Best Exercise For Massive Traps

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Traps extend from your upper back to the top of your head and it’s a large muscle which needs plenty of growth stimulus. The function of the trapezius is to stabilize and move the scapula. Functionally, trapezius assist in postural attributes, allowing and supporting the spinal column to remain erect when the person is standing.

massive traps

The trapezius muscle is also used for active movements such as side bending, rotation of the head, elevating and depressing the shoulders, and internally rotating the arm. 

The traps assist in pulling strength and shoulder stability for exercises like heavy carries, deadlifts, and the Olympic lifts. Both high level weightlifters and proficient powerlifters are known for having traps that touch their ears. 

The trapezius muscle is divided into 3 parts:

  • Upper Traps
  • Middle Traps
  • Lower Traps

In most cases, when we discuss about bigger traps, it’s the upper traps we are focusing on, as they are the only ones visible.

trapezius muscle

A 2008 study, determined the level of activation of the neck and shoulder muscles using surface electromyography (EMG) during selected strengthening exercises in women undergoing rehabilitation for chronic neck muscle pain. EMG activity in the trapezius and deltoid muscles was measured during the exercises (lateral raises, upright rows, barbell shrugs, one-arm rows, and reverse flys).

For the trapezius muscle, the highest level of muscle activation was found during the barbell shrug (102+/-11% of MVC), lateral raise (97+/-6% of MVC), and upright row (85+/-5% of MVC) exercises, but the latter 2 exercises required smaller training loads (3-10 kg) compared with the shrug exercise (20-30 kg).

In 2010 study, researcher Bret Contreras, analysed muscle activity with 25 different shoulder and trap exercises. He found that when it comes to upper traps, the best exercises were:

Mean: Barbell Shrug, Cable Lateral Raise, Standing Military Press

Peak: Cable Lateral Raise, Barbell Shrug, Seated Behind Neck Press

A 2018 study, compared the electromyographic (EMG) responses in the middle trapezius, lower trapezius, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, and erector spinae during eight back exercises to determine which produces the greatest muscle activation for each muscle.

Nineteen males completed five repetitions of the following exercises using 70% of 1 RM, or body weight resistance: lat pull-downs, inverted rows, seated rows, bent-over rows, TRX rows, I-Y-T raises, pull-ups, and chin-ups.

Here is what the study found, when it comes to activation of the upper & middle traps:

Middle trapezius: The four exercises that best recruited this muscle were the bent-over row, inverted row, seated row and I-Y-T raises.

Lower trapezius: The I-Y-T raises outperformed all other exercises when it came to targeting the lower trapezius. The bent-over row was also significantly better than the other six exercises tested.

A 2010 study, assessed muscle activation of 35 different exercises of back & biceps, and measured the mean & peak activation of the biceps, lats, & traps, during various back and bicep exercises.

For the research, Bret Contreras used weight from which five reps could be performed, except for the weighted chin-ups and pullups, where 3RM rep range was used.

Based on the experiment, the top three exercises in terms of mean and peak activity for mid & lower traps were:


Mean: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row, Dumbbell Elbows Out Chest-Supported Row, Prone Trap Raise

Peak: Prone Trap Raise, Dumbbell Bent-Over Row, Dumbbell Elbows Out Chest-Supported Row


Mean: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row, Prone Trap Raise, Dumbbell Elbows Out Chest-Supported Row

Peak: Dumbbell Elbows Out Chest Supported-Row, Prone Trap Raise, Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

A 2021 study, examined the electromyographical (EMG) differences between four variations during the dynamic performance of the bent-over row (BOR) exercise: BOR in inclined bench with 90deg shoulder abduction (B/AB); BOR in inclined bench with maximum shoulder adduction (B/AD); standing BOR with 90deg shoulder abduction (S/AB); standing BOR with maximum shoulder adduction (S/AD).

Muscle activity was measured using surface EMG in six lumbar, dorsal, and shoulder muscles: posterior deltoid (PD), latissimus dorsi (LD), upper trapezius (UT), middle trapezius (MT), lumbar portion of erector spinae (LES) and thoracic portion erector spinae (TES).

erector spinae (LES) and thoracic portion erector spinae (

Results showed that the two variations based on standing postures (S/AB and S/AD) caused greater EMG responses both on shoulder and lumbar and dorsal muscles. However, importantly, participants had the highest EMG activity on target muscles (deltoid and trapezius muscles) when performing the BOR in a shoulder abduction position (B/AB and S/AB), independent of whether they were, or were not, working with the bench.

Thus when it comes to developing the Traps, here are the best exercises to choose from:

Upper Traps: Shrugs (barbell, dumbbell, cable, hex-bar etc.); upright row (barbell, cable, dumbbell etc.); lateral raises (cable, dumbbell).Middle & Lower Traps: bent over row (barbell, dumbbell, hex-bar, pronated bench etc.); inverted rows (normal & feet elevated); seated cable row; I-Y-T raise