the floor.

I prefer being further up the bench so my head is above the top. That way, I can really relax my arms without worrying about my nose being smushed against the bench. Once you're set-up, shrug your shoulders vertically toward the ceiling. Not your ears.

This will give you the greatest upper and mid trap activation for that thick upper back. To make this exercise more effective, pause for 2-3 seconds at the top and squeeze your traps.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Snatch Grip Barbell Overhead Shrugs

For those who have chronically depressed shoulder blades, the overhead shrug is the exercise to address this issue. By having the arms overhead, you create upward rotation of the shoulder blades. This allows you to better target the upper traps.

Hold the barbell overhead with a snatch grip width. It doesn’t have to be this wide and can be a little closer. Ideally, it should be wider than your normal pressing grip. In the overhead position, shrug your shoulders to your ears.

Hold this position for 2-3 seconds for the best upper trap activation.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Kirk Shrug

These were invented and named after a legendary Powerlifter named Kirk Karwoski. While he employed this exercise to train his grip strength for the deadlift, turns out it’s an epic mass builder for the upper back and traps.

Think of it as a hybrid shrug and upright row. James Steel from Bas Barbell (if you haven’t read his work, you should) was friends with the man himself and provides a very simple guide to performing the Kirk Shrug. Simply grip the barbell just outside your thighs.

Pull the bar to your belly button by bending your arms and shrugging at the same time. Pause for 2 seconds at the top.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps.

Zercher Shrug

This is a favorite of Christian Thibaudeau who you can see performing the exercise in the video. The Zercher position places extra stress on the mid-back to support the weight. So, the upper traps get a heavy stimulus from the shrugs, and the mid and lower traps act as supporting muscles.

You’ll need elbow sleeves like in the video to protect your elbows from the barbell. For extra comfort, use a fat bar or a safety squat bar with padding. You could even use a bar pad so the bar sits comfortably.

Unrack the bar from the rack in your elbows. Make sure you don't bounce the bar up and down and be sure to remain upright. Not leaning back to hunching over.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.


You can’t talk about big traps without mentioning the deadlift. A staple upper back builder that has stood the test of time. When deadlifting, the traps work isometrically. Meaning they don’t change length while creating tension.

Isometrics at long muscle lengths have been shown to be great muscle builders [2]. Picking heavy loads up from the floor places tremendous tension on the upper traps while placing them under stretch.

If you haven’t deadlifted in a while, and you pull a few reps, you’ll wake up with very sore traps the next day. To perform the deadlift, grip the barbell and pull yourself down to the starting position with a big chest and straight back.

Push the floor away with your legs and thrust your hips forward once the bar passes your knees.

Recommended sets and reps: 1-5 sets of 1-10 reps.

Rack Pulls

Rack pulls are the deadlift on steroids for the upper traps and upper back development. You can perform these from any starting height depending on the goals of the exercise. For trap development, I would recommend starting from the knees or just above the knees.

The setup is the same as the deadlift. A big mistake is bouncing the bar off the supports in the rack. This is an easy way to bend and ruin your barbell for life while simultaneously making no gains.

Recommended sets and reps: 1-5 sets of 5-8 reps.

Farmers Walk

Just like how the deadlift places the traps under huge stretch and tension, the farmers walk does this but with increased time under tension. Time under tension is a key contributor to muscle growth [3].

The combined loaded stretch for long periods is what makes the farmers walk a barn burner for upper trap development. Farmers walks can be done with anything you can hold in your hands and carry.

I would highly recommend farmers handles as they are the most comfortable to walk with and you’ll be able to carry the heaviest load due to their design. However, heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, and even barbells work.

Recommended sets and reps: 1-3 sets of 20m to max distance.

Lu Raises

Honestly, I don’t even think this is their real name but why not credit the only man I’ve seen do these regularly – Lu Xiaojun. The most accomplished Chinese Weightlifter. Not only are the upper traps involved in elevating the shoulders, but also in overhead abduction of the arms above 90°.

Meaning anything past the top of your traditional lateral raise heavily recruits the upper traps. Sounds like a win-win to me. Big side delts and traps in one exercise.

You can either hold plates as Lu does or you can use dumbbells. Whichever is more comfortable for you. Perform a normal lateral raise but keep going until your plates touch at the top over your head. It’s really that simple.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Face Pull

A staple in most Powerlifters training routines. The face pull is often used for shoulder health to balance all of the horizontal pressing by training the external rotators of the shoulder. Turns out, the face pull also makes a great upper and mid trap burner.

There are many different variations of the face pull. Firstly, you can perform these standing with a cable and rope attachment, or bent over with a barbell or dumbbells. Secondly, you can pull to different areas of your body.

Pulling to your neck or upper chest will target the mid and lower traps whereas pulling to your nose, forehead, or above your head targets the upper traps to a greater extent. Most importantly, pause at the contraction for 1-2 seconds for big traps.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 15-30 reps.

Upright Rows

Not everyone can perform upright rows safely. Those with rounded shoulders and poor mid and upper back posture are likely to feel pain in their shoulders when doing upright rows. If that’s you, skip this one. There are plenty of other options.

If you can do these, great! Barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and EZ bars are all options for the upright row. Importantly, these must be done strictly with no body movement. As you pull the bar up your body, your elbows should point up and to the side.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Snatch Grip High Pull From Blocks

This is the upright row on steroids. In my experience, nothing will grow your traps like the snatch grip high pull from the blocks. Even if you train your traps regularly and heavily with shrugs and deadlifts, one session of these and you’ll have sore traps for days. The stimulus is like no other.

If you were to pick ONE exercise from this list for upper trap development, it would be the snatch grip high pull from blocks.

To perform this exercise, elevate the bar on blocks to knee height. Take a snatch grip (use straps for this exercise) and pull yourself into the starting position with a big chest, tight lats, and head and eyes forward. 

Push through your legs into the ground and once you are standing up tall, extend onto your toes and perform a big shrug of your shoulders while pulling the barbell as high as you can similar to an upright row.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Clean Pulls

Carrying on with the theme of Weightlifting, there’s a reason Weightlifters have some of the biggest upper back and traps in all strength sports. They have to support heavy loads every single day of training while performing violent shrugs with heavy loads.

Sounds like a pretty good combination to me. The clean pull is like performing the strongest part of a clean and then rapidly shrugging the weight at the top. Not only will you get amazing upper trap development, but overall back development from having to support heavy loads from the floor.

If your goal is to purely build a big back and traps, I would pick the clean pull over the deadlift. We have a full guide on performing the clean pull so make sure to read that for an in-depth technique guide.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Snatch Pulls

Just like the clean pull, the snatch pull places even more stress on the mid and upper back as the wider grip forces you more horizontal. The snatch pull is different from the snatch grip high pull as your arms will remain straight while shrugging at the top of the movement.

This way, you will be able to handle more weight and overload the upper traps to a greater extent. We have a full technique breakdown in our article on the snatch pull.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Power Cleans

Many may not see the power clean as an upper trap builder. Instead, many may see it as a power movement for sport or as a movement to make you a better Weightlifter. While all of these things are true, power cleans performed with slightly higher reps can be an excellent addition to your trap development.

We have a full technique breakdown in our article on the power clean. In fact, if you are after a program based around the Olympic lifts for mass development, then we have a full program in our article on building muscle with Weightlifting.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Mid And Lower Traps Exercises

As mentioned earlier in the article, mid and lower trap exercises will round out your trap development and ensure your shoulders remain healthy. Many people will be diagnosed with overactive upper traps and be given exercises like these to remedy it.

However, it is very rarely overactive upper traps and usually just week mid and lower traps. So here is a list of exercises you can use in most of your training sessions throughout the week.

Scap Chin-Up

This is often a movement I’ll use when first teaching someone how to do chin-ups. Those with no strength training background may struggle as it requires quite a bit of strength from the lower and mid traps.

To do a scap chin-up, hang from a pull-up bar and initiate the movement only by pulling your shoulder blades together and down. This will elevate your chest. If this is too difficult, use other exercises that don’t require the bodyweight as load.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 6-20 reps.

Bent Over Reverse Fly

A staple mid and lower traps exercise. This is often an exercise used to target the rear delts by using smaller movements with a bit of a swing. But to target the traps, you’ll need a slightly larger range of motion and a squeeze of the shoulder blades together at the top.

Perform these with a slight bend in your arm. They shouldn’t be completely straight nor should they have a 90° bend in the elbow. Lead the movement with your elbow so your elbows remain higher than your hands.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Seated Bent Over Reverse Fly

The seated variation targets more of the mid traps than the lower traps. You’ll also feel some upper trap activation throughout this movement. You’ll perform the same movement as the standing bent over reverse fly. However, you’ll be seated and bent over.

From this position, have your hands come under your legs and then fly out to the sides. Again, keep your elbows above your hands.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Cable Reverse Fly

This is a nice reverse fly variation but it requires more space and equipment. That is, a cable column that has two cable stacks. Simply face the cable column and grab the left cable with your right hand and the right cable with your left hand.

Stand upright and separate your arms in a reverse fly motion. Your arms should be slightly bent and make sure to lead with your elbows. Your hands are just attachments to hold the cable.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps.

Band Pull-Apart

The band pull-apart is the cable reverse fly without the need for expensive equipment and space. Simply grab a light band and hold it directly in front of you with your arms straight. Pull the band apart so when your arms are out to your side, the band is stretched against your chest.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 20-30 reps.

Trap 3 Raise

The trap 3 raise is named after the lower traps (sometimes referred to as the trap 3) and is used for those who struggle to activate the lower traps. This is a very difficult exercise and you’ll find your upper traps want to take over every part of the movement. But don’t let them!

Bend over so your torso is parallel with the floor. Rest your arm on the top of a bench or box and your head on your arm to relax your neck and upper traps. The trap 3 raise is done in two distinct movements.

Firstly, retract your shoulder blade back and down. This will set your shoulder in the correct position. Then slowly raise your light dumbbell or plate in a Y shape (overhead but slightly to the side). Maintain the shoulder blade position throughout the entire movement.

Slowly lower the arm so it’s hanging straight down. Then relax the shoulder. You will only need 1-2 kg to perform this exercise. Often, you’ll need to start with no weight at all.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

Powell Raise

The Powell raise is used for the same reasons as the trap 3 raise. However, you will be on your side performing a reverse fly-like motion. Lie on your side on a bench and let your arm hang in front of you while holding a light dumbbell.

Retract your shoulder blade and hold the position while trying to keep your arm as straight as possible. Then perform a reverse fly until your arm is vertical. Slowly lower your arm back to the starting position. Then relax your shoulder.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

Example Big Traps Workout

Day 1



A1) Snatch Grip High Pull Off Blocks

4 x 4

B1) Lu Raises

3 x 15

C1) Bent Over Reverse Fly

3 x 20

Day 2



A1) Rack Pulls

3 x 5

B1) Zercher Shrugs

4 x 10

C1) Cable Reverse Fly

3 x 15

D1) Trap 3 Raise

3 x 9/side


1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

2. Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long‐term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 29(4), 484-503.

3. Burd, N. A., Andrews, R. J., West, D. W., Little, J. P., Cochran, A. J., Hector, A. J., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of physiology, 590(2), 351-362.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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