The Best Trap Workout, Scaled for Every Experience Level

Here’s your how-to for building monster traps.

If you train for aesthetics, the traps are a huge statement piece of your upper body. The undeniably eye-catching traps of bodybuilders and CrossFitters alike are all the evidence you’ll need of that. 

Unfortunately, trap training can oftentimes be confusing or even fall by the wayside. Much like the calves, some people just seem to be born with these muscles while others struggle to develop them. 

The back of a shirtless person with two dumbbells, doing the farmer's carry.
Credit: Bee Bonnet / Shutterstock

Even if you’re not trying to build bigger traps, strong trap muscles support a more balanced posture and better performance on the best barbell exercises. But how should you start, and how do you progress from there? To take the guesswork out of the equation, here is the best trap workout for every experience level.

The Workouts

The Best Trap Workout for Beginners

Beginners and training the traps are often at odds. Older school training advice for beginners would have you hold your shoulder blades back and down (away from your ears) for each exercise. This is solid advice to start with, as it will help you cue the muscles you want to connect to.

[Read More: The Only Beginner Bodybuilding Routine You Need]

But to truly grow your traps, you also need movement. Let your shoulder blades protract and retract during your training sessions to get the stimulation you need. In other words, let the weight pull your shoulders forward when appropriate to maximize your range of motion.

The Workout

A beginner trap workout can be as simple as executing a solidly written back day. But to maximize growth, make sure you’re integrating full scapular (shoulder blade) movement. 

Choose exercises that directly address your traps. Exercises that utilize an overhand or neutral grip and emphasize a hard squeeze of your shoulder blades will be extremely valuable here.

Coach’s Tip: Perform a one to two-second hard isometric contraction at the end of each repetition to guarantee the full range of motion and strength expression for your traps.

The Best Trap Workout for Intermediates

The lion’s share of a trap-training stimulus often comes from a full range of motion contraction such as rows. For example, a heavy deadlift variation will fuel big gains. 

With that in mind, an intermediate training session for your traps can start to incorporate heavier loading and isometrics. The amount of tension produced by the traps to hold your upper back locked in the right position can deliver a potent reason for growth.

The Workout

The classic deadlift or any number of deadlift variations can serve as the centerpiece of your intermediate trap workout. Not only will it help to strengthen and beef up your upper back, but this overall strength will help drive your entire program forward for continued gains. 

After the deadlift, aim for higher repetition isolation work and even some shrugs to cap your day (and your traps).

  • Conventional Deadlift: 3 x 5
  • Low-to-High Machine Row: 3 x 12
  • Chest-Supported Dumbbell Shrug: 3 x 10-12

Coach’s Tip: For the deadlift or shrugs, feel free to use lifting straps to help guarantee that your grip does not limit your trap development.

The Best Trap Workout for Advanced Athletes

As an advanced athlete, you can start to harness every tool at your disposal for trap workouts. Some of the best trap developers will draw upon different strength sports — think, classic weightlifting and strongman training moves. 

Selecting a few key exercises here will blow your trap growth up long into the future. Before you dive in, just make sure you have the requisite skills you need to pull off the weightlifting moves. Just because you’re a generally advanced athlete doesn’t mean you have experience in weightlifting. Get guidance on your form to make sure you’re locked in before the gains begin.

The Workout

Start with the most explosive strength and power exercises here to leverage how fresh you are. These movements can require high degrees of coordination, so they’re best performed just after your warm-up, before moving on to the smaller bits and pieces. 

Finish a heavy bilateral farmer’s carry for the secret weapon to enormous traps and you’ll be all set.

  • Clean High Pull: 3 x 3
  • Block Pull: 2 x 5
  • Cable Shrug: 3 x 12
  • Bilateral Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry: 3 x 50 feet

Benefits of Trap Workouts

Trap workouts can produce some of the best back development you could ask for, but they also have a huge potential carryover to barbell performance. Not only that, but they can help restore some semblance of balance to your posture if you find yourself hunched over a computer or phone more often than not.

Bigger, Badder Back

A clear benefit of trap training is that your upper back will get bigger and stronger. The traps are comprised of a huge patch of muscle prominently located from the base of your skull all the way down to your mid back. So putting some time and effort in here will have a huge return on investment for your physique. 

Better Barbell Performance

A strong set of traps is undeniably important for most heavy lifts. Luckily, many of the best trap-developing exercises have major carryover potential toward high-skill barbell movements. Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and strongman-style lifts all require expertise in trap-focused exercises

A person starting to do a deadlift.
Credit: UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock

[Read More: What Are The Differences Between Powerlifting Vs. Weightlifting?]

Don’t let your traps become the weak link in your clean & jerk or farmer’s carry. Use the best trap exercises out there to raise the bar on all your lifts.

Balanced Posture

While posture in itself is a complex topic, you’re likely to find yourself naturally hunching your neck and head forward if you have an office job. All those hours on a computer and phone can round your shoulders in an unintentional and unwanted way.

Spending time in the gym developing your traps can help restore balance to your posture by strengthening your posterior muscles. You’ll also learn to feel your upper back more effectively, meaning that the daily cue “sit up straight” will take on a whole new meaning. 

[Read More: How to Do the Kettlebell Goblet Squat for Perfect Posture]

The micro-adjustments to your posture (keeping your shoulders down and back) that are so helpful during the workday will become easier when you pay more attention to your traps in the gym.

Who Should Do Trap Workouts

Trap-based workouts are a great addition to any beginner’s repertoire, but they can also be fantastic in supplementing the training of bodybuilders, strength athletes, or Olympic lifters.

Beginners

If you’re a beginner, establishing a strong foundation of strength and muscle at your traps can be a huge benefit to your training and aesthetics in general. Depending on your training goal, the traps can play an important role in executing strength exercises such as the squat or deadlift. 

[Read More: Squat Vs. Deadlift — Which Is Better for Strength, Mass, and Power?]

They also are an essential part of a balanced physique if you plan to branch out in that direction. All told, given their size and importance across many goals and exercises, starting to train your traps early is a strong asset.

Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders are another strong candidate for direct trap workouts. Depending on your state of muscular development, they can either be a lagging muscle group or just a general area of focus that you’re trying to chisel out. Keeping a few trap workouts in the chamber when needed is an excellent strategy.

Strength Athletes

If you’re a powerlifter or strongman athlete, you will hugely benefit from trap-based workouts. Given that many of your main exercises can be woven into some of the best trap training sessions, it’s easy to understand why. 

A shirtless athlete doing a cable row.
Credit: martvisionlk / Shutterstock

On the other hand, modifying some of your normal strongman or powerlifting exercises into some lighter fare such as shrugs or machine rows can help compliment your muscle growth and strength while taking a break from all the overwhelming load.

Olympic Lifters

Olympic lifters utilize their traps in nearly every main exercise. If you’re performing a clean & jerk, snatch, or even squatting, the traps play a key role in supporting the bar and keeping your spine in extension.

Similar to other strength athletes, the option of doubling down on Olympic variations to train the traps or venturing into some of the more bodybuilding styles of training can offer options to get the trap gains through many avenues.

How to Progress Trap Workouts

Progressing from beginner to intermediate and advanced can take some time and you might find yourself stuck in an “in-between” level. In these cases, focusing on building up compound exercises, increasing intensity, and adding isolation exercises can help.

Focus on Compounds

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that recruit a ton of muscle mass all at once. However, most of them also heavily rely upon trap engagement for maintaining the right position or contributing to moving some heavy weights.

Barbell squats, hinges, carries, Olympic lifts, and overhead work can all be highly effective at stimulating your traps. When you’re reaching a bit of a plateau, weaving in these exercises and improving them can help you leap to the next level.

Focus on Intensity

Intensity is how hard you’re working by the end of a set. It can also be defined by how much of your one-repetition max (1RM) you’re using on any given exercise. While early in training, higher repetition exercises can be very beneficial. If you’re looking to progress, focus on upping the intensity (and lowering the volume). 

[Read More: How to Build Your Own 1-Rep Max Calculator]

Start to err on higher percentages of your 1RM for barbell exercises and take your smaller or more bodybuilding-style movements closer to failure. High-intensity training is a powerful tool to help you bridge the gap between workouts.

Add Isolations

Heavy lifting is great, but it can also be extremely fatiguing across your whole body. It is very taxing on all moving parts, not just the traps. In some cases, you may find yourself getting too tired to put in the required amount of effort and intensity to see your traps get the stimulation they need. In these instances, swapping out for some isolation movements like machine rows is a solid solution.

Prioritize the Traps

An honorable mention should be given to prioritizing your trap workouts to help see progress. Anything you want to move forward with should get your highest ticket spots during your program. 

A person working on their traps with face pulls.
Credit: Reshetnikov_art / Shutterstock

[Read More: Lift Heavier And Protect Your Neck With The Best Trap Exercises]

If you’re slowly starting to stagnate or looking for additional ways to progress, placing your trap workouts earlier in your program will allow you to train with higher levels of intensity. You’ll walk into each workout fresher and be able to leverage that for better gains.

Take it to Trap Town     

Your traps are an extremely important part of developing strength, physique, and overall barbell performance. They may be slow coming back into prominence if you’ve been neglecting them, but the benefits will be legion when you use the best trap workout for your experience level to get you where you want to go. 

Slowly working your way through beginner, intermediate, and advanced trap workouts can meld nicely with other parts of your program. Many of your top-tier exercises have excellent crossover potential across strength sports. Make the most of your trap workouts by locking in your focus while chasing solid form and stronger muscles.

Featured Image: Bee Bonnet / Shutterstock