Upper-Back Exercises to Beef Up Your Traps

If your upper-back exercises aren't cutting it, this 12-week program from STACK Expert Nick Glielmi will get back you on track to achieve giant traps.

Strong Muscles

Nothing is more impressive in the iron game than a giant set of traps and a thick, powerful-looking neck. In my book, it is the ultimate sign of strength and power. A strong upper back also pays off in improved posture, shoulder health and pressing strength.

If your upper-back exercises lag behind the rest of your workout, this 12-week program is sure to get you back on track. The combination of explosive lifts and heavy compound movements will add size, speed and strength.

Although the focus is on upper-back growth, you will definitely add size all over. Don't be surprised if you gain five to 10 pounds—possibly even more—while on this program. It will also improve your pressing strength and vertical jumping ability.

The program is broken down into three phases, each four weeks long. Each week has three lift days, with rest days in between.

Guidelines

  • For simplicity's sake, this program will use a basic heavy-light-medium progression.
  • Complete straight sets on all exercises—meaning you will warm up to a weight you can handle to complete every set for the prescribed number of reps.
  • Snatches take some practice, so start out light if you're inexperienced. Focus on quick bar speed and master the technique. Even with light weight, you will find yourself very sore. Remember, we are starting from hang position. I recommend starting from about mid-thigh. Power Snatches should be caught above parallel squat position. Typically, you'll be in a quarter squat position.

Day 1 is your heavy day. You will use the heaviest weight you can handle while completing all reps and maintaining proper technique. On Day 2, you will use 80 percent of your Day 1 weight on any repeat exercises. During Day 3, you will use 90 percent of your Day 1 weight on any repeat exercises.

For carries, choose a weight you can hold and walk with for the prescribed time. Each week, simply add two to five pounds on each exercise.

During Phase 2, you will cut back the number of sets and reps a bit so you can increase the weight on the bar. In Phase 3, the volume is greatly increased; the number of total reps per exercise is higher than any other phase. This is to create greater growth stimulus and finish the program strong.

Finally, I highly recommend using straps for Snatches, Shrug Pulls, High Pulls, and even the Hack Squats and Incline Dumbbell Shrugs. This will allow you to handle heavier weight on all upper-back exercises without worrying about your hands giving out. The heavier the weight, the more size you will put on. Remember, this is a program to build a huge upper back, not grip strength.

Also, as with any program, diet is crucial. If you want to get big, you have to eat big.

Upper-Back Workout

Phase 1 (weeks 1- 4)

Day 1 (listed as Exercise - Sets x Reps x Rest)

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (100 %)
  2. Clean Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 8 x 60 sec (100%)
  3. Zercher Squat - 3 x 8 x 120 sec
  4. Dips - 3 x 8 x 60 sec
  5. Neck Flexion - 2 x 15 x 20 x 45 sec

Day 2

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (80 % of day 1 weight)
  2. Clean Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 8 x 60 sec (80% of day 1 weight)
  3. Hack Squat - 3 x 6 x 120 sec
  4. Dumbbell Standing Military Press - 3 x 8 x 60 sec
  5. Lateral Flexion - 2 x 15-20/side x 45 sec

Day 3

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  2. Clean Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 8 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  3. Zercher Squat - 3 x 8 x 120 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  4. Flat Bench Dumbbell Press - 3 x 8 x 60 sec
  5. Farmer Walks - 3 x 30 seconds x 60 sec

Phase 2 (weeks 5-8)

Day 1

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 5 x 60 sec (100%)
  2. Snatch Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (100%)
  3. Zercher Squat - 2 x 5 x 120 sec
  4. Barbell Bench Press  - 3 x 6 x 60 sec
  5. Neck Bridge - 2 x 30's x 45 sec

Day 2

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 5 x 60 sec (80 % of day 1 weight)
  2. Snatch Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (80% of day 1 weight)
  3. Hack Squat - 2 x 5 x 120 sec
  4. Barbell Military Press - 3 x 6  x 60 sec
  5. Lateral Neck Flexion - 2 x 15-20/side x 45 sec

Day 3

  1. Hang Power Snatch - 3 x 5 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  2. Snatch Grip Shrug Pull - 3 x 6 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  3. Zercher Squat - 2 x 5 x 120 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  4. 30- 45-Degree Barbell Incline Bench Press - 3 x 6 x 60 sec
  5. Zercher Carries  - 3 x 20 seconds x 60 sec

Phase 3 (weeks 9 -12)

Day 1

  • Paused Barbell Romanian Deadlift - 5 x 6 x 60 sec (100%, hold bottom position for 3-6 seconds)
  • Snatch Grip Shrug High Pull - 5 x 6 x 60 sec (100%)
  • Alternating Dumbbell Flat Bench Press - 3 x 8-10/side x 60sec
  • Neck Flexion - 3 x 15-20 x 45 sec

Day 2

  1. Barbell Clean and Press - 3 x 6-8 x 60 sec
  2. Front Squat - 3 x 6-8 x 60 sec
  3. Incline Dumbbell Shrugs - 3 x 10-12 x 60 sec
  4. Manual Lateral Neck Flexion - 2 x 15-20/side x 45 sec

Day 3

  1. Paused Barbell Romanian Deadlift - 5 x 6 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight, hold bottom position for 3-6 seconds)
  2. Snatch Grip High Pull - 5 x 6 x 60 sec (90% of day 1 weight)
  3. Pull-Ups - 3 x 6-10 x 60 sec
  4. Cross Body Carry - 3 x 30 seconds/side x 60 sec
  5. Neck Flexion - 3 x 15-20 x 45 sec

One last thing: Train smart and never take a set to failure. Always leave a rep or two in the tank.

If you have any questions about this program, send an email to rateofforce@gmail.com. Also send before and after pictures of your upper body once you complete the program. The person with the best transformation will win a free custom 12-week program.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: UPPER BODY | POWER | EXERCISE | BENCH | CLEAN | PRESS | BARBELL | SNATCH | SHRUG