The Look of Power: Trap Training

Build a Look of Dominance

Build the muscles with the greatest visual impact to create a look of dominance. This method of trap training will get you there fast.

Trap Training For a Faster Transformation

Trap training is underrated. Why? Because while training your larger muscles is obviously effective, it takes a lot of time to create a significant visual difference. Luckily, there are a few smaller muscle groups that can change your physique faster. The traps are one of those groups.

Bonus: You can hit your traps frequently. Train them three times a week and you'll see improvements almost immediately.

The best part? Developed traps create a look of power. When you build them, people will think you look jacked, even if they can't really pinpoint why! What other muscles have this effect aside from the traps? The neck and forearms. We'll get to those another day. Today is all about the traps.

What They Do: Physically and Visually

Traps have a protective impact on the head and neck. They can help prevent concussions and neck or spinal injuries. They also play a role in pulling and carrying strength.

When it comes to appearance, they work alongside the neck to create the primary sign of strength and dominance. Humans have evolved to quickly recognize the physical potential of an opponent by looking at the traps/neck/head area. That's the first-pass evaluation of how dangerous someone might be.

Bigger traps are subconsciously associated with being a better protector (1). You just have to look at ancient warriors across cultures. When going to battle, they pop up their traps (depressing the shoulders, almost like doing a most-muscular pose) and scream, which makes the neck stand out. Bruce Lee was also famous for displaying his traps before a fight.

High-Frequency Trap Training

The more you train a muscle while it still recovers, the faster you progress. This is the basis of high-frequency training.

However, you still need to impose a sufficient stimulus at each session for it to work. You might be able to train a muscle every day if you do one set, but that one set might not be sufficient to stimulate growth. So, if all your workouts are insufficient, there will be no growth.

Plus, not all muscle can be trained at the same frequency. The larger a muscle, and the more the exercises stretch it under load, the less frequently you can train it.

That's something that Dr. Fred Hatfield figured out. He found that muscles like abs, calves, forearms, and traps could be trained more often than pecs, quads, hamstrings, and upper-back muscles (for example).

While exceptions exist, the smaller the muscle, the more often it can be trained. That's because you'll create less overall damage and central fatigue. Also, the best exercises for muscles like the forearms and neck cause very little muscle trauma (traps a bit more).

The traps can be trained 2-3 times a week. These are, of course, the higher frequency ranges. You can still progress with a lower frequency, but going up to these higher ranges will allow for faster progress.

The Best Exercises For Traps

The upper traps are pretty simple to train. The main function of the upper fibers is to elevate the shoulder blades. So basic shrugging motions are essentially all you need to hit the upper fibers of the traps.

Note: There's a theory that, because of the orientation of the fibers, the elevation of the shoulder blades would actually be done by the levator scapulae and not by the upper fibers of the traps. This theory suggests that the true main function of the upper fibers (and middle fibers) of the traps is scapular retraction (2) – pulling your shoulder blades together.

But our experience in the gym and our eyes tell us that bodybuilders have built big traps by using various forms of shrugs, and you get a massive local pump in the traps when you do shrugs.

I mean, if you can get a muscle pumped and feel it working when you're performing an exercise – and then get sore the day after – it's a good sign that you worked the target muscle. Theoretical biomechanics are useful, but they're not the only way to evaluate the effectiveness of an exercise.

Shrugs and high pulls are the fastest ways to build the traps, but you'll see more exercises here to cover all our bases.

In the video, you'll notice shrugs with a slight forward torso lean, which includes both the scapular elevation and retraction functions to some extent. Whether it's the Wendler row or simply leaning forward 15-20 degrees on barbell, dumbbell, or trap-bar shrugs, this small modification makes shrugging a lot more effective.

1. Wendler Row

  • Functions Trained: Scapular elevation and retraction
  • Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps. Hold the peak contraction for a second on each rep.

2. Trap Bar Shrug (Slight Forward Lean)

  • Functions Trained: Scapular elevation (some retraction)
  • Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps. Hold the peak contraction for a second on each rep.

3. Cable Upright Row with Forward Lean

  • Functions Trained: Scapular elevation and retraction
  • Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps, holding the peak contraction for a second on each rep.

4. High Pull From The Hang (Snatch or Clean Grip)

  • Functions Trained: This is not a pure trap exercise; it's more of an overall power movement. But it's very effective to stimulate the traps mostly because of the forceful stretch when you lower the bar down.
  • Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps.

Remember, you can train your traps two to three times per week. These are low-stress movements (except the high pulls) that won't negatively impact the rest of your workout or your recovery.

Learn More and See How I Train

If you want to see how I’m training, you can visit my Training Log. Or, ask me anything in my free Coaching Lab.

  1. Brown M. Neck Musculature in Shaping Perceptions of Men's Relationship Goals. PsyArXiv. 14 June 2022. Web.
  2. Johnson G et al. Anatomy and actions of the trapezius muscle. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1994 Jan;9(1):44-50. PubMed.

So if choosing to train the traps 3 times per week, would the extent of the trap training be just the 3-4 sets of one of your recommended exercises per session? Or would one need more stimulation per session?
Thank you!

I’ve found that training traps lightly (not close to failure, 1-2 sets) daily helps me with head ache fro computer work. Is that too much though? Any succestions to make this plan better?

I personally typically do one higher volume traps session (typically with back) with 2 exercises for 4 reps and two weekly sessions with 1 exercise for 4 sets.

I don’t see that being a problem. When you look at the training of olympic lifters; they do trap-intensive work 4-6 days a week.

Chris - favorite trap exercise ?

I do a lot of different loaded carries, paused shrugs and SGHP, albeit not consistently with them.

How much would you say is genetic for traps? Mine are one of my better muscles, but all I do really is deadlifts.

“Everything” is genetic.

You can absolutely have muscles that are more responsive than others and will require next to no direct stimulation to grow.

Body structure can also influence how easy a certain muscle can grow. For example, someone with naturally narrower clavicles/shoulders (like me) will typically build traps more easilly.


If I were to pick ONE exercise for traps it would be trap bar shrugs.

But keep a few things in mind:

  1. “Favorite” and “best” are two different things

  2. The is actually no such thing as a “best” exercise; there is an amount of individual variation

  3. It is often pointless to argue which exercise is absolutely better than others as in reality we are not limited to using only one exercise.

  4. How effective an exercise is, is not black or white/great or ineffective/100% or 0%… it’s a spectrum. An exercise that is “the best” in theory might be a 97% while a less effective one might be 93% (random numbers). So yeah, one is theoretically “better” but in reality, the results will not be different and personal preference can make the 93% exercise better than the 97% exercise if you are ore motivated to do it because you prefer it.

  5. Best results are typically achieved by using more than one source of stimulation

Much appreciated. I have a trap bar.

You used to add in trap exercises in between the early sets of bench and overhead presses, is that still something that could be done?

I like farmer’s walk as it works my traps well.

Yeah, still like staggered work. Could be traps, could be abs could be forearms, could be calves (which is something that Arnold did do fix his weak calves). As long as it doesn’t interfere with the main work you are doing.

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I don’t do a lot of shrugs, maybe I should do more. I tended to use deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups and overhead barbell carries. I never had problems growing them without specific focus, but since I am deadlifting anyway adding shrugs would be easy. I’m gonna do it. Way back when, I did more military presses and behind the neck stuff.

While talking scapular retractors, it has been a couple years since I did a “serratus crunch”, a move I believe CT invented or popularized. I found this to be a great exercise and will have to incorporate this one again too. I’d kinda forgotten about it, but it’s a good exercise.