How to Build Big Traps


bill-goldberg-254x300Ever since I first discussed the importance of “the power look” and how important it is to earn respect and separate you from the pencil necks, I am repeatedly asked about how to build big traps.

The best trap building exercise is the deadlift. One need look no further than the massive trap development of elite powerliters to see how effective this exercise is at building these intimidating muscles.

Pussyfooting around with light weights will never get the job done. You need to deadlift heavy weights (with picture perfect form) for sets of 3-6 reps. A good goal for most lifters is to be able to pull at least double bodyweight.

For massive traps aim for 2.5 times your bodyweight. If you want traps like Goldberg make your goal to pull 2.5 times bodyweight for a set of five.

Deadlifts should be performed once or twice a week (depending on if you’re a beginner or more advanced lifter). If you’re small and weak you can deadlift three times per week. When you get strong and can move a lot of weight the deadlift will take a lot out of you and be more difficult to recover from.

If you can’t deadlift perfectly from the floor without letting your lower back round over, you should pull from rubber mats, blocks or pins in order to prevent injuries. No sense in getting hurt when you’re trying to get yoked.

Always train safely and intelligently.

Any discussion about how to build big traps would not be complete without discussing the Olympic lifts and their various pull variations.

Programming snatches, cleans, high pulls and clean pulls into your workouts regularly is another great way to build huge traps.

If you could only choose one of these I’d recommend the snatch grip high pull. It’s the easiest on the wrists and elbows. Unlike deadlifts, Olympic lifts can be done with high frequency. Olympic lifters train these lifts every day. But they drop the bar which makes a huge difference.

If you don’t have the luxury of dropping the bar then try snatch grip high pulls 1-3 times per week for an average of five sets of 3-6 reps.

The hang clean and press is another awesome trap building exercise and a big favorite or Arnold’s. This exercise not only builds the traps but almost every other muscle in the body as well. These can be done with a bar, log, keg or dumbbells.

Shrugs are another weapon you can use in your trap building arsenal. Some people like heavy partial range shrugs, and others like lighter full range shrugs. I say do both. Load up a bar and do a few sets of 6-10 cheat shrugs one day and grab some dumbbells and do 2-4 sets of 12-15 full range reps with a 2-3 second hold at the top of each rep on another day.

Incline shrugs are another good option and these can hit the mid traps a bit better. Alternate between standing and incline for full trap development.

Finally, there’s the farmers walk. This is an essential staple exercise in all Renegade programs and will pack meat on your traps in a big way. I’d recommend doing them once or twice per week for 3-5 sets of 60 seconds. You could go heavier for shorter duration if your main goal is strength, but for hypertrophy the longer duration sets tend to work better.

Below is an example of how you can incorporate all of these trap building exercises into a four way upper/lower split:

Day 1
Snatch Grip High Pull- 5 x 5
Upper body pressing and pulling

Day 2
Squat- 3 x 5
Rack Deads- 1 x 6
Lower body assistance work
DB Shrug w/ Hold- 2 x 10-12

Day 3
Hang Clean & Press
Upper body pressing and pulling

Day 4
Lower body assistance work
Farmers Walk- 4 x 60 sec

To cap off the yoke you’re gonna want to throw in some neck work. Get a harness and do one set of extensions, flexion and lateral flexion for 20-50 reps two or three times per week.

For a complete 12 week trap and upper back specialization program download Yoked right now by clicking HERE.


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12 Responses to How to Build Big Traps

  1. jtd0423 February 13, 2009 at 1:55 am #

    That is one helleva workout! Just one question though. Ive been training with weights for a few years but have never really done deadlifts (wasted years of training i know). Would you advice for someone in my position doing deadlifts 2-3 times a week like you recommend for beginners, or once a week like you suggest for more advanced lifters?
    Also would you recommend doing 2-3 different types of deadlifts or stick with the one kind for all three training sessions?

    • Guðmundur June 26, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      I guess the answer would be:
      Deadlift “light” weight 2-3 times per week at first when you are learning the right technique, … and get that with picture perfect form for few weeks.
      Then as you move up the weight you need more recovery and cut the deadlifts to ones every week … or every other week ;-)
      Perfect form is crucial in deadlifts … or else you get hurt bad ;-)

  2. Niel Rishoi June 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    My early bodybuilding hero was Steve Reeves. He didn’t believe in building up the traps because he felt the bulk there gave the appearance of narrower shoulders; so I didn’t do them. I started doing trap work a few years ago be because I LIKE the “power look;” also my neck by nature is quite long so it was good to fill in the space. I now have traps and a thicker, shortened-appearing neck (18 inches) so it’s all good – and – my shoulders still look wide (24 inches tip-to-tip). Reeves remains my ideal, though. The proportions of his build and the sheer aesthetics of his physique have yet to be equaled.

  3. Andrew June 27, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    does “press” and “row” refer to any variation of press and row and “chin” to chinups/pullups?

  4. Eric June 27, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Good post. Maybe some pure minimalists can get away with just getting super strong on a few exercises and gaining size but some don’t, which is where some of these other lifts come into play. It would be important add all these exercises if that were the case and of course it would be different from individual to individual.

    For example I can do a 395lb deadlift for about 3 reps @ a weight of about 160lbs and I have some of the most unimpressive traps, back isn’t all that big either.

  5. Michael June 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I started deadlifting a year ago, and though I am not at the elite level yet, it has done a lot for my traps. Great advice, and I intend to try your workout plan.

  6. Steve Thresher July 9, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I can definitely vouch for the farmers walk. Tried some on Friday and my traps still hurt today, 3 days later and I only did 3 x 30m with 75kg in each hand.

  7. Mark July 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    What is a good goal for weight on a farmers walk? With dumbells?

  8. conrad July 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Exxcellent Post –

    The results that I have achieved doing Deadlifts and clean and jerk is unparrarelled to any other workout.
    Compound workout have enabled me train heavy and effectively well within the ergogenic time zone.
    These are all core centric workouts and the Farmers walk is great to develop the steel grip besides being a great finisher forr your core workout.

    Thank u verry much forr such a great article…

  9. Niel Rishoi April 1, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Just wanted to add here a “yes, but…” The other day I saw a guy with an extremely short neck who had *really* well-developed traps…as a result, he looked neck-less! His head looked like it was SITTING on shoulders…a “no-neck monster” (Tennessee Williams, “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof”). So I think some self-discernment as to how much one should develop their traps is in order.

  10. Sam October 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Nice article
    But I’ve seen some champion weightlifters, and not all of them have exceptionally developed upper traps.

  11. Jimmy the chin March 1, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Nothing says you lift like a big neck and traps. I love working the traps. I’m quite fond of split machine behind the back shrugs too. Ideal if the barbells and squat rack are busy.