10 Best Upper Trap Exercises (For Strength and Size)

You must strengthen your upper trap to build bigger traps and develop your upper back.

The upper trapezius muscle is one of the most important muscles and is responsible for shoulder movement, stability, and posture.

Many people think heavy deadlifts and rows are enough for trap development. Wrong!

The traps have three distinct sections, each needing targeted exercises for maximum growth.

Let’s dive into those sections, with a special focus on the upper traps. I’ll share the best activation techniques and exercises to build upper traps.

Upper Trapezius Muscle Anatomy

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

The trapezius is called such because of its shape. It looks like a trapezoid.

The trapezius helps you move your head, stand up straight, bend or twist your torso, and raise your arms.

It’s divided into three parts:

trapezius muscle workout

The upper trapezius functions as follows.

  • Elevate your shoulders (shrugging motion)
  • Helps rotate your shoulder blades upwards
  • Assists in tilting and turning your head and neck
  • Contributes to the overall roundness of a physique.

10 Best Exercises To Get Bigger Upper Traps

The best exercises for upper traps involve shoulder elevation but go beyond shrugs. Exercises like farmer’s carries and rack pulls also offer superb upper trap activation.

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

1. Dumbbell Shrug

The dumbbell shrug, a classic isolation exercise, directly targets your upper trapezius muscles.

It is a simple yet effective exercise that strengthens the shoulders, upper back, and neck muscles.

With the potential for heavy loads, it builds trap thickness. This exercise is great for seasoned lifters and those new to upper trap training.

Dumbbell Shrugs

How To Do It

  1. Stand tall, feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells with your palms facing your body (neutral grip).
  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. Start with 3–4 sets of 10–15 reps.


  • Try not to move anything but your shoulders.
  • Inhale when you lower the weight and exhale when you lift.
  • Adding a pause at the movement’s top 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, traps and biceps.

Research shows that the upright row is one of the best exercises for building shoulder strength and stability.

Using dumbbells in the upright row can help increase unilateral muscle development and address any asymmetries and movement imbalances.

Upright Row

How To Do It

  1. Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a palms-facing-you grip, slightly narrower than shoulder-width.
  3. While exhaling, lift the dumbbells by pulling them straight up towards your chest.
  4. Your elbows should be positioned higher than your forearms throughout the lift.
  5. Pause for a second at the top of the movement.
  6. Now, lower the dumbbell under controlled motion until it returns to its starting position.
  7. 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 and 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 It

  1. Position an incline bench at a 30-60-degree angle.
  2.  Lie face-down on the bench. Your chest should be supported.
  3. Hold dumbbells with palms facing each other (neutral grip) and arms hanging straight down.
  4. Slowly shrug your shoulders up toward your ears.
  5. Focus on squeezing your upper traps at the top of the movement.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbell 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 smoothly and evenly 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 It

  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.
  3. Stand tall, keeping your shoulders, back, and core tight.
  4. Take small steps and walk forward at an even pace with your eyes focused straight ahead of you.
  5. 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.

5. Barbell Shrug

The 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 easiest trap exercises to perform.

The study has shown the frontal shrug is beneficial for increasing upper trap activation activity compared with the neutral grip shrug.

Barbell Shrug

How To Do It

  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 your 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 off 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.

The standing upright row can be done with different grip widths.

  • The normal grip upright row provides overall shoulder development and suits those seeking balanced muscle activation.
  • The narrow grip upright rows emphasize more on the upper trap and a little less on the lateral and rear delt.
  • The wide-grip upright row places heavy emphasis on the lateral and rear deltoid and a little less on the upper and middle trap.
Barbell Upright Row

How To Do It

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower.
  3. Let the barbell hang in front of your thighs with your arms fully extended.
  4. Keep the barbell close to your body, exhale, and slowly lift it straight up towards your chin.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then inhale and lower the barbell back down to the starting position.


  • 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.

The Smith machine lets you focus on contracting and elevating your traps without worrying about balance.

Often, you can lift heavier on a Smith Machine than with free weights: bigger challenge, bigger traps.

Smith Machine Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand in a Smith machine and hold the unlatched bar with an overhand grip, in front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
  2. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift your shoulders up toward your ears.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.


  • 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, which can lead to a shoulder injury.

8. Trap Bar Farmer Carry

Unlike regular farmer’s carries, you use a special hexagonal bar called a trap bar. You stand inside it, so the weight hangs by your sides.

While it hits your whole body, this exercise puts a major focus on your upper traps. This not only strengthens your traps but also engages your core, lower back, glutes, and leg muscles.

It’s tough! Builds both physical strength and mental toughness.

Trap Bar Farmer Carry

How To Do It

  1. Load up that trap bar and carefully step into the center. Grasp the handles firmly.
  2. Grasp the trap bar handles firmly with a neutral grip (palms facing inward).
  3. Brace your core, keep your chest up, and hinge at the hips and knees to lift the trap bar off the ground.
  4. Begin walking forward in a controlled manner, taking short, steady steps.
  5. Aim for a specific distance (like 50 feet) or set a time limit (30–60 seconds is a good place to start).
  6. Once completed, set it gently back on the floor.


  • Keep your shoulders back and down, and avoid shrugging or rounding your shoulders.

9. Cable Shrug

Cable shrugs, or cable shoulder shrugs, are isolation exercises targeting your trapezius muscles, specifically the upper trap.

With cables, your traps work hard the entire way up and down. Unlike dumbbells or barbells, there’s no rest at the bottom.

A study has shown that shrugging helps relieve shoulder and neck pain. Strengthening your upper traps provides better support to your head and neck.

Cable Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Grab a cable bar attachment that is attached to a low pulley.
  2. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider if you wish.
  3. Stand close to the pulley and extend your arms in front of you while holding the bar.
  4. Raise your shoulders and lift the bar as high as you possibly can.
  5. Hold the contraction at the top for a second.
  6. Slowly lower back down with control to full stretch.


  • Prevent from rolling your shoulders.
  • Focus on using your traps to lift, not your arms.
  • Exhale as you lift the weight (during the concentric phase) and inhale as you lower it (during the eccentric phase).

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 various 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 It

  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 your lower or middle chest level.
  4. Do not pull the bar up any higher.
  5. 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.

Tips for an Effective Upper Trap Workout

  • Use proper form and technique during upper trap exercises to avoid injury and ensure maximum effectiveness.
  • At the top of every rep (shrugs, upright rows, etc.), squeeze those traps hard for a second or two.
  • Incorporate both isolation exercises (such as shrugs) and compound exercises (such as farmer walks, or rack pulls into your workout routine.
  • Include exercises like trap bar shrugs and rack pulls that allow for serious weight.
  • Change the position of your body (incline bench) or grip (wide vs. narrow on upright rows) to hit slightly different sections of those upper traps.
  • Train your upper traps on back days or shoulder days (or give them a workout of their own) twice a week is plenty for many people.
  • As you get stronger, gradually increase the weight, reps, or sets to keep challenging those traps.
  • It’s important to balance your upper body development by also targeting other muscle groups, such as the shoulders, back, and chest.
  • Remember to give your body enough rest. Do not overtrain because that will lead to fatigue and breakdown.
  • Visualize your traps lifting the weight in each exercise. That connection translates to better recruitment and stronger contractions!
  • If something hurts, STOP! Aches are different from a sharp pain – modify the exercise or ask a trainer for advice.


How do you work with 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. Several exercises 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. You must include heavier weights and additional volume to maximize your trap development.

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?

You can do many exercises 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.

Are there any mobility exercises that can help with upper trap tightness?

Yes, some mobility exercises that can help with upper trap tightness include neck rotations, shoulder rolls, and chin tucks.

These exercises can help to loosen up the upper traps and promote better posture.

Can I do upper trap exercises without weights or equipment?

Yes, some upper trap exercises can be done without weights or equipment, such as Scapular Wall Slides, shoulder blade squeezes, and isometric shoulder shrugs.

These exercises can be a great way to target the upper traps without needing access to weights or equipment.

Can I work my upper traps every day?

No, it’s not recommended to work your upper traps every day. The upper traps require time to rest and recover after exercise.

Giving the muscles at least 48 hours of rest is recommended before working them again.


Building strong, sculpted upper traps requires more than just a couple of shrugs added to your workouts. With the exercises we’ve covered, you now have the tools to unleash your trap potential.

By focusing on targeted movements, perfect form, and a variety of exercises, you will soon experience improved posture, stronger lifts, and a stronger upper back.

Don’t wait – incorporate these upper trap builders into your routine and start transforming your physique!

Want to take it even further? Let me know how you’re progressing in the comments below.

Best Trap Exercises And Workout


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  2. Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS, RCEP: Exercise Modifications and Strategies to Enhance Shoulder Function. Strength and Conditioning Journal.
  3. Lee JH, Cynn HS, Choi WJ, Jeong HJ, Yoon TL. Various shrug exercises can change scapular kinematics and scapular rotator muscle activities in subjects with scapular downward rotation syndrome. Hum Mov Sci. 2016 Feb;45:119-29. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2015.11.016.
  4. McAllister M, Schilling B, Hammond K, Weiss L, Farney T. Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright rowJ Strength Cond
  5. Pizzari T, Wickham J, Balster S, Ganderton C, Watson L. Modifying a shrug exercise can facilitate the upward rotator muscles of the scapula. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2014 Feb;29(2):201-5. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2013.11.011. Epub 2013 Nov 26. PMID: 24342452.

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