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Nothing screams sheer power like a couple of well-developed traps. You can have great arms and shoulders, but if your traps aren't up to snuff, your physique will just look...lacking. Often neglected with direct targeted work, the trapezius muscles add thickness to the back as well as provide stability for overhead movements and improve upright posture.
When you ask the average gym-goer what exercises they do for their traps, they'll most likely answer either barbell or dumbbell shrugs. Trap exercises can go far beyond basic shrugs and be done with a set of dumbbells, and that's what we'll cover today.
In this article, you can expect:
We've put together eleven of the best dumbbell exercises you can do for your traps. In no particular order, they are:
The most well-known trap exercise by far is the dumbbell shrug. The dumbbell shrug is associated with helping to build monstrous upper traps seen on everyone's favorite bodybuilders. One of the simplest yet wrongly performed exercises, a proper dumbbell shrug set will leave you feeling like you can't lift your shoulders more than an inch upwards.
The less-pain-causing alternative to the controversial barbell upright row, a dumbbell upright row allows for a safer, more natural range of motion. Hitting upper traps, front deltoids, and even some chest, this should be an exercise you should work into your routine. You can even pick up some tips on how to perform it correctly from our full Upright Row Guide.
The higher-intensity version of upright rowing exercises, dumbbell high pulls, add some explosive movement into the exercise. This means you can throw around higher weight than you would be able to with a strict upright row.
This exercise involves walking while holding a pair of dumbbells. Seems simple enough, right? After 40 yards, you may be singing a different tune. Farmer's Walks leverage the natural ability of the upper traps to carry a load for a long period, enhancing both muscle strength and improving your grip endurance.
We go into a lot more detail in our full article on the Farmer's Walk.
The Unilateral Dumbbell shrug is a great way to help correct any muscle imbalances in the traps. Notice one of your traps is bigger than the other? Unilateral Dumbbell Shrugs can help even everything out, including strength differences.
A variation on the traditional dumbbell shrug, the incline dumbbell shrug changes the angle at which your trap is working. Either by sitting facing forward, where the stress is placed on the front of your upper traps, or laying face down, where most of the work is being done with a combination of the upper and middle traps, Incline Dumbbell Shrugs are a great way to add some diversity into your trap workouts.
We love these for the same reason we love the unilateral dumbbell shrugs, they offer a great way to correct muscle imbalances and rebuild strength. As someone who suffered from a middle back-related injury, these were integral in returning my strength and middle trap development.
The Dumbbell Renegade Row not only has an awesome name but is a fantastic upper-body exercise. Taking place in a push-up position, the Renegade Row forces your upper back to engage to keep you stable, ensuring that tension is almost constant. While it's not a trap-specific exercise, your middle and lower traps will get a heckuva workout.
While most people think of dumbbell reverse flyes as a rear delt exercise (coincidentally, this made our list of best Upper Back Exercises, too), with a little modification, you can hit your middle and lower traps as well. One of the keys to this exercise is to drive with your elbows, thinking of trying to squeeze a pen between your shoulder blades.
One of the least heard of dumbbell trap exercises on this list, the Dumbbell Y-Raise is one of the best ways to hit your lower trap muscles. This uncommon exercise can be done on a bench, but if the benches at your local gym are too low, you can perform it standing by bending over at the waist, simulating a prone position.
As silly as the name is, these guys work. Dumbbell Seal Rows are a fantastic way to make sure your back is doing all the work and not body momentum. People with long arms will have a bit of difficulty doing this one, especially if their gym has an issue with propping up a weight bench on weights or platforms.
For a more in-depth look at the benefits, check out our full article on Seal Rows
So we've given you eleven exercises that can significantly help with trapezius development. But why would you choose those over a tried and true exercise like barbell shrugs? We have come up with four main reasons why you should be using dumbbells to hit your trap muscles.
Dumbbells allow for a larger range of motion in trap exercises compared to barbells or machines. This extended movement range enables more comprehensive muscle fiber activation, more activation means more potential for increased growth. Dumbbells also allow for natural movement patterns, accommodating individual joint mechanics and reducing the risk of injury.
Using dumbbells for trap exercises helps promote balanced muscular development. Since each side of the body works independently, unilateral training with dumbbells helps to identify and correct strength imbalances between both sides of the body. This balanced approach contributes to symmetrical muscle growth and functional strength.
Dumbbell trap exercises offer superior muscle isolation capabilities. They enable targeted engagement of the traps without excessive involvement of auxiliary muscle groups. This isolation is crucial for focused muscle strengthening and hypertrophy, ensuring the trapezius muscles are adequately stimulated for growth.
Dumbbell exercises require more stabilization, engaging the primary muscles and various stabilizer muscles around the shoulder and upper back. This increased recruitment enhances overall shoulder stability, improves joint health, and contributes to the development of a stronger, more resilient upper body.
Here is an example of a trap workout that you can tack on to the end of your back or shoulder routine to hit all parts of the trapezius muscle.
Well, there you have eleven different dumbbell trap exercises you can work into your gym routine. When putting together a trap workout plan, remember to pick exercises that hit all the parts of the traps, not just shrugging motions to build up the top of your traps. Well-developed traps can give your back the thickness that is lacking in most casual lifters. If you're looking for more trap ideas, you can check out our article on the Best Upper, Middle, and Lower Trap Exercises. If you are planning on doing these at home, then you should find yourself a set of the Best Dumbbells For Home Gyms. If space is an issue, then you can check out our list of the Best Adjustable Dumbbells.
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