When it comes to building a strong and well-developed back, most people think of the latissimus dorsi muscles. While working the lats can help with back width, it’s important to also focus on the trapezius muscles for thickness and depth. The trapezius, or traps, is a diamond kite-shaped muscle that runs from the base of the neck to the mid spine. The good news is that you can effectively work your traps with just a pair of dumbbells, making it accessible for those who only have access to home workouts.
As an in-home personal trainer, I have worked with many clients who only have access to dumbbells. In this article, I will outline the 13 best dumbbell exercises you can do at home to develop your traps. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can unlock new upper back strength and muscle gains.
The trapezius is the second largest muscle of the upper back, after the lats. It takes up almost a third of the upper back, forming a kite shape from the base of the neck to the mid spine and the outer edge of one shoulder blade to the other. The muscle fibers of the traps originate on the upper two-thirds of the spine and extend laterally, converging and attaching to the outside of the shoulder blade. The traps have three main functions: pulling the shoulder blades and clavicles up toward the ears, pulling the shoulder blades back to the spine, and pulling the shoulder blades down and in. To effectively work all areas of the traps, it’s important to perform exercises that replicate each of these movements.
When people think of the traps, they often picture only the upper part of the muscle, which is the sloping area between the neck and shoulders. The development and shape of the upper traps can be influenced by genetics. Some bodybuilders, like Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and Kai Greene, had huge, rounded upper traps, while others, such as Frank Zane, Bob Paris, and Shawn Ray, had longer, more streamlined upper traps.
There are several advantages to incorporating dumbbell exercises for traps into your workout routine. Firstly, dumbbells allow for targeted isolation, meaning you can specifically target different areas of the trapezius muscle, such as the upper and mid traps. This muscle responds well to isolated movements, and dumbbells allow for better isolation compared to machines or barbells. Additionally, using dumbbells ensures balanced development of the traps. Unlike barbells, which can allow the stronger side of the muscle to take over during exercises like barbell shrugs, dumbbells force each side of the muscle to take its own load, promoting balanced development. Dumbbells also provide a greater range of motion compared to machines or barbells, allowing for optimal development. Furthermore, training with dumbbells recruits stabilizer muscles, improving functional strength and coordination. Finally, dumbbells are a convenient and cost-effective training tool, as they are widely available in most home gyms and commercial gyms.
Now, let’s dive into the 13 best dumbbell exercises for traps:
1. Dumbbell Shrug: This exercise targets the upper traps and helps develop thick, rounded or long, streamlined traps between the neck and shoulders. Stand with a pair of relatively heavy dumbbells held at your sides at arm’s length, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Starting from a depressed shoulder position, shrug directly up as if you were bringing your shoulders to your ears. Lower under control without rolling your shoulders.
2. Unilateral Dumbbell Shrug: This variation involves performing the shrug exercise one arm at a time, allowing for more focused concentration on each side of the muscle. Grab a single dumbbell and hold it at your side at arm’s length. It’s recommended to grab a beam or other upright support with your non-working hand for stability. Starting from a depressed shoulder position, shrug directly up as if you were bringing your shoulders to your ears. Return to the starting position in a slow and controlled motion.
3. Dumbbell Upright Row: This exercise targets both the front deltoids and upper traps, promoting even development above the chest. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them in front of your body, with your palms facing your body. Maintain an upright torso with a naturally arched back and your feet shoulder-width apart. Pull the dumbbells directly up toward your chin, ensuring that your elbows come up higher than your shoulders to finish in line with your ears. Lower under control without swinging or using momentum.
4. Dumbbell High Pull: This variation of the upright row focuses on developing explosive power in the traps and deltoids. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them in front of your body, with your palms placed against your thighs. Maintain an upright torso with your feet shoulder-width apart. Flex at the hips to lower the dumbbells to knee level while keeping your upper back neutral. Then, explosively pull the dumbbells up to your chin level, driving your toes through the floor for added power. Lower under control.
These are just a few examples of the 13 best dumbbell exercises for traps. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can effectively target and develop your trapezius muscles. Remember to start with a weight that challenges you but allows for proper form, and gradually increase the weight as you become stronger. With consistency and dedication, you can unlock new levels of upper back strength and muscle gains.