Trap Training Tips for Hypertrophy
by Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder and Chief Sport Scientist |
Apr 17, 2017
Here are some helpful tips for your trap training. Please note that these are averages based on my experience working with lots of clients and my own training. The recommendations here should be food for thought or places to start, not dogmatic scriptures to follow to the letter.
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As long as you’re doing the compound pulling and perhaps heavy deads, you don’t need direct trap work to keep your traps the same size. Even most advanced lifters shouldn’t see any losses in trap size if completely eliminating direct trap work, so long as they keep hammering their other compound pulling and shoulder work. If you’re just doing maintenance work cause you’re crunched for time and you’re doing shrugs… you could be using your time better!
Most intermediates can make great trap gains with NO direct trap work, as deadlifting, rowing, and side/rear delt training is going to be very simulative of the traps.
Most people respond best to between 12 and 20 weekly sets on average.
The traps have a very high fatigue threshold (which is no surprise because they kind of hold your shoulder girdle up all the time!). However, excessive trap training will cost you, and in some unusual places, like the distal biceps tendons. That’s right, if you do enough shrugging, you are likely to aggravate your biceps tendons before even your traps are overworked, it’s not very common but it’s a legitimate concern. Much over 26 sets of traps is not highly recommended for that reason alone. You can try it, but be careful.
2-6 times per week.
Just like the biceps, the traps are so poorly leveraged to be exposed mechanical damage and are comparatively so small that they can recover from limited volumes in a VERY short time; often as little as a day. They also have a TINY ROM, which means the amount of mechanical work they do (and thus fatigue they accumulate) per any set of moderate reps is going to be quite small. Of course, the emphasis is on limited volumes, so you can’t expect to do 10 sets of shrugs and be recovered to repeat that a day later. However, if you do only 3 direct trap sets per day, you can easily recover by the next day if you’re adjusted to that kind of workload. And if you do that every day for 6 days, that’s 18 sets a week and well within most individuals’ MRVs. So IF you do choose the high-frequency approach to trap training, make sure your weekly volume is still within MRV and you should recover fine.
Because the traps get their heavy work from their assistance to heavy rows and deadlifts, shrugs, in my view, are best performed for lighter weights and higher reps. I’ll do shrugs anywhere between 10 and 20 reps.
Because the traps are so fatigue resistant, I haven’t found much need for extreme variation. You can often repeat exercises back to back with no ill effects, perhaps varying the rep ranges and going heavy-light to prevent too much risk of getting hurt (usually manifested in trap training by pulling a neck muscle).
Range of Motion:
Trap training is NOT best done by loading up 405 on the bar and doing the funky pigeon dance where you bring your chin down to meet your chest instead of bringing your shoulders up. I like to fully relax my shoulders between each rep and stop for a 1-second peak contraction at the top of each rep as well.
Special Metabolite Techniques:
I’ve used giant sets for traps, but not much else. However, everything but occlusion can work well, and a superset of shrugs (first) followed by lateral raises or upright rows can really destroy your traps.
Just like with most bodyparts, your first mesocycle should be moderate weights and reps. The next mesocycle can be more of the same with perhaps slightly different rep ranges and exercises, OR it can be a higher volume block that incorporates lighter weights (closer to the 60%1RM mark) and higher reps, as well as metabolite work. After that meso, a shorter (3-4 weeks) mesocycle of strength training (70-85%1RM) with lower volumes is likely a good idea to resensitize your muscles for more growth, at which point you repeat the process.
If you train your traps for high frequencies, you might want to take the low volume block as an opportunity to reduce trap frequency (maybe to as low as 2 exercises per week) as well and really give your shoulders, biceps, and their connective tissues a chance to fully heal for the next macrocycle of gains.
Not sure if you wanna try this, but if your traps are not a weak point, you might not even both training them until you’ve had 5 or even 10 years of training. Bringing your traps up is SUPER easy in most cases if the rest of you is already jacked, so consider not even worrying about them for a long time… they grow anyway!