The 3 Movements Every Trap Monster Uses

By Zach Dorworth

That Flex Life Zach Dorworth and Stephanie Dorworth

They say traps are the new abs. Lucky for you, the holiday season just ended and you’re rocking a dad-bod (with or without kids) - no shame.

I think we can agree that training for shredded abs is a bit pointless unless you work with your shirt off or live on a beach. Sure they might be nice for summer or dating, but in all seriousness, they see the light of day about as much as a nun’s inner thigh.

Instead, why not train for something that you can see with or without your shirt on? Something that screams “this guy deadlifts horses.” Something that commands attention.

But just one second:

Before you run off to the power rack and start shrugging till your eyeball veins pop, let me give you a few pointers to make it a more EFFECTIVE experience. In this post I’m going to show you the best way of building your shoulder mountains, more specifically, the mid and upper traps. And I’m also going to show you THREE movements to focus on.

Traps - Zach Dorworth

It doesn't matter what you're doing, big traps make it 17% better.

You need to understand the traps if we’re going to build them

The trapezius muscle is broken down into 3 sections: upper, mid, and lower. Each section has a distinct separation and direction of muscle fibers that perform different actions, but are still one single muscle.

This is important:

Here are the actions of each section.

Upper Traps (orange):
Action - Elevates the scapula and/or rotates the scapula upward and extends the neck.

Mid Traps (red):
Action - Adducts or retracts the scapula

Lower Traps (purple):
Action - Depresses the scapula and/or aides in upward rotation of the scapula

Wikipedia pulling through with visuals, again.

Related: Importance of the scapula for building a HUGE chest. 

Here are a few quick movements to help you understand the many actions of the traps:

We’ll start with an easy one. Sit or stand straight up with your arms relaxed by your side. Now, try to push your hands straight down through the floor.

  • This is scapular depression.

  • If you were to hold this position and look straight down, it would result in a lengthened upper trap.

Next, sit or stand straight up with your arms relaxed by your side. Try touching your shoulders to the ceiling while keeping your arms by your side (shrug).

  • This is scapular elevation and works the upper traps through their mid-range.

This one is a bit difficult, but crucial to understand. Sit or stand straight up with your arms relaxed by your side. Raise your arms straight out to the side with your thumbs facing up towards the ceiling. As you approach 90-degrees (or parallel with the floor), you will feel your scapula start to move. This allows you to comfortably raise your arms all the way overhead (like a slow motion jumping jack).

  • This movement is upward scapular rotation.
Zach Dorworth traps in Hawaii

Trust me, she only wants the traps.

Finally, sit or stand straight up with your arms relaxed by your side. This time pull your shoulders backwards like you’re trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  • This movement is scapular retraction and results in a shortened mid traps.

  • By doing the opposite and rolling your shoulders forward (protracting the scapula) you would fully lengthen the mid traps.

Related: Do this to make sure your progress never stops.

Now that you understand the actions of the traps, I’m going to show you three exercises to make them HUGE.

I talk a lot about the “little things” being what separate the good from the great. Pay attention to the little details, put them into action, and I guarantee you will see the results you’re looking for. The first thing to put into action is working muscles through an entire range of motion.

Upper and mid traps back

Whipping up some dinner to feed the traps.

#1 Big gains from shortened traps - the overhead shrug.

  • What, a shrug... over your head? It sounds awkward but it’s an effective way to work the upper traps in their shortened position, which almost never happens. As you just learned, the upper traps have three major actions and they all come into play here.

  • To get the upper traps into their shortest position, we need to rotate the scapula upward, extend the neck (look straight ahead), and then elevate the scapula.

Here is how to perform the movement
  • Hold a barbell or dumbbells overhead with the arms fully extended. While looking straight ahead, elevate the scapula (shrug) and hold the contraction for a full second. Keeping the arms fully extended, allow the scapula to return to their neutral position, and repeat.

    DB overhead shrug
    Overhead dumbbell shrug
  • Here’s what you can expect from this movement: a serious pump, upper trap growth, and a stiff neck if you don’t do the stretch explained in #3 below.

#2 Overhead dumbbell lateral raises

  • Listen, if you experience shoulder impingement during plain-ole dumbbell lateral raises, you might want to skip over this exercise. If you have good shoulder mobility and do not experience impingement during lateral raises, welcome to Gain City.

  • We’re all familiar with the staple movement used for building monstrous lateral delts - the dumbbell lateral raise

Lateral raises - My favorite movement of all time. Well, tied with cable chest flies, when done correctly.

How to do the movement

  • Using a fairly lightweight, perform a dumbbell lateral raise with your thumbs facing the ceiling

    Overhead Dumbbell Lat Raise
    Overhead dumbbell lateral raise
  • Instead of stopping at 90-degrees, keep going to an overhead position in order to provide resistance against an upwardly rotating the scapula - one of the primary movements of the upper traps.

  • Holy pump, Trapman!

#3 Standard shrugs - the right way.

  • You don’t need 400-pounds on the bar to do shrugs, nor should you. What you need to do is complement your heavy deadlifts with moderately weighted shrugs. The deadlift does a very good job of working both the upper and mid traps from their lengthened positions.

  • Use this moderately weighted shrug to work mid-range scapular elevation with quite a large range of motion.

Related: 3 Most Important Tips for Building Muscle & Losing Fat
The shrugging error:

  • There’s more than one...surprise!

  • First, most people shrug up to the top and look down or push their heads forward. Wrong!

  • Second, moving the weight straight up and down with a very short range of motion. Wrong!


Here is how to shrug correctly - or effectively

  • Start with a lot less weight than you normally use.

  • Roll your shoulders slightly forward at the bottom (under control)

  • Begin the movement by retracting and elevating your scapula

  • If you’re completely set on moving your neck up and down, like a chicken, start by looking down at the bottom and finish the movement by looking straight ahead with a neutral spine

  • Hold the contraction for at least a full second

    Dumbbell shrug done correctly

    Head slightly down.

    Dumbbell shrug done correctly 2

    Head back to neutral.

  • On the last few reps, hold a 2 - 3 second fully lengthened stretch at the bottom with depressed scapulae, shoulders rolled slightly forward, and looking down towards your feet.

    Barbell Shrug done correctly

    That stretch = The feel goods.

  • If you are using a ton of weight, which you should NOT be, I would suggest skipping the last step and keeping a neutral spine by looking straight ahead. You don’t need to be flopping your head all around trying to impress your bros and risking serious injury.


This post has gotten quite long and I haven't even talked about the best exercise for building the upper traps. Click here to check it out and get some bonus material that includes a complete back workout focused on building big ass traps.

As per usual, I have just shown you how to work a muscle through its entire range of motion while applying tension at each point. It seems to be my recurring theme and one of the many reasons why my clients and readers see superior results.

When you decide to implement these changes into your training, let me know what you think. If you have questions or just want to chat about anything muscle or nutrition, comment below or hit up my Facebook page here

​Finally, have you downloaded the bonus material yet? If not, you need to stop what you are doing and do it NOW! It will absolutely change your upper traps. 

If you enjoyed this post, here are 3 others you need to check out. 

- Rebounding Harder Than Dennis Rodman
- Horseshoes And Goat Balls: Triceps Explosion
- Healthier Living Made Simple For [Car] Guys


About the Author

Zach Dorworth is a pharmacist and the founder of That Flex Life, a fitness community focused on making America swole again with thousands of monthly readers and a popular email newsletter.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice post, I’m going to be adding these to my workout.
    A couple questions: are you grouping the rhomboids with the mid traps?
    What muscle groups would you work on if you’re focusing on the back? I know of traps, lats and lower back (can’t think of any specific muscles), but are there any others I should be paying attention to?

    • I didn’t mention the rhomboids because I was just trying to focus on the traps. Since the upper, mid, and lower traps are all actually one single muscle, it is hard to completely isolate any one portion. Therefore you get some mid involvement with upper and lower. When it comes to rhomboids, they help retract the scapula and assist in downward rotation of the scapula. The mid traps and rhomboids are synergists with retracting the scapula. If you were doing any rowing movements, you would not be able to isolate one over the other. A couple groups to pay attention to while training back are the lats, traps, spinal erectors, and rear deltoids. The back is made up of a lot of different muscles. Covering all the ones I just mentioned will typically cover the other deeper muscles you can’t necessarily see.

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