There are certain attributes a bodybuilder must have to acquire that certain look that separates them from the masses. When I began my bodybuilding journey, I read as much as I possibly could about how to become a bodybuilder and how to achieve that look. I can distinctly remember reading one particular article that had a paragraph dedicated to convincing the reader that having huge towering traps was a must if you wanted to look like a bodybuilder. To this day, I still believe massive traps to be a signature of the bodybuilding frame, and while my traps have yet to develop into something I would consider as towering, they’re much better than what they were and here are the exercises I’ve used to help me build them.

Wide Grip Barbell Shrugs

The standard form for barbell shrugs is a basic grip at about shoulder width apart or just a bit narrower than that. While I certainly performed my share of shrugs in that fashion once I started playing around with my grip width, things started to not only feel better but progress better. By taking a much wider grip on the bar, I could feel a much better stretch in the traps at the bottom of the rep as the increased distance between my hands seemed to pull on my traps better at the origin point (which is where I felt I needed more size). I also feel a much stronger contraction with a wider grip even though I can’t use as much weight as I can with a closer grip.

Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs

To build up some thickness in the mid to lower region of my traps, I started to incorporate behind the back barbell shrugs for the simple reason that I could position myself in a better biomechanical position to target that area. This time, by taking a standard grip on the barbell and with a slight lean forward of my upper body, I simply drop my head down so that my chin is almost on my chest and I focus on shrugging by squeezing my shoulder blades together. This targets that mid to lower area of the traps and rhomboids to give you that thickness you want there. To take this a step further and to exaggerate that lean forward for even more pinpoint precision, try doing these on a smith machine. You don’t have to worry about falling forward as you lean and you can play around with your angles.

Behind the Back Barbell Shrugs – Reverse Grip

Everything is the same as what I just described above except for the fact that your grip is now reversed. The first way I described the behind the back barbell shrug you would have gripped the bar with your knuckles facing forward. With the reverse grip, your knuckles will be facing backward (or your palms will be facing forward). This very easy manipulation of your grip seems to pull on the traps just a little differently which provide a different stimulus to the muscle and hopefully deliver you more gains.

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*One key note about performing behind the back shrugs in the smith machine; if you suffer from any lower back pain that gets triggered from any spinal compression, being able to lift heavy weight while utilizing a lean forward, really helps alleviate that compression and subsequent pain.

Seated Barbell Shrugs

You may be wondering how this one is going to work, and it is a little tricky, but once you figure it out it works. What you want to do is take a standard moveable flat bench and place it over the top of a barbell so that the two make a cross-like shape. Then sit down on the bench so that you are positioned directly over top of the barbell. Lean over and grab the barbell so that each arm is free to move along each side of the bench. Then, sit up straight and shrug the barbell up and directly beneath you. If your arms aren’t long enough to grab the barbell, have a couple of training partners pass it to you. If you find that when you shrug the barbell hits the underneath of the bench, then that’s great too. Simply use that as extra resistance and pull the barbell up hard and into the bench.The reason for performing this exercise is very simple; shrugs to the front hit the traps one way. Behind the back shrugs hit the traps another way, and shrugs that are in line with your frontal plane hit the traps another way. So by hitting the traps from multiple perspectives you give yourself a great chance at building massive traps.

The reason for performing this exercise is very simple; shrugs to the front hit the traps one way. Behind the back shrugs hit the traps another way, and shrugs that are in line with your frontal plane hit the traps another way. So by hitting the traps from multiple perspectives you give yourself a great chance at building massive traps.

Now as with any exercise, you choose to do to build up your physique, and traps are no exception, you have to apply sound training principles to your workouts in order to give yourself the best chance possible at success. The Max-OT program is a tried and true program that has elicited extreme gains in muscle size and strength or all those who have chosen to take on the challenge of the program. If you want towering traps and if you want to look the part of a bodybuilder, then take on these exercises, employ the principles of Max-OT and thank me later!

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Building Big, Towering Traps

by Dana Bushell time to read: 5 min