Developed traps are a key indicator that you’ve spent some serious time in the gym. The traps play an important role in aesthetics, performance, and activities of daily living. The main function of the traps, also known as the trapezius muscles, is to stabilize the scapula, commonly referred to as the shoulder blades. The trap muscles help move your shoulders, neck, head, arms, and torso.
The traps are a rather large and superficial muscle group, so you can easily see them if they are developed. If you’ve noticed that your upper back doesn’t have that 3-dimensional look, trap muscles probably need some work. Furthermore, strengthening your traps is a good idea if you experience head, neck, or upper back pain or tightness. Often, people have overdeveloped anterior delts and underdeveloped traps, leading to poor posture.
If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place! This article covers the 8 best ways to improve underdeveloped traps.
Table of Contents
- 1 What are underdeveloped traps?
- 2 The 8 best ways to improve underdeveloped traps
- 2.1 Perform 4-20 sets of direct traps work per week
- 2.2 Train the traps 2-4 times per week
- 2.3 Use an appropriate amount of training intensity
- 2.4 Improve your exercise technique
- 2.5 Do every repetition with a full range of motion
- 2.6 Train your traps at the beginning of the workout
- 2.7 Utilize an exercise tempo
- 2.8 Vary your rep range
- 3 The 10 best trap exercises
- 4 Trapezius Anatomy
- 5 Trapezius Hypertrophy FAQs
- 6 Key Takeaways
- 7 Grow Underdeveloped Muscle Groups
- 7.1 The 8 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Biceps
- 7.2 The 8 Best Ways to Grow an Underdeveloped Lower Chest
- 7.3 The 8 Best Ways to Improve Underdeveloped Upper Abs
- 7.4 The 8 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Shoulders
- 7.5 The 8 Best Ways to Build an Underdeveloped Core
- 7.6 The 8 Best Ways to Improve An Underdeveloped Back
- 7.7 The 8 Best Ways To Grow An Underdeveloped Upper Chest
- 7.8 The 7 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Obliques
- 7.9 The 7 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Rear Delt Muscles
- 7.10 The 8 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Front Delts
- 7.11 The 8 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Abs
- 7.12 The 5 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Triceps
- 7.13 The 8 Best Ways to Grow Underdeveloped Hamstrings
What are underdeveloped traps?
Underdeveloped traps occur when your upper back muscles are significantly weaker or smaller than the other upper body muscles. It’s important to note that there are three sections of the trap muscles, including the lower, middle, and upper fibers.
Each section of the traps performs a different action. For example, the upper fibers perform scapular elevation, such as a shoulder shrug; the middle fibers perform retraction, such as a dumbbell row; and the lower fibers perform scapular depression, such as a reverse shrug. So if you only perform one trap exercise, you may miss out on potential trap growth.
Before you dive into the rest of this article, identify what section of the traps is lagging the most, so you can emphasize that area. It’s possible to have underdeveloped lower traps but overdeveloped upper traps. If your traps are lagging in general, evenly split up the exercises to target the entire trap.
The 8 best ways to improve underdeveloped traps
- Perform 4-20 sets of direct trap work per week
- Train the traps 2-4 times per week
- Use an appropriate amount of training intensity
- Improve your exercise technique
- Do every repetition with a full range of motion
- Train your traps at the beginning of the workout
- Utilize an exercise tempo
- Vary your rep range
Here are the 8 best ways to improve underdeveloped traps:
Perform 4-20 sets of direct traps work per week
The traps are often neglected when it comes to upper body training. They either don’t get trained at all directly, or they get trained at the end of a workout. To get your traps to grow, performing enough weekly training volume is crucial.
If your traps are already well-developed, then you may not even have to train them directly since they are involved in other movements. However, if your traps are underdeveloped, one of the most effective ways to get them to grow is to add direct trap training.
For most people, the traps will respond well to performing 4-20 sets per week. The number of sets you do each week depends on various factors. It’s a good idea to start a training block performing the minimum number of sets that produce results, also known as the minimum effective volume (MEV). This allows you to add sets as needed each week to keep seeing results.
Here’s what that may look like over a 6-week training block:
- Week 1 – 4 sets of direct trap work
- Week 2 – 6 sets of direct trap work
- Week 3 – 8 sets of direct trap work
- Week 4 – 10 sets of direct trap work
- Week 5 – 12 sets of direct trap work
- Week 6 – 2 sets of direct trap work (deload)
As you increase the number of sets each week, it’s also a good idea to increase the number of times you train the traps, which is known as training frequency!
Train the traps 2-4 times per week
Training frequency represents how many times you train a muscle group over the span of a week. Most people think of training frequency in terms of your workout split. For example, if you perform a 4-day upper/lower split, then you train each major muscle group two times per week. If you perform a bro-split, then you only train each major muscle group once per week.
Increasing the number of days that you train a muscle group allows you to increase the training volume. This is especially important as you reach your maximum recoverable volume (MRV), the most weekly training volume you can perform and recover from.
It’s important to note that doing more than 8-10 sets for a specific muscle group in a single training session seems counterproductive and turns into junk volume. In other words, you could perform 20 sets of traps in a workout, but only 10 of those are deemed effective. Therefore, the other 10 sets are useless because they take away your recovery ability but do not provide any additional hypertrophic stimulus.
Most people will benefit from training their traps 2-4 times per week. The training frequency may have to increase as you progress through a training block. So you can start out training the traps 1-2 times per week, but by the end, you may be training them 3-4 times per week. As long as you are not doing more than 8-10 sets in a single session, then you’re on the right track.
Here’s what that may look like over a 6-week training block:
- Week 1 – 4 sets of direct trap work split between 1-2 sessions (2 sets each)
- Week 2 – 6 sets of direct trap work split between 1-2 sessions (3 sets each)
- Week 3 – 8 sets of direct trap work split between 1-2 sessions (4 sets each)
- Week 4 – 10 sets of direct trap work split between 2-3 sessions (3-5 sets each)
- Week 5 – 12 sets of direct trap work split between 3 sessions (4 sets each)
- Week 6 – 2 sets of direct trap work (deload) performed 1 time per week
Adjusting your training intensity accordingly becomes a lot more important as you increase your training volume and frequency.
Use an appropriate amount of training intensity
For hypertrophy, training intensity is usually determined by how close you train to technical failure. Technical failure represents the point where your form begins to break down, whereas muscular failure represents the point at which you cannot perform another rep whatsoever.
It’s quite common for strength athletes (strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and Crossfitters) to use percentages for training intensity. However, percentage-based training is only useful for compound lifts with which you will perform a 1-rep max. Since we are mainly talking about trap hypertrophy, we will use the RIR (reps-in-reserve) and/or RPE (rating of perceived exertion) to recommend training intensities.
For muscle growth to occur, you must be training with enough intensity. However, you don’t have to train for technical failure to see results. It is a good idea to train to failure once in a while to better gauge your RIR or RPE. Most of your training should be done leaving 1-3 reps in reserve or between a 7-9 RPE.
If you always train to failure, you may not recover in time for your next exercise or training session. This is why it’s important to adjust your training intensity according to how much training volume and frequency you perform. If you only hit the traps once per week, then you will likely be fine training to failure, but if you’re training them 3-4 times per week, your recovery will suffer if you always train to failure.
Improve your exercise technique
If you have a lagging muscle group, no matter what it is, you probably will benefit drastically from improving your exercise technique. Many people let their egos get the best of them, especially when it comes to lifting weights. If you lift more weight than you can handle, it may lead to injury and won’t produce the muscle growth you’re after.
Lowering the weight, slowing down your tempo, and really focusing on executing the movement correctly are imperative for stimulating hypertrophy. Depending on the area of the trap muscle you want to grow, it can be difficult to isolate that specific section. However, you can make a few changes to your exercise technique to better target that area.
For example, if you want to grow the middle traps, performing rows with a wider grip and your elbows out is a good way to target them. If you want to hit your upper traps, performing shrugs with your shoulders retracted is better than letting them roll forward.
A key indicator of good exercise technique is the mind-muscle connection. In other words, if you don’t feel that muscle is working, you’re likely using too much weight and/or performing the exercise incorrectly. Do a proper warm-up and practice feeling the muscle before increasing the load.
Do every repetition with a full range of motion
Improving your exercise technique can also mean using a greater range of motion. Working a muscle through its full range of motion will result in the most amount of muscle growth. More often than not, people fail to achieve a full range of motion because they are trying to lift too much weight and/or lack the mobility to perform the exercise.
Lowering the weight enough to use a full range of motion will benefit you in the long run because you will improve your exercise technique, reduce injury risk, and produce more muscle growth. If you can’t perform a full range of motion due to a lack of mobility, don’t give up on the exercise. Instead, work on improving your mobility so that you can perform that exercise with a full range of motion.
It’s important to note that everyone’s range of motion is slightly different depending on their anatomy, flexibility, and mobility. So work within a range of motion that feels comfortable to you yet that challenges the target muscle to a full extent. Don’t start doing half or quarter reps just to say you lifted x amount of pounds for x number of reps.
If you standardize your technique and range of motion, once you fail to hit that standard, then you know you’ve reached technical failure.
Train your traps at the beginning of the workout
As mentioned in the training volume section, most people perform direct trap work at the end of their workouts when they are the most fatigued. Not only can they not give enough effort to train the traps adequately, but they are more likely to skip out on trap training altogether.
It’s beneficial to train your traps at the beginning of the workout when you’re fresh and have more energy to dedicate to them. Most trap exercises are not very demanding compound lifts, so they won’t take away from the other exercises you’re performing.
This simple change can lead to profound results if done consistently. Also, if you increase your trap training frequency, you can add in a couple of trap exercises on days you don’t normally train them, such as a leg day. Instead of adding them at the end, do them at the beginning of the workout.
Utilize an exercise tempo
An exercise tempo represents how long the muscle is under tension during each repetition. Exercise tempo is usually prescribed as a 3 or 4-digit code such as 3-1-2-0. The first number (3) represents the eccentric or lowering portion of the lift. The second number (1) represents the pause at the bottom of the lift. The third number (2) represents the concentric or lifting portion of the exercise. The last number (0) represents the pause at the top of the lift.
Here’s what a 3-1-2-0 tempo would look like with a barbell shrug:
- It should take you 2 seconds to fully shrug your shoulders to raise the barbell.
- You should pause at the top and squeeze your upper traps for at least 1 second.
- Take 3 seconds to lower the barbell back to the starting position.
- Don’t pause at all at the bottom of the rep.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Implementing an exercise tempo can make a pretty significant difference in hypertrophy, especially for the traps. The trap muscles are made up of approximately 55% slow-twitch muscle fibers and 45% fast-twitch muscle fibers. This means they should be trained with a fast and slow tempo and heavy and lighter loads. It’s a good idea to switch up your exercise tempo occasionally.
If you’ve never used an exercise tempo, then you will likely see results within a few weeks. Focus on executing the exercise properly, working through a full range of motion, and using an exercise tempo to increase time under tension on the target muscle.
Vary your rep range
As we mentioned above, the trap muscle fibers are nearly 50% slow twitch and 50% fast twitch. Slow twitch muscle fibers respond best to lighter loads and higher reps (15-20 reps), whereas fast twitch muscle fibers respond best to heavier loads and lower reps (6-10 reps). So using a variety of rep ranges is key to getting the best hypertrophic response for the traps. It’s not a good idea to switch up your rep ranges every workout or even every week.
But every 4-6 weeks, you can change your rep range to provide a different stimulus to the traps. For example, you can perform 15-20 reps for 4-6 weeks, then do 10-12 reps for 4-6 weeks, and finally, do 6-10 reps for another 4-6 weeks and repeat. As long as you are training near failure, it doesn’t really matter what rep range you do!
When you change your rep range, you can also change up your exercises simultaneously. Varying your exercise selection occasionally is another great way to provide your traps with a different stimulus and prevent chronic injuries from developing.
The 10 best trap exercises
- Barbell Shrugs – Upper Traps
- Dumbbell Shrugs – Upper Traps
- Bent-Over Row – Middle Traps
- T-Bar Row – Middle Traps
- Incline Dumbbell Row – Middle Traps
- Reverse Shrugs – Lower Traps
- Prone Y-Raise – Lower Traps
- Face Pulls – Middle/Upper Traps
- Machine Shrugs – Upper Traps
- Wide-Grip Cable Rows – Middle traps
The traps, also known as the trapezius muscle, is a large triangular muscle group that’s positioned on your upper back. The traps are very superficial so if they are underdeveloped, it will negatively impact the overall look of your physique. Not to mention, the traps play an important role in stabilizing and moving the shoulder blades (scapula). Therefore, if you have weak traps, that could potentially lead to upper back, shoulder, head, and neck pain.
There are 3 sections of the traps divided by the direction of the muscle fibers. The upper fibers, also known as the upper traps, are responsible for elevating and upwardly rotating the scapula and extending the neck. The middle fibers, also known as the middle traps, retract the scapula. The lower fibers, also known as the lower traps, depress the scapula.
It’s possible to have one section of the traps be overdeveloped compared to the others. If that’s the case, you should focus more on strengthening and growing the other sections to have a more balanced physique. Out of all three sections, the lower traps are most commonly neglected because very few exercises involve depressing the scapula.
Trapezius Hypertrophy FAQs
How often should you train your traps?
You should train your traps 2-4 times per week for optimal results. Your optimal training frequency will depend on how much weekly volume you need for growth. Not to mention, you need to be a training frequency that’s realistic for your schedule. If you can only workout 2 days per week, then there’s no way that 3-4 times a week would work.
Are direct trap exercises necessary?
As long as you regularly perform compound pulling movements, such as deadlifts, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, etc. direct trap work is not required to maintain the size of your traps. However, if you want to improve the size and strength of your traps, then performing direct trap exercises is recommended. Identify which section of the traps you would like to improve, and pick exercises that target that area the best.
What type of exercises targets the traps?
The upper traps are targeted by any shoulder blade elevation exercise, such as barbell shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, or upright rows. The middle traps are targeted by any shoulder blade retraction exercise, such as a machine row, T-bar row, face pull, or barbell row.
The middle traps are best targeted when your elbows are flared slightly out rather than tucked by your sides. The lower traps are targeted by any shoulder blade depression exercise, such as reverse shrugs or prone Y-raise.
What’s the ideal rep range and training intensity for trap hypertrophy?
Since the traps are comprised of approximately 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch muscle fibers, it’s important to use both low and high rep ranges for maximum hypertrophy. As long as you are training near failure (leaving no more than 1-3 reps in reserve), the traps will respond well to various rep ranges (5-30 reps).
The traps are an important muscle group for aesthetics and performance. There are three sections of the traps, the upper, middle, and lower, and each perform different actions. To increase the overall size and strength of the traps, it’s a good idea to do exercises that target each section.
Although no direct trap work is required to maintain the size of your traps, if your traps are a lagging muscle group, then performing direct trap work is the best way to get them to grow. Start with the least amount of volume, frequency, and intensity that will produce results and increase as needed. Remember that recovery is critical in gaining size and strength, so allow for enough recovery between training sessions.
Grow Underdeveloped Muscle Groups
If you enjoyed this post, check out our other guides on how to grow lagging muscle groups.