Training Talk: Training Traps with Shoulders or Back?

Roger “Rock” Lockridge
Written By: Roger “Rock” Lockridge
February 17th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
53.1K Reads
Training Talk: Training Traps with Shoulders or Back?
In this edition of training talk we discuss training the traps on shoulder day vs back day & which day optimizes trap muscle growth. Join the conversation!

Muscle & Strength is proud to bring you a new series of articles that will not only educate and inform the M&S community but provide you with the opportunity to take part.

Instead of simply reading this and moving on, we want you to join the discussion and inspire fellow athletes and lifters.

Our goal with “Training Talk” is just that, to talk about training.

We will choose a different topic every month, share two different viewpoints on the matter, and then we hope you will join us by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below about which viewpoint you agree with and why.

This will be a fun way to interact with each other and talk about what we love, pumping iron.

Training the Traps

For our first discussion we want to cover a topic that is discussed by serious trainers and lifters in gyms everywhere.

When it comes to traps, many people like to train them with shoulders while others believe traps should be a part of back training. Is one way more effective than the other? Does it even really matter?

We may not come up with the definitive answer, but we can certainly shed some light on the subject.

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What Are the Traps Anyway?

The trapezius muscle is a superficial muscle that extends from the occipital bone to the lower vertebrae and laterally to the shoulder blade. Their main function is to move the scapulae and support your arms.

They are known as the trapezius because if you were to look at the muscles in their bare form, they would resemble the shape of a trapezoid.

When Are the Traps Used?

If you look at the traps, you can break them down into three subsections; upper, middle, and lower. The upper portion of the traps which run from the neck area laterally to the clavicle are recruited to elevate the shoulders.

You work the middle area, or transverse, of the traps when you pull your shoulder blades together. Did you ever think you’d be working traps while pulling your shoulder blades together when you bench? The middle traps go from right below the back of the neck to the posterior border of the spine of the scapula.

As for the lower traps, they start at the spinous processes of T4-T12 of the spine and converge near the scapula and go over a triangular area on the medial end of the spine. They are recruited when you draw your shoulder blades downward while keeping your arms straight.

Most people associate traps with the visible portion at the top but medical professionals and sports coaches will tell you that all three areas need to be developed properly or it could lead to imbalances, affect your posture, and place you at risk for shoulder health issues later in life.

M&S Athlete Working his Trap Muscles

Exercises that Target the Traps

Several exercises place extra emphasis on the trapezius region. The most popular exercise is also the simplest to perform and that is the basic shrug.

You hold the weight at arms’ length with a tight grip and shrug your shoulders up. Squeeze the muscles and slowly lower the shoulders until you feel a stretch in the traps. Pretty simple, right? The most popular versions of the shrug are:

Unique Exercises for the Traps

This might not be relevant to the topic of training traps with shoulders or back, but it can give you a couple of ideas on how to add some variety to your routine. There are non-shrug ways to target the traps. Three great exercises for this purpose are farmer’s walk, face pulls, and inverted rows.

Farmer’s Walk: Hold a pair of objects that are heavy to your sides and make it a goal to walk a challenging distance and back without losing your grip. Your traps will feel this for sure and if you want to hit traps during cardio, this is a great way to do it.

Face Pull with a Rope: Attach a rope to a high cable pulley and take a grip of each side of the rope. Step away from the stack and hold the rope at arms’ length. Pull the rope towards your face and keep your elbows as high as you can. Squeeze the traps and rear delts before lowering the weight back to the stack. This is also popular for rear delts.

Inverted Row: Position a bar in a rack about waist height. Take a wide grip and position yourself below and hanging on the bar. Keep your legs straight with heels on the floor. Pull yourself up as high as you can until your chest touches the bar, squeezing the muscles in your back. Lower yourself to the starting position and repeat. This will target the lats, rhomboids, and rear delts as well.

Training Traps with the Back

The argument often made is that traps should be trained with back since the muscles reside with the other major muscles in the back and they support the spine.

The traps are involved in major movements for the back like deadlifts with both a barbell and hex bar, rack pulls, and bent over barbell rows.

Since the traps are activated with these major movements, it makes sense for you to target traps as a part of your back day.

Sample Back Day
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Deadlift 5 5
2. Bent Over Barbell Row 3 10-12
3. One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 10-12
4. Close Grip Pulldowns 3 10-12
5. Straight Arm Pulldowns 3 10-12
6. Barbell Shrug 3 15

Training Traps with Shoulders

The argument for training traps with shoulders is twofold. Serious lifters and trainers will tell you that the traps are so involved with the shoulder blades and supporting their movement, it only makes sense to train them with delts.

The other reason is simple. The visible part of the traps are in the same area as the shoulders. Nothing personifies power as much as a pair of wide and round shoulders sitting with a monstrous pair of traps resting on top of them.

Popular shoulder exercises that recruit the traps are wide grip upright rows, hang cleans, snatches, and any other movements that require the arms elevate above the shoulders. This sample routine shows how someone might train shoulders with attention to traps.

Sample Shoulder Day
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Clean and Jerk 3 6, 4, 2
2. Front Barbell Raise 3 8-10
3. Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 10
4. Incline Rear Lateral Raise 3 10
5. Wide Grip Upright Row 3 15
6. Dumbbell Shrug 3 15

Now it’s Your Turn

This is called Training Talk for a reason. We want to read what you have to say.

No, seriously. Yes, you reading this right now sipping on your preworkout while you’re on your phone. Scroll on down to the comments section and answer these questions for us.

  1. Do you train traps with shoulders or back?
  2. Why?
  3. What are your favorite trap targeting movements?
  4. Is there anything that you want to add?

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We want to hear from you but we do ask that your comments be generally positive or that you share criticism in a proper manner. We will do our best to respond to comments to keep the conversation going.

Stay tuned for our next edition of Training Talk! We’re going to talk about a pair of popular muscle groups, the biceps and triceps. Should arms have their own training day or are they best with other bodyparts?

Mark Stahl
Posted on: Tue, 07/11/2023 - 01:23

I’ve been doing my shrugs on back and biceps day. The reason is that I like to burn out my forearms after I’m finished with biceps, and shrugs are perfect to do along with forearms, because I grip my kettlebells for an extended period of time while doing my shrugs. I usually do my deltoids with chest and triceps because I figure shoulder press is a pressing motion that also uses the triceps. Since I’m doing shoulder press on that day, I also do my front and lateral raises as well, and then I do rear deltoids at the very end to open up my chest.

Joey Beans
Posted on: Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:44

Twice a week trap training makes sense.(I mean, many muscle groups get extra days by just regular training). But I suppose the more bread and butter trap exercises, to me, lean more on shoulders day. Only the sets you Don’t do are the bad ones.

Posted on: Mon, 01/28/2019 - 12:01

Personally I prefer to incorporate my traps with my back day. I’m a fan of wide grip pull ups which is primarily a back exercise but it also targets your traps which is why I incorporate them. It’s just a preference. Like the others said work them out with both shoulders and back if it floats your boat. Everyone’s body builds at a different speed.

Posted on: Sat, 04/15/2017 - 12:36

I'm an advocate for throwing in shrugs twice a week, with shoulders as well as back. The traps are actually one of the bigger muscles in the back, and hey, no such thing as too big! I've found bigger traps help create an overall bigger look, and also help to fill out t shirts real nice. My favorite way to hit traps is with a octagon barbell that you can stand in. This bar helps me to isolate the traps, which can be a tough mind muscle connection

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 04/17/2017 - 09:19

Love utilizing the hex trap bar!

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 04/17/2017 - 21:52

Hex bar is awesome. Thanks for the tip and for contributing to the conversation, Nick.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 13:21

I'm definitely on board with training traps twice a week and on both shoulder and back day. Upright rows and shrugs on shoulder day, loaded carries and face pulls on back day.

Great article Roger!

Roger Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 14:48

Thanks Josh. Loaded carries are awesome.

Posted on: Thu, 04/13/2017 - 09:41

i like josh's split i do the same thing

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 04/17/2017 - 09:17

Good stuff Greg!

Joser Baby
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:02

Upright rows, barbell shrugs and db shrugs get done with shoulder day. I consider Deadlifts part of lat training and face pulls into my back day for lats. Definitely the why not both approach

Roger Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 14:50

It appears both is the favorite choice so far, Joser. Thanks for being a part of this.

Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 01:04

I train traps with shoulder. I decided on this after some thinking shoulder or back because my back day just takes too long. However, I feel it is such a specialty area, like arms, chest, etc that it can be done on any routine day is best for you. Good question posed. Keep thinking and keep weight training evolving.

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:41

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, Erik. It can be considered a specialty area. Some say traps are the new abs. Thanks for reading and commenting, man.

Posted on: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 22:52

Just do them with both shoulders and back!

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:41

That works too, Josh. What's your favorite trap movements?

Posted on: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 20:42

I've always trained the three major portions of my traps on back day. It just seems like a natural fit, especially in terms of muscular anatomy. I understand the idea of training them with shoulders for aesthetics, but I also disagree with it (note that I am in no way a professional in the field of biomechanics). Just because you decide to train shoulders and traps on two different days doesn't mean they won't both grow and look good. Plus, when it comes to the function of the back muscles, the traps (upper, mid, and lower) are heavily involved, and I would even venture to say that they are used more in back training movements than in shoulder exercises. With that said, however, my personal favorite trap targeting movement, the upright row, can also be modified to work the deltoids. Nonetheless, I love the stretch and contraction the upright row allows in the upper traps especially. I don't train the trapezius muscles for aesthetics nearly as much as I train them for function, so truthfully, I think this is just a matter of personal preference.

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:44

Nate, that's some great feedback and valid points. I appreciate you being a part of this. Upright rows are awesome. Do you use a straight bar or EZ curl bar or something else when you do them?

Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 18:10

I usually use an EZ bar so that I can use a grip that's easier on the wrists; I've always lacked good mobility there. I think it's also easier to feel the exercise work that way (if you have your wrists twisted slightly inward). I like to really make the mind-muscle connection when I pull up the bar and squeeze my traps. It works great for me.

Robert B Chambers
Posted on: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 14:10

I train traps with BOTH back and shoulders; so I train them twice a week. I keep back day and shoulder day as far apart as possible to allow time to heal. I do the same for any particular muscle group that I am focusing on for growth. It works for me. I keep it simple and do shrugs, since I usually hit the other two parts of the traps on back day.

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:46

Robert, thanks for being a part of the conversation. You mind sharing a sample workout you do with those shrugs? Rep range, barbell or dumbbell, etc.

Robert Chambers
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:15

Since I train twice a week, I try hard not to over do it. That seems to be our tendency as men; to push past our limits. So I mainly stick to dumbbell shrugs, and I emphasize the upper portion of the traps by keeping the dumbbells slightly behind me, but by my sides. Also since I do them twice a week, I go heavy on one day and light the other day. Heavy days would look something like "90lb DBs, 10Reps for 6Sets" and on the lighter day "70lb, 15Reps for 4Sets".

Posted on: Fri, 02/17/2017 - 15:49

I train traps with shoulders for two reasons. 1. As referenced in the article, your upper traps run from your neck to clavicle and they play a huge role in shoulder appearance. 2. I am working the rest of my traps (mid and lower) during my back workout. Because of this I only focus on the upper traps while lifting shoulders.

Roger Rock Lockridge
Posted on: Fri, 02/17/2017 - 20:22

Hey James. I appreciate you commenting and sharing your thoughts. What are your favorite exercises and do you go heavy or light with the weight?

Posted on: Sun, 02/19/2017 - 18:53

I keep my back an shoulder days separate by 48 or 72 hrs. if to tired at one session . I work traps the following

Roger Lockridge
Posted on: Mon, 02/20/2017 - 17:26

That's a good strategy, Bill. Thanks for adding it and taking part.