Congratulations for being here. Simply by landing on this page, you’ve demonstrated you’re paying attention to a crucial part of a workout routine that far too many people ignore.
The trapezius muscle—a kite-shaped sheet of sinew that runs vertically along your upper spine and fans out toward your shoulders—is your back’s multi-tasker. The upper traps shrug your shoulders up; the middle portion pulls them back; the lower traps pull them down.
What the Trapezius Muscles Do
The muscles of the trapezius stabilize and articulate your shoulder blades, which move pretty much any time you move your arms. As a result, there aren’t many upper-body movements that don’t involve them.
In sports, they help you throw, climb, and swing. In the gym, they help you row, pull, and press. Day to day, strong trapezius muscles can keep your posture in check, and prevent your side view from becoming permanently C-shaped. Develop your traps enough, and they’ll help you look powerful and athletic, both from the front (picture the sturdy shoulders of a gymnast) and from behind (picture the sinuous upper back of an Olympic swimmer).
3 Exercises for Bigger, More Powerful Trapezius Muscles
If you’re looking to build a set of killer trapezius muscles, you’ll need more than one exercise. We’ve combed through the Openfit archives to find you three—plus two bonus stretches to perform after your workout, or anytime your shoulders and upper back feel tight. Try each movement twice a week for an upper back that’ll inspire double-takes and make your whole body work better.
Upper Traps: Upright Row
Equipment: Medium-to-lightweight barbell, EZ curl bar (that’s the cambered bar usually used for curls), or pair of dumbbells.
- Using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, stand and hold the weight at arm’s length in front of you. You can also hold the handles of an exercise band and stand on the middle of the band. (Don’t use too much resistance!)
- Slowly and under control, lift the weight in front of your torso, keeping it close to your body, until your elbows reach shoulder height.
- Pause for a moment and reverse the movement, lowering the bar back to arm’s length in front of you.
Sets x Reps: 3-4 x 8-12
Middle Traps: Reverse Fly
Equipment: Pair of light dumbbells and an adjustable bench or chair.
- Set the bench to incline and assume a prone position (facedown) on it, allowing your arms to hang straight down toward the floor. No bench? Sit on a chair and bend forward, keeping your back straight and your core tight, so your chest is on your thighs. No dumbbells? Use soup cans—or simply perform the movement unweighted.
- Keeping your arms slightly bent and your palms turned toward the floor, raise the weights directly out to your sides, turning the thumb-side of your hand downward slightly at the top of the movement.
- Hold the top position for a one-count, then slowly return to the starting position.
Sets x Reps: 2-3 x 12-15
Lower Traps: Double-Arm Windmill
• Stand upright with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
• On a deep inhale, rotate your palms outward, squeeze your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest as high as you can.
- Keeping your shoulder blades pulled back, your arms locked out, and your chest expanded, lift your arms outward and upward until your palms come close together overhead.
- Pause for a moment, reverse the movement, and repeat.
Sets x Reps: 2-3 x 12-15
Trap Stretches to Relieve Tightness
• Come onto all fours, knees directly below your hips, hands directly below your shoulders.
• Breathing deeply, round your upper back up toward the ceiling as high as you can while allowing your chin to fall toward your chest. Feel the stretch in the back of your neck and between your shoulder blades, and hold for a two-count.
• Reverse the move, slowly arching your entire back as much as possible and pulling your shoulder blades together while lifting your head high.
• Alternate between the rounded and arched positions for 8-10 slow reps
Upper Back Flexion
• Stand upright and interlace your fingers.
• Straighten your arms and press your palms forward as far as possible.
• Hold for 15-30 seconds.