Well developed traps are an instant sign of strength & power for any bodybuilder or power-lifter. The good news is that you don't need an array of specialised equipment to develop your traps, your dumbbell set is all you need.
The 'traps' are large muscles in the middle of the upper back that are used to support the arms as well as lift and rotate the scapula.
The most visible part of the trapezius muscle is the superior region which extends out from the neck and creates a "hump" on top of the shoulders. The muscle is named so as the pair form a shape similar to a trapezoid.
Why Build Massive Traps?
Although not one of the largest muscles (visibly) on the body, well developed traps go a long way to enhancing the appearance of size & power.
For this reason, many WWE wrestlers put extra work into developing huge trap muscles.
A prize example is Brock Lesnar (pictured above). His huge traps enhance his already massive frame, making him look exceptionally powerful.
Now when it comes to training, traps usually respond very well for most people. There are many different ways to train the traps, you can use a barbell, traps bar, or even cables.
By far my favourite exercise for training traps is the dumbbell shrug which uses nothing more than a pair of dumbbell weights.
Dumbbell Shrugs - The Downside
First, let me point out the one downside of dumbbell shrugs, perhaps a minor issue, but nevertheless it can cause a degree of problems for some.
When using dumbbell weights, you have to lift the dumbbells off the floor to get started. This may not initially be an issue but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll increase the dumbbell weight used.
Lifting a pair of 60kg (132lbs) dumbbells off the floor is no mean feat.
This can be especially so if you’re one of those gym trainees that has shyed away from the squat (I do hope you’re not)
However, this one downside is more than made up for by the advantages the dumbbell shrug gives you.
The Advantages Of Using Dumbbells
The biggest advantage of dumbbell shrugs over most other shrug exercises is the arm positioning. Dumbbells allow your arms to hang from your body in their more natural position, by your side.
The barbell shrugs requires you to hold a bar that’s positioned in front of the body. This forces the shoulders slightly forward in a ‘rounded’ position. This is non optimal position for the traps in terms of applicable strength so you’re unable to train them to their fullest.
The dumbbell shrug allows your arms to hang by your side in a more natural position, thus allowing you to push your traps to their maximum.
True the trap bar does allow for the same natural arm position but it’s not a common piece of gym equipment. If you train at home, it’s quite an expense for a one-exercise piece of equipment.
Performing The Dumbbell Shrug
- Take a pair of heavy dumbbells and place them on the floor them in parallel, either side of you
- Position your legs a little under shoulder width apart
- Kneel down and take a good grip of each dumbbell
- Once you’re happy with your grip, push up with your legs, keeping your back straight
- Hold the dumbbells by your sides, level with your thighs, palms facing inwards.
- Keeping your arms straight, raise your shoulders upwards using your trap muscles only.
- Pause momentarily at top of movement and return to start position
Here's an excellent video demonstration for you.
My Top Tips For Performing The Dumbbell Shrug
- Keep your arms straight throughout the entire movement. Because of the large weights you’ll be able to handle, even the slightest of bend in the arm switches some of the load from the traps to the biceps.
- Lift and lower the dumbbells slowly and deliberately - don't jerk them.
- Please do not rotate your shoulders backwards at the top of the movement or forwards at the bottom - this increases the risk of injury to the shoulders and places no further work on the trapezius. For years I rolled dumbbell shrugs and I’m convinced this was the major contributing factor to my rotator cuff problems. Also, I have seen one or two people nip their ’manhood’ between the dumbbells when rolling forward at the bottom point - ouch! It’s a rare occurrence but it can happen.
- Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to ‘squeeze’ your traps at the top of the movement. This won’t work the muscle any harder and may even lead to minor strains.
- Use straps to improve your grip – don’t fail a set because you couldn’t hang onto the weight.
- As always vary the reps and sets, keeping in the range of 4-15 reps.
When it comes to building huge traps, the dumbbell set really is the #1 piece of equipment. Follow my tips above, training your traps once a week and you’ll be surprised just how quickly they grow.
Dumbbells are also relatively cheap and exceptionally versatile - they make a sound investment for any home gym.