the 5 best back building exercises

5 Ways To Build A MASSIVE Set Of Traps

A big back.

It’s what separates the men from the boys in the weight room and is a true sign of strength and know how when it comes to lifting weights and building muscle.

Flaring Lats like a Cobra, Rhomboids as thick as concrete, Erector spinae running up your centre like two steel rods and then all topped off with hulkish Traps.

I my early days of going to the gym, I remember walking up to the front doors behind a guy that was easily wearing an XXXL t-shirt. His arms looked non-existent as the t-shirt draped over them like wizard sleeves, his chest had disappeared under the sheet of material, but nonetheless he still looked huge.

How? Because of his Traps.

His t-shirt was sitting atop a mountain peak.

There’s no denying it, having a properly built set of Traps is impressive. Not only do they make t-shirts sit better on you, but it shows you know a thing or two about lifting and hard work.  

Not to mention the less exciting, but no less important fact that they will improve your posture by pulling the shoulders back and promoting a tall and upright position, essential for people who sit at a desk all day, or train chest too much (yes, that’s you, Bro Bodybuilders).

The problem that most people have though, is that they only train the part of the Traps that are visible but forget – or don’t even know – that the Traps are a much larger muscle group than just the part that runs from your neck down to your shoulders.


The Traps, short for Trapezius, are a kite shaped muscle that is located in the upper back. It starts from the neck, come down towards the shoulders and then go down the middle of your back either side of the spine, meeting at a point.

The Trap has 4 main functions:

  1.       Elevation (lifting) and depression (lowering) of the Scapula (shoulder blades)
  2.       Internal rotation of the Scapula
  3.       Movement of the head and neck in all directions
  4.       Supports the weight of the arms

The Traps are often described as being made up of three separate portions, each of which perform a different function on the Scapula.


Elevates the Scapula


Rotates the Scapula inwards


Depresses the Scapula

Although this is a simplistic way to look at how the Traps works, as no muscle works in isolation and tends to work as a whole, it gives a clear idea of what your Traps will be doing when you are training them directly.

5 ways to build a massive set of traps


Walk into any gym around the world and you’ll see guys loading up a barbell, likely with too much weight, yanking it off the rack and proceeding to shrug their shoulders upwards, throwing their heads forwards, whilst rolling the shoulder backwards, somewhat mimicking a starving chicken having its first feeding in over a month.

Just FYI, this is how NOT to train your Traps.

Have a look at any Olympic weightlifting, Strongman, Powerlifter or Bodybuilder and you’ll notice they all have one thing in common.

A strong, well-built set of Traps.

And despite all their training methods being different and very specific to their chosen sport, there is one thing that makes up the foundation of their workouts (or should do- I’m looking at all you Bro Bodybuilders again) and that is compound lifts.

During the deadlift you need to rotate your shoulder blades inwards and lock them downwards, holding them in this isometric contraction throughout the movement.

The Squat requires you to squeeze your shoulders blades together and lift them upwards, in order to keep the upper back tight and to create a “shelf” for the bar to it on.

And any overhead work such as military presses, will recruit your Traps to stabilize the barbell when overhead and needed to shrug upwards to pack the shoulders tight, in the top position.

As for Olympic Lifts? Well they are in a league of their own when it comes to Trap recruitment, due to both the Snatch and the Clean & Press incorporating the movements above all rolled into one.

If all you did was the above exercises or even just a selection of them? Chances are you would have some pretty impressive sets of Traps sitting at the top of your back to show off.

But, this article is about how to build MASSIVE Traps, not just some pretty impressive ones.

So, once you’ve got your compound lifts done and dusted here are my top 5 exercises to isolate and directly target the Traps with bullseye precision for that extra growth, without the “starving chicken shrug” anywhere in sight.

5 ways to build a massive set of traps upright row


  1.    Upright Row (Upper Traps)

-Grab a barbell or EZ-Bar with an overhand grip, at around shoulder width grip or just slightly wider. Lean slightly forward, whilst maintaining a straight back.

– As you exhale, pull the bar upwards using your delts. Keep the bar close to your body and ensure your elbows are always higher than the wrists.

– At the top position, squeeze your Traps and hold for a 3 second count.

– Slowly return to the starting position by reversing the movement, whilst inhaling.

Sets: 3   Reps: 8-10

  1.    Face Pulls (Middle Traps)

Facing a high pulley with a rope attachment, kneel down onto one knee, brace your core and keep the back upright and the chest pushed out.

– Pull the rope towards your face, whilst pulling your hands apart and keeping the elbows high.

– Exhale at the top and squeeze the contraction hard, focusing on keeping your shoulder blades pinned together.

– Slowly return back to the starting position.

– Inhale deeply and repeat.

Sets: 4   Reps: 10

  1.    Superman’s (Lower Traps)

Set a bench to a 30-45 degree angle and position yourself on it face down with your shoulders over the top

Holding a small weight plate, hold your arms out straight below your shoulders

Retract and depress* your shoulder blades and then raise the weight plate upwards until it is directly over your head

In the finishing position you should be holding the classic flying Superman position.

Hold at the top for 2 seconds before controlling the weight back down slowly.

Sets: 2 Reps:15

  1.    Straight arm dumbbell row (middle)

Set up as if you were going to be performing a regular dumbbell row

Create a “Tri-pod” with your feet and with one arm on a bench

Keep your back straight and core tight

Holding a heavy dumbbell, depress* your scapula and then row the weight backwards, keeping your arm straight.  

Squeeze at the top of the movement, and allow a full stretch at the bottom

Repeat with the other arm

Sets: 3 Reps: 6-8

5 ways to build a massive set of traps farmers walk

  1.    Farmers walks (upper/middle/lower)

Using good Deadlift technique bend down and pick up your chosen weight

Stand tall, with the shoulder tight and held back whilst bracing your core

Walk forward, taking small and quick steps, holding the weights by your side, holding a slight isometric shrug position

Put your grip and Traps to the test by using a heavy weight

Take advantage of different variations by switching between Dumbbells, Kettlebells & the Trap bar

Sets: 3 Reps: 2 x 20 metres

(*imaging tucking your shoulder aldes into your back pockets)

Now, these are the five Trap exercises I’d recommend adding into your routine but sometimes temptation can get the better of us and you may find yourself wanting to pick up that heavy barbell.

So, if you are going to do some shrugs, here’s a few pointers to get the most out of them:

Keep the eccentric slow and controlled. Lift the weight up in a smooth but powerful motion, squeeze at the top for 2 seconds, then slowly lower down for a 3 second count.

Use a Snatch grip. Holding your hands out wider has been shown to increase Trap activation.

Avoid rolling or shoulders forwards or backwards. This does nothing for Trap activation and will only increase the likelihood of injury.

Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulder blades back, before shrugging upwards.

Switch up the equipment. Swap the barbell out for Dumbbells, Cables, Trap bar or anything else you can hold in both hands and lift upwards.  


Now, I’m not sure that there is a single article about training Traps that doesn’t have some sort of Tom Hardy reference, and since I have a man-crush on him, I’ve not dropped that tradition. So, if you want Big Traps that would make Bane cower in fear at your size, then start incorporating those 5 exercises above, into your training program right away.

Welcome to Trap city!

About the Author


If you don't know where to start, training and nutrition can be confusing topics. I'm Matt, and I'm on a mission to bring common sense back into the gym, nutrition and the fitness industry as a whole. Fueled by an overly enthusiastic love for coffee, I aim to give clear, simple advice that works, making crushing your goals a breeze.