How do I get bigger traps? (A bodybuilding guide)


How do I get bigger traps

How do I get bigger traps? A common question in bodybuilding.

Bigger traps can be attained by regular activation with compound lifts such as deadlifts and cleans complimented with bodybuilding isolation exercises. 

The occasional, basic shrug isn't going to be enough. Hitting the traps with a variety of shrugs from different angles will add height and depth to the traps. 

Good nutrition with a lot of protein will also assist with overall muscle growth. 

Read on for more information and answers to the question - how do I get bigger traps?

Why won't my traps grow?

Traps need to be activated frequently, from multiple angles and with a progressive, heavy load for maximum growth. 

Many bodybuilders will tag on a few sets of dumbbell shrugs at the end of a shoulder session and be surprised that their traps are hardly growing. They need to be treated like any other major muscle. 

The trapezius muscle can be split into three sections, the upper, middle and lower. Different exercises will target different parts of the traps. Shrugs will add height whereas rows and deadlifts will add thickness to the mid and lower sections.

Trapezius muscle anatomy

It is also worth considering the fibres that make up the trapezius muscle. The traps are postural muscles so are predominantly made up of slow-twitch fibres. 

These react well to 'time under tension' bodybuilding training. About 20% of the trapezius is made up of fast-twitch fibres so we will be hitting these with heavy, explosive movements. 

If genetics have not blessed you with naturally big traps, add on the bodybuilding exercises below to your workout twice per week, eat plenty of protein and watch them grow.

What is the best exercise to build bigger traps?

The best exercises to build bigger traps are heavy shrugs, row shrugs, deadlifts, face pulls and upright rows. 

Other exercises will activate the traps to a lower extent (shoulder presses and lateral raises for example) but these are the best movements for building bigger traps. 

Compound movements

Heavy compound lifts are great for growing traps. If you regularly deadlift with a heavy load, your lower and mid traps will get thick and your posterior chain will grow. 

Heavy rows are another great bodybuilding exercise for adding thickness to the mid traps and giving definition in the upper back. These are both great exercises for adding overall mass to the traps but neither of them will add height. 

To add height to the traps and make them clearly visible from the front, we need to be focusing on shrugs. But not just three sets of dumbbell shrugs! 

The traps are constructed with a mixture of slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres so they respond to both heavy loads and high reps. Using both of these along with different angles, we can force growth in even the most stubborn traps. 

Trap focused exercise guide

We're assuming that you already include heavy compound lifts in your bodybuilding program. The exercises below are trap-focused accessory movements that should be tagged on to your workout a couple of times a week if you are looking to get bigger traps.

Workout A

Smith machine shrugs - 4x5 reps

The smith machine is great for shrugs. You can set it up with the safety hooks in place making it easy to shrug with a heavy load. 

Shrugging upwards from the front is a great way to add height to the traps. Going really heavy, with explosive movement, for 5 reps is going to break down the fast-twitch muscle fibres. 
Smith machine shrugs for bigger traps

Incline bench Shrugs - 4x12 reps (5+7)

Now we are going to target the slow-twitch muscle fibres. Using moderate weight, shrug the weight, at the top of the movement, squeeze the traps and hold the position for 5 seconds before slowly lowering. 

Do this for the first 5 reps of each set and then 'pump' another 7-8 reps to really stress the muscle. 
Dumbbell shrugs for bigger traps

Workout B.

Double cable shrug. - 4x12 reps (5 slow + 7 fast)

This is going to target the fast-twitch fibres at the top of the traps. Use a wide cable machine with stirrups.
For the first 5 reps of each set, focus on a slow movement, squeeze at the top for 5 seconds and slowly release. For the second half of each set, pump out 7-8 reps. 

Cable shrugs for bigger traps

Behind back cable shrug - 3x12-15reps

It is going to be hard to go heavy after the cable shrugs so this is a way of exhausting the traps from a different angle to make sure that all bases are covered. 

You can use a rope or an EZ bar for this as it is only moderate weight. Stand upright and shrug forwards as you shrug upwards. Use an explosive movement and aim for high reps to finish the traps off. 

Behind back shrugs for bigger traps


By adding these two workouts to your weekly bodybuilding routine, you should see significant growth in your traps. 

We are using the scientifically backed method for hypertrophy of breaking down both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres. 

As long as we allow for sufficient recovery and supplement with plenty of protein, it is a fool-proof method. 

The guide above is the answer to the question 'how do I get bigger traps?'. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and share your bodybuilding progress pictures with us. 

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