Why Shrugs Suck (How To Really Build Big Traps)

Traps are one of the most overlooked and underrated body parts on a guy’s upper body. Having big shoulder pad slabs of muscle for traps gives you a much more muscular and powerful appearance. In fact, your traps actually contribute more to that powerful look than a big chest. Even when you’re wearing a shirt, if you’ve got some big traps and wide shoulders, your physique will get noticed.

There’s two main issues why so many guys have lacking traps; one is they simply don’t give them high enough priority and two, they perform traditional barbell and dumbbell shrugs.

If you really want to build big traps, you need to know why shrugs suck and what to do instead…

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Traditional Shrugs

In a traditional barbell or dumbbell shrug, guys load up the bar or grab a heavy set of bells and start repping out shrugs in a straight up and down motion. This is a pretty shitty way to activate the traps and why a lot of guys fail to build significant mass in their traps.

Levator Scapulae

The issue with the traditional shrug is that the straight up-and-down motion of the shrug, defined as “scapular elevation”, actually primarily activates the levator scapulae instead of the trapezius.

So you’re really not doing much at all to stimulate growth in your traps with standard upright shrugs. Your traps will activate to some extent, but certainly not to their full extent, which should be the goal when trying to build any particular muscle.

How To Really Build Big Traps

So if you want to really build big traps; you don’t have to stop doing shrugs altogether, but you do have to adjust how you’re performing them.

How to Shrug Properly

Instead of the traditional barbell and dumbbell shrugs, you should be shrugging your shoulders in a diagonal motion up and backwards at the same time. By including more horizontal movement you actively engage more of the trapezius and reduce the recruitment of the levator scapulae.

This simple tweak to your shrugs not only shifts more focus of the tension to your traps, it also works along the same direction of your trap muscle fibers. This allows you to get the fullest stretch and contraction possible in the muscle fibers and thus the greatest stimulation for muscle growth.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to lean slightly forward as you perform your shrugs. This will naturally change the angle of the movement to allow for the diagonal up and back motion necessary to fully stimulate the traps just shrugging the weight up against gravity.

As with any exercise, be sure to get a full stretch in the traps at the bottom, and then squeeze your traps hard at the top to ensure a good contraction, then lower back down under control.

The Bottom Line on Building Bigger Traps

If you’re performing traditional up and down shrugs, you’re getting a good workout in for your levator scapulae, but doing a poor job at building those traps. The simple fix, is to shift to tension primarily to the traps and employ resistance training along the direction of the trap muscle fibers for a full stretch and contraction of the muscle.

To improve your ability to activate your traps and thus stimulate more growth, perform your shrugs while slightly leaning forward with your upper body. This will cause you to perform your shrug in a diagonal motion moving the weight up and backwards and do a far better job at stimulating the traps.

Try it out on your next trap workout and you’ll feel the difference right away!

– Tyler Johnston “The APE Coach”

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