When it comes to the question of how to build big traps the discussion starts and finishes with deadlifts. This incredible mass builder will pack huge slabs of beef on your traps faster than just about any other exercise there is. Just look at powerlifters and you will see that there is simply no way to avoid building huge traps when you do a lot of deadlifts.
While the deadlift is the king of trap building exercises, an argument could be made that Olympic lifts are equally as effective. I would tend to agree if not for the fact that Olympic lifts are harder to teach and learn than deadlifts are, which moves them down to second on the list. Everyone can do at least a partial range deadlift properly. Not everyone can clean or snatch properly.
Finally, you have shrugs. While it seems like a very simple and straight forward movement there is actually a great deal of confusion over how to build big traps with shrugs. Nobody seems to be able to agree on how they should be done. On one hand you have the camp that says you need to go as heavy as possible and do partial reps, just heaving the weight up. Then there’s the camp that says you need to go light and get a full range of motion, trying to get your shoulders as close to touching your ears as possible and hold it there for a second.
Who is right and who is wrong?
They both are.
To understand where the answer truly lies lets again take a look at the athletes with the biggest traps: power lifters and Olympic lifters
Powerlifters have huge traps because of all the deadlifts they do. Deadlifts are heavy, period. There is no shrugging movement at all, in fact. Olympic lifters lift relatively lighter weights explosively and with a range of motion that does indeed have them bringing their traps to their ears.
Looking at these two groups, what does this tell us about shrugs and the proper way to do them?
Quite simply, what it tells us is that the best way to get huge traps is to deadlift and Olympic lift. Bottom line.
BUT… what if you can not do either of those exercises due to back or shoulder problems or just want more variety in your trap training routine? Then you have no choice but to shrug. Traps are the most important, intimidating and impressive bodypart there is and you can’t walk around with none.
So then, exactly how do you do shrugs and which camp is right? They both are. Sometimes you should go heavy for low reps, cheat the weight up and don’t worry about getting an extreme contraction at the top. Then on another day of the week go lighter for higher reps with a complete range of motion and exaggerated contraction and hold at the top.
Another option is to do both variations in one workout. You could start with a lighter weight, doing 10-12 reps, bringing your shoulders as high as they can go. With each set add more weight and work your way down to the point where you can only get five partial reps with a little cheat at the end. You could start with the heavier sets first and lighten them as you go.
Deadlifts and Olympic lifts should always be your first answer to the question of how to build big traps. But sometimes and in certain situations, shrugs can be very effective as well. Just make sure to go straight up and down and don’t roll your shoulders forwards and backwards; that’s for nitwits who don’t have a full understanding of how gravity works.
By Jason Ferruggia, author of the “Muscle Gaining Secrets” e-book