Trapezius Muscle |Anatomy & Exercises
The Trapezius muscle is one of the largest muscles on the back.
Whilst the upper portion of the trapezius, or traps, adds overall roundness to a physiques frame, the middle and lower portion of the traps contribute massively to thickness of the back.
The back is only considered to be completely developed when one has achieved both width and thickness.
The traps also assist in correct posture – this proves that they should certainly not be neglected!
As previously mentioned, the traps can be split into 3 different portions: Upper, middle, and lower region. The fibres of each region are best suited to perform different functions.
The muscle fibres of the upper traps at the neck support:
- Neck Flexion
- Neck Lateral Flexion
- Neck Rotation
However, when concerning muscle growth of the traps, we must consider movement of the muscle fibres from the shoulder, and not the neck.
Against popular belief, the majority of upper fibres of the trapezius muscles are not actually vertical scapula elevators.
Simply put, the muscle fibres are not responsible for shrugging your shoulders up, due to the horizontal orientation of the fibres.
The upper fibres can be described as medial elevators, and are responsible for pulling the clavicle up and toward the mid-line of the body, thus creating movement at the sternoclavicular joint.
Using this information, we can determine how to train the upper traps efficiently:
With a slight hip hinge, and slight neck flexion is the best way to train the upper Traps muscle fibres.
The Dumbbells should be pulled up and back, along a diagonal plane of motion.
Performing the exercise this way allows for force to be applied through the muscle fibres of the upper traps, to the mid-line of the body, along the orientation of the muscle fibres.
Slight neck flexion will also place full contraction of muscle fibres at the joint of the shoulder, instead of at the neck.
I recommend performing this exercise with dumbbells in order to keep the shoulders externally rotated, with the arms to the side of the body, with a grip slightly outside of shoulder width.
This exercise is far superior to a regular barbell or dumbbell shrug, due to orientation of the muscle fibres.
Beginners and pro gym-goers:
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The muscle fibres of the middle region of the traps originate in the cervical and thoracic portions of the vertebrae, and insert into the Acromion process of the Scapula – the muscles fibres of the middle region run almost horizontally.
The main function that the muscle fibres perform is known as:
Scapula retraction, or simply put, pulling the shoulder-blades back.
From this information, we can figure out how to train the middle fibres of the traps: through horizontal pulling; retracting the Scapula against a resistance.
The exercises I recommend to train the mid traps include:
Bent-over Dumbbell Rows
Whilst this exercise also involves the Lats, this exercise involves Scapula retraction perfectly.
I prefer to perform this exercise with dumbbells instead of a barbell, as the dumbbell allows the shoulders to be externally rotated throughout the movement, as well as more free-range of motion.
The dumbbells should be held at a 45 degree angle, and pulled to the upper abdominal/lower chest region.
A neutral spine must be maintained, along with core tightness, by flexing the abdominals, the glutes and the erector spinae (lower back muscles).
Remember to stay as parallel to the ground as possible, in order for the resistance to be placed upon the Traps.
Cable Seated Row
Any variation of a Seated Row trains the traps, if it involves pulling the shoulder-blades back.
Remember to keep correct posture, by maintaining extension of the thoracic region of the spine (mid back), and a neutral lumbar spine (lower back). The cable should again be pulled to the upper abdominal/lower chest region.
The muscle fibres of the Lower traps originate in the thoracic region of the spine, and insert into the scapula – they follow a downward-diagonal angle.
The fibres main functions are known as:
– Scapula depression (pulling the shoulder-blades down)
– Scapula retraction.
From this, we can determine how to train the muscle fibres.
Chin ups/Weighted Chin-ups/Supinated-grip Lat Pull-Down
Vertical pulling exercises train the lower fibres of the traps.
– Pull ups
– Chin ups
– Pronated-grip Lat Pull-down
– Supinated-grip Lat Pull-down
However, when choosing which exercise to perform, may be personal preference.
My choice of these specific exercises is down to them allowing external rotation of the shoulders, which will help keep the thoracic spine extended and keep healthy posture.
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How many sets and reps?
My preference for sets and reps is:
- 3 sets of Bent-over Dumbbell Shrugs. 6-12 reps per set.
- 3 sets of Bent-over Dumbbell Row OR Seated Row. 6-10 reps per set.
- 2 sets of Chin-ups OR Supinated-grip Pull-Down. 6-10 reps per set.
The weight should be heavy during both exercises, however form should be kept perfect throughout, to allow for the most correct muscle fibre recruitment.