Training Talk: Training Traps with Shoulders or Back?

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?