How to Build Titanic Traps

A lot of guys want to build up their trapezius muscles to get that look of power rarely seen on today’s athletes or even on most weight lifters.  On the other hand, if you’re more after the fitness model or delicate flower look, then you’re better off without big traps and should stop reading now.  My traps never really grew until I started lifting heavy weights and got into Olympic style weightlifting and Strongman training.  Not coincidentally, traps are probably the only body part that’s more developed on those types of strength athletes than on bodybuilders.  If you have no interest in doing snatches or lifting atlas stones, don’t worry – I’m going to share just a handful of simple exercises to use that will build your traps like nothing else.

Top 5 exercises for the traps:

  1. High pulls – this is the #1 trap builder and involves explosively lifting a heavy barbell up to a height that is somewhere between your belly button and your neck. I recommend doing them in a power rack with the pins set so the barbell starts slightly above your knees, and use a wider than shoulder width grip.  Keeping your back in a neutral position, grab the bar with knees slightly bent and straight arms and pull upwards using leg and hip power to start and then finishing with a shrug and finally some arm bend to lift the bar as high as you can.  See the video demo below at the end of the post.  Do them explosively and work up to as heavy weight as you can handle for 3-5 reps, always aiming to lift the bar at least as high as your belly button.  Note that this is basically the same exercise as a power shrug except with a greater range of motion to work the traps more fully.  Use lifting straps so that you’re not limited by your grip.  These will make your traps sore and grow – believe me!traps olympic lifter
  2. Farmer’s walk – this exercise involves holding a heavy weight in each hand and walking for a distance of between 50 and 200 feet. Besides being a great all around exercise, the farmer’s walk will hammer your traps by forcing them to support a heavy weight for a significant amount of time, and walking with the weight will make your traps work harder than just standing there holding a weight.  Do several sets, starting light and adding weight each set.  You should aim to work up to at least double bodyweight on this exercise to build your traps.  Use farmers walk handles or a trap bar rather than dumbbells, and use lifting straps if you need them.
  3. Deadlifts – if you’re doing high pulls and farmer’s walks, there’s really no need to deadlift for the sole purpose of working your traps, but I listed them because they are in my opinion the third best trap builder. Many powerlifters have huge traps just from doing heavy deadlifts.  Check out my other blog post about deadlift form and work up to a heavy set of 1-5 reps.
  4. High Rep Shrugs – the first three exercises will build big powerful traps using heavy weight and low reps. For maximum trap development, you also need to subject them to higher volume and get them pumped up with blood, and that’s best done with high rep shrugs.  Do 3-5 sets of 20-50 reps.  Even though the reps are high, you should still use as much weight as you can handle and use straps.  I see a lot of people doing light shrugs with an exaggerated range of motion and squeezing/pausing at the top, but I never got anything out of that approach.  A good variation is to shrug with the weight held behind the back, a favorite of Lee Haney.
  5. Rows – to develop the mid and lower traps, you should do some type of rowing exercise, either with a barbell or machine. The key here is to pull your shoulders back and squeeze the scapula together as you finish each rep to make sure you’re hitting the traps and external rotators of the shoulders in addition to the lats and rhomboids.  3-5 sets of 8-12 reps should do the trick.


I don’t recommend doing all 5 exercises in one day.  Try them out to see which ones you prefer, and fit at least two of them into your weekly routine to get your traps growing.  Let me know how it goes!

Rack high pull video (not me but good demo):


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