The 15 Best Exercises to Build Huge Traps

Trap building product mentioned in this article: Trap Bar 

These 15 exercises should be used to build mind-blowing traps that will turn heads and make you look like a monster in the gym and on the street. The purpose of this article is to identify the best exercises to build the trapezius muscle complex rather than explain how each movement is performed. More extensive research should be conducted for information on how to perform each specific movement. 


The deadlift should be a mainstay in everyone’s bodybuilding arsenal, especially if you want to develop thick, dense muscle mass to the back and hamstrings.  What many people fail to consider is that the deadlift is one of the best builders of the trapezius muscle.  Pulling and standing upright with hundreds of pounds on a barbell or trap bar puts tremendous stress on all muscles of the back, especially the low back and traps. 

Barbell Upright Row

Barbell upright rows are considered by many as one of the best isolation exercises for the trapezius muscle complex.  This exercise can be performed as a heavy, primary movement in your upper back workout or lighter to pump blood into the muscles and to subject the muscles to continuous tension. It is suggested that you use wrist straps when performing barbell upright rows to take stress off of the wrists and forearms.

Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is performed much the same as barbell upright row but the load is typically lighter within a higher repetition range.  This movement can be performed with a straight bar or one of my favorite attachments, a rope.

High Pull

The high pull is used in many sports to develop explosive power and brute strength in the entire posterior chain.  The movement mimics an upright row but heavier weights are utilized and every muscle of the posterior chain is activated when the barbell is explosively pulled to chin level from the “hang” position.  All of the muscles of the upper back are activated, especially the trapezius muscle. 

Rack Pull

The rack pull is basically a partial deadlift performed in a power cage.  It allows you to use heavier weights than typically used with deadlifts because the range of motion is limited and you are in an advantageous position of leverage.  The benefit is increased stress on the entire upper back, especially the trapezius muscle complex.

Rack Pull with Shrug

Rack pulls with a shrug at the top of the movement is a variation that allows you to emphasize the stress and tension on the trapezius muscle by adding one of the best trap building exercise, the shrug.  The amount of weight used for this movement will be less than that used for the strict rack pull, but heavy enough to place stress and target the trapezius muscle.

Barbell Shrug

The barbell shrug is considered by many in bodybuilding circles to be the absolutely best trap builder.  If only one exercise is performed to develop the trapezius muscle, it should be the shrug or one of its many variations.  If you’ve ever performed heavy barbell shrugs you know what  an incredible blood pump in the traps occurs and a soreness in the upper back is achieved that few other exercises can produce.

Dumbbell Shrug

Dumbbell shrugs are performed just like a barbell shrug but allow you to hold your hands, and thus the stress-producing weight, at your sides rather than in front of the body.  You can perform dumbbell shrugs standing, seated or on an incline bench. 

Seated Hammer Strength Shrug

Hammer Strength makes a seated shrug machine that is usually found in hardcore bodybuilding gyms.  It allows you to load hundreds of pounds of plate weights onto the machine and perform trap building shrugs in an extremely isolating manner.  If your gym has a Hammer Strength seated shrug machine, you’d be well advised to add it to your trap building arsenal.

Incline Dumbbell Shrug

As discussed above, dumbbell shrugs add variation to the traditional barbell shrug by allowing your arms to hang at the side rather than the front of the body.  Performing the dumbbell shrug on an incline, either seated facing forward or in the reverse position, allows the stress to be focused on the trapezius muscle at a different angle than would be otherwise be possible.

Trap Bar Shrug

The trap bar shrug combines the benefit of the traditional barbell shrug with the hand and arm position of the dumbbell shrug.  The movement allows you to use a tremendous amount of weight and place tension on the traps to allow for explosive muscle growth.  If you have access to a trapbar, take advantage of this exercise and use it watch your traps grow.

Front Squat

Believe it or not, an exercise that is typically considered a thigh builder rather than an upper back movement is, in fact, one of the best upper back and trap builders.  The front squat is typically used by Olympic weight lifters and strongman competitors to build strength in muscles that are crucial for competition.  However, the upper back, particularly the trapezius muscle, is utilized to a great degree for upper body stabilization when performing the front squat. We all know you should be squatting anyway, but adding the front squat to your workout routine will help you grow and develop your traps.

Zercher Squat

One of the best exercises for building the upper back, hips and thighs is the Zercher Squat.  As I explained in the article The Top Three Reasons You Should Be Doing Zercher Squats, this movement helps develop huge traps by placing stress on the traps the support and stabilize the entire shoulder girdle, including the trapezius muscle complex. 

Partial Squat with Shrug

Performing a partial squat, much like a quarter squat, in a power cage allows you to move much heavier weights than you can typically use when performing a traditional full back squat.  Squats, as you should know, develop the entire muscular system but require the stabilization that the traps provide.  Take a look at people who perform heavy squats regularly.  One thing they all have in common is huge traps.  To add variety and place greater emphasis on the trapezius muscle, add a shrug at the top of the partial squat with the bar in a high bar position.

Cable Face Pulls

Cable face pulls and reverse pec dec are known as great rear deltoid builders, but they also develop the trapezius muscle as well.  A lighter load should be used when performing face pulls to allow for a tremendous blood pump and ability to maintain continuous tension on the muscle fibers.

The exercises listed above are the 15 best exercises to build the traps.  To build a truly awe-inspiring upper back and traps, three of the movements mentioned above should be conducted two to three times per week.  Be careful about the selection of the exercises to avoid overtraining or injury.  However you develop your trap building program, the exercises listed above should be utilized with appropriate frequency and intensity.

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