How Bigger, Stronger Traps Make You a Better Athlete

Discover why strengthening the traps is critical for athletes, and find three exercises that will help you achieve your trap strength and size goals.

Dwight Freeney Shoulders

Maybe you've seen him. He's the guy in the gym whose neck looks more like a triangular muscle fortress. His shoulders connect to his ears with big, meaty lines.

Those impressive beef wings just above the collarbones? Those are the trapezius muscles, or "traps," and they're among the most impressive "mirror muscles" out there. You're excused for staring. (Find out how to strengthen all areas of the traps.)

But traps aren't just about looks. Having a well-developed set can help you be a better competitor, especially if you play a sport in which you throw a ball or shoot a puck. Ever notice how hockey players have pretty thick necklines? That's because stickhandling, passing, and shooting all work a chain of musculature that starts at the hands and wrists, moves up the arms to the shoulders, and on to the traps.

The traps also play an important role in injury prevention. Strong traps better absorb blows to the shoulder area, and they also secure the neck during contact, reducing the potential for neck injuries and even concussions. (Learn more about concussions.)

To build bigger, stronger traps, try the following three exercises. They'll challenge the muscles in and around your neck and upper back, so you'll be better conditioned on the field and better looking off of it. So go on and get lifting—and be that guy.


This signature lower-body exercise engages the traps during the latter stage of the lift. After you reach the top of the movement, pause for a second or two to feel your traps fighting to hold the weight.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and barbell resting against shins
  • Squat down and grasp bar with slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip
  • Fully extend elbows, stick chest out and look straight ahead
  • Simultaneously extend hips and knees to stand up; keep back straight and bar close to body
  • Squeeze glutes to complete movement; hold for second or two at top
  • Lower bar to ground and repeat

If you want to focus on the traps and use heavier weight, try Rack Deadlifts, where you elevate the bar to knee level and lift from there. Learn 3 other Deadlift Variations.

Sets/Reps: 3-5x4-6


Shrugs are as simple an exercise as you'll find. They target the traps only, making it possible to lift a heavier weight load than you would in other, more full-body moves.

  • Assume athletic stance holding bar at thigh-level with shoulder-width grip
  • Lift the weight by shrugging shoulders up as high as possible
  • Hold for a one-count
  • Lower weight with control, returning to starting position and repeat

Sets/Reps: 3-5x4-6

Watch Antonio Gates perform the Power Shrug.

Upright Rows

Upright Rows challenge the traps across a greater range of motion, because they require you to pull the bar to your face. When performing the lift, use an E-Z bar or dumbbells to avoid shoulder pain.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding bar or dumbbells at thigh-level with palms facing body
  • Pull weight up toward chin, leading with elbows and keeping bar close to body
  • Lower bar with control, returning to start position and repeat

Sets/Reps: 3x6-8

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock