Best Upper Trap Exercises For Muscle Mass and Strength

If you’re looking to build up your traps and maximize the development of your upper back, then building up the upper trap of the trapezius is an important step in this process. These upper trap exercises will help you do that.

Although every trap exercise hits all three muscle fibers to some degree, certain ones are better than others at stressing the different Muscle fibers.

In this article, we will discuss what the upper trap is, how to target it, and how it contributes to greater performance. We will also give you the best upper trap workouts.

What is the Trapezius muscle?

The trapezius also known as trap is a large muscle in your back that starts at the base of your neck and extends across your shoulders and down to the middle of your back.

The trapezius is called such because of its shape. It looks like a trapezoid (a shape with four sides, two that are parallel).

This large muscle helps you move your body and have good posture. The trapezius is divided into three areas, each of which assists with a particular type of movement. The trapezius helps you move your head, stand up straight, bend or twist your torso, and raise your arms.

As mentioned above, the trapezius muscle is divided into three areas.:

  • The upper fibers (Upper trapezius)
  • The middle fibers (called the middle trapezius)
  • The lower fibers (called the lower trapezius).
trapezius muscle workout

The upper portion of the trapezius contributes to the overall roundness of a physiques frame. While the middle and lower portions contribute to back thickness.

The primary function of the traps is to move or stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blades). This means they’re engaged most fully during shrugging movements, elevating the arms overhead, and pulling the shoulders back.

How to Train Upper Traps

The upper traps are what people associate with the trapezius. They protrude from the shoulder and are visible both from the front and back.

The upper traps can be developed by elevating the shoulders through common exercises such as shrugs and upright rows.

The upper traps are responsible for raising the shoulders, which are seen from the front. The middle and lower traps are seen from the back, and they pull the scapulae together.

10 Best Exercises To Get Bigger Upper Traps

Now, let’s get into the best upper trap exercises for Mass and strength, using various types of fitness equipment.

We have created the upper trap workouts into many sections, such as:

  • Upper trap exercises with Dumbbells.
  • Upper trap exercises with Barbell & Machine
  • Cable Upper trap Exercises.

The best variation of the trap exercise to build massive shoulders and traps are listed below.

Upper Traps exercises With Dumbbell

There are many advantages of doing dumbbell upper trap workouts, such as:

  • Dumbbells require more balance than barbells or machines that can lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment.
  • Exercises with dumbbell allow unilateral training, increase core stability, and improve muscular imbalances.
  • Upper trapezius dumbbell workout variations allow for a greater range of movement (ROM)

1. Dumbbell Shrug

The dumbbell shrug also known as dumbbell shoulder shrugs, are an isolation exercise targeting your upper trapezius muscles.

This exercise can be done very heavily to make the traps thicker, which helps you when you do back poses. This is one of the best upper trap isolation exercises for trap muscle.

If you are new to this exercise or are looking for a way to train your upper traps without weight, this is one of the best choices. Do the shrug without weight.

Dumbbell Shrugs

How To Do Dumbbell Shrug

  1. Stand upright, keeping arms at sides and with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Raise your shoulders as high as you can, as if trying to touch them to your ears.
  3. Hold at the top for a moment, then release and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Try not to move anything but your shoulders.
  • Inhale when you lower the weight and exhale when you lift.
  • Adding a pause at the top of the movement can help improve the mind-muscle connection.
  • Try to limit the momentum and excessive jerking or bouncing of the weight.

2. Dumbbell Upright Row

The dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that targets your deltoids (shoulders) and traps (upper back) and biceps. Shrugs along with upright rows can be used to build massive upper and middle traps.

Start your dumbbell upright row with 2–3 sets of 10–15 reps with weights you can control.

Choose your sets and repetitions based on how well you can do the movement without losing form. If you want to do the same without weights at home, you can do the bodyweight upright row.

Upright Row

How To Do Dumbbell Upright Row

  1. Hold a dumbbell with a narrow overhand grip and let it hang in front of you.
  2. Slowly lift the dumbbells, keeping them close to the body, with your elbows driving the motion. Your elbows should be positioned higher than your forearms throughout the lift.
  3. Pause for a second at the top of the movement.
  4. Now, lower the dumbbell under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  5. Pause for a second at the bottom before beginning your next repetition.


  • Remember to breathe out when you work hard.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • You should keep your back straight.

3. Incline Dumbbell Shrug

Incline dumbbell shrug is a type of trap dumbbell shrug exercise that works the upper part of the trapezius and neck area and also helps improve posture.

This shrug variation will shift emphasis to the upper traps as well as the upper portion of the middle traps. The fact that your chest is pressed on the bench will make it difficult to use momentum to drive the weight up.

Incline Dumbbell Shrug

How To Do Incline Dumbbell Shrug

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and straddle an adjustable-incline bench with your feet flat on the floor, or position them on the bench frame to support your body.
  2. Start by holding the dumbbells with a neutral grip at your sides, and then lie chest-down on an incline bench.
  3. Slowly shrug your shoulders up toward your ears.
  4. At the top of the movement, pause for a moment and squeeze your traps and rhomboids as hard as you can.
  5. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.


  • Keep your arms straight while you do this move.
  • Make sure not to use weights that are too heavy.
  • Move the dumbbells in a smooth and even manner, without jerking them at all.

4. Dumbbell Farmers Walk

The farmer’s walk exercise also called the farmer’s carry, is a strength and conditioning exercise in which you hold a load in each hand while walking for a designated distance.

The Farmer’s Walk is one of the classic exercises that men have been doing since the beginning of time.

It allows you to accomplish a tremendous amount in a single exercise. You can train your upper traps at home with buckets, water bottles, or other household items by doing farmer walks.

Dumbbell Farmers Walk

How To Do Dumbbell Farmers Walk

  1. Select a pair of dumbbells, and reach down, bending at the hips and knees, to grab the dumbbells with each hand.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your side with a firm grip. Stand tall, keeping your shoulders, back, and core tight.
  3. Take small steps and walk forward at an even pace with your eyes focused straight ahead of you.
  4. Complete the desired number of steps, come to a stop, and place the dumbbells down while keeping a tight core and neutral spine.


  • Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades and tightening your abs.
  • Keep a neutral or straight spine throughout the movement to avoid injury.

Upper Traps exercises With Barbell and Machine

5. Barbell Shrug

Barbell Shrug is one of the best exercises to build bigger and stronger trap muscles. It is a great isolation workout for the upper trapezius muscle.

The shrug is one of the simplest and easy trap exercises to perform. You can do the shrug either using a dumbbell, Barbell, or smith machine, but the barbell variation is the classic variation to build massive traps.

Barbell Shrug

How To Do Barbell Shrug

  1. Stand with feet placed shoulder-width apart, knee slightly bent, and core stable.
  2. Hold the barbell with your hands facing downwards in a pronated grip.
  3. Raise your shoulders without bending elbows as far as possible, getting them closer to your ears.
  4. Hold the contraction and squeeze for a second.
  5. In a controlled and stable manner, lower the weight back down to the starting position.


  • Attempt to lift the weight as high as possible, but avoid too much momentum and too much jerking or bouncing of the weight.
  • Go for the full range, but only move your shoulders, and try to keep the rest of your body steady.

6. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright Row is an excellent exercise to build huge Trapezius muscles and create that deltopectoral separation.

Upright rows can be done with both narrow grips and wider ones. The narrow grip focuses on the trapezius, and the wider focuses on the entire shoulder girdle.

Moreover, the wider grip allows some cheating movement, thereby allowing you to lift more weight.

Barbell Upright Row

How To Do Barbell Upright Row

  1. Hold a bar with an overhand grip and let it hang in front of you.
  2. Lift the bar and get it as close as possible to the chin, using your arms and elevating your shoulders to squeeze your trapezius muscles.
  3. Now, lower the bar under controlled motion until it comes back to its starting position.
  4. Repeat for desired reps.


  • Focus on keeping your elbows higher than your wrists.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Keep your back straight.

7. Smith Machine Shrug

The smith machine shrug is perhaps the go-to movement when looking to tone or put on mass on the trapezius muscle. There are several variations of the barbell shrug, smith machine shrug in one of them.

It is an upper-body exercise targeting the upper traps muscles. It is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 8-12 reps per set or more, as part of shoulder or trap-focused training.

Smith Machine Shrug

How To Do Smith Machine Shrug

  1. Stand in a Smith machine holding the unlatched bar with an overhand grip in front of your thighs. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your shoulders up toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Focus on lifting the weight with your traps and not your biceps.
  • Pausing at the top of the barbell shrug makes the workout more challenging, and you’ll get more out of it.
  • Do not roll your shoulders as this can lead to a shoulder injury.

8. Smith Machine Upright Row

The Smith machine upright row is a variation of the upright row and an exercise used to target the muscles of the shoulders.

The Smith machine provides a fixed movement pattern to better isolate the muscles of the shoulders.

Smith Machine Upright Row

How To Do Smith Machine Upright Row

  1. Select the desired weight and load it onto a barbell. Unpack the bar by rotating the safety latches off the j-hooks.
  2. Inhale, brace your abs, and then lead the movement by driving the elbows high as you pull the bar to chest height.
  3. When the bar has reached its peak, reverse the movement slowly while controlling the bar back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Focus on keeping your elbows higher than your forearms.
  • Avoid using momentum to lift the bar. Instead, focus on deriving power from the upper body.

Upper Traps exercise With Cable

The cable exercises offer an effective way to train the upper trap muscle, let’s have a look at some other benefits of doing upper trap workouts with a cable machine.

  • The cable changes the angle of the movement enough to reduce the potential stress on the joints.
  • Cable exercises are more evenly distributed, and you have more of a constant load on your trap muscles throughout the whole range of motion.
  • Your muscles can get almost constant time under tension and a huge pump thanks to the cable setup.

9. Cable Shrug

The cable shrug is a variation of the shoulder shrug and one of the best trap exercises that are utilized to build the trapezius muscle of the upper back.

It’s one of the best exercises for isolating the traps and offers versatility to further improve development.

Cable Shrug

How To Do Cable Shrug

  1. Grab a cable bar attachment that is attached to a low pulley. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider if you wish. Your hands should be facing down.
  2. Stand close to the pulley and extend your arms in front of you while holding the bar.
  3. Raise your shoulders, lift the bar as high as you possibly can. Exhale while performing this movement. Hold the contraction at the top for a second.
  4. Slowly lower the bar to its starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


  • Prevent from rolling your shoulders, as this is incorrect form and can result in injury.

10. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is a movement that targets many of the large muscles in the upper back and shoulders, which is key for many movements (see below) in strength, power, and fitness sports.

Upright rows are an exercise that nearly everyone can do using a wide variety of grip widths.

Cable machines keep tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, ultimately increasing muscle activation and hypertrophy.

Cable Upright Row

How To Do Cable Upright Row

  1. Attach a straight bar to a low cable pulley. Grab the bar using a shoulder-width or wider overhand grip.
  2. Stand close to the pulley with your body upright, your shoulders pulled back.
  3. Exhale as you pull the bar up the front of your body until it reaches the level of your lower or middle chest.
  4. Do not pull the bar up any higher. Hold for a count of two. Inhale as you lower the bar to the starting position.


  • Bend slightly at the knees and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your shoulders back, chest out, and body upright.

Frequently asked questions

How do you work upper traps?

The upper traps are what people associate with the trapezius. They extend from the shoulder and are visible from both the front and back. There are several exercises that target the upper trap, some of which are mentioned above.

The upper traps can be developed by elevating the shoulders through common exercises such as 

  • Shrugs
  • Upright rows
  • Face pulls
  • YWT

Why won’t my upper traps grow?

Trap Muscle is stubborn and needs adequate training to grow. To maximize your trap development, you need to include heavier weights and additional volume.

Ideally, both should be included every week that you train. But remember to keep your form proper.

How Can I Build My Upper Traps At Home?

There are a lot of exercises you can do at home to build your upper traps if you invest in a good set of dumbbells. Try shrugs, dumbbell upright rows and farmer’s carries.


Big traps are one of the best ways to signal to the world that you’re no slouch in the gym. Beyond making you look better in a t-shirt, developed traps come into play on nearly every upper-body exercise in one form or another.

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