12 Shoulder and Trap Workouts for a Bigger Back and Delts

12 Best Shoulder and Trap Workouts

Yes, having a strong set of shoulders and traps is aesthetically pleasing.

I’m sure you have seen an outstanding looking set of shoulders and traps at some point!

However, aside from being aesthetically pleasing, working out the shoulders and traps has a variety of benefits including:

  • Enhancing your posture

  • Strengthening the muscles that surround the shoulder joint

  • Creating more stability for the neck and head (which is very beneficial for athletes)

  • Increases upper body strength and power (AKA, you’ll never need help to open that pasta jar again!)

  • Strength training exercises can boost heart health

  • Keeps your bones healthy and builds density (bones lose their strength each year)

  • It makes you feel good and look good!!
6 Best Shoulder and Trap Workouts

So, are you ready to get that upper body pump in?

To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of go-to shoulder and trap workouts, and how to do them!

1. Seated Dumbbell Press

Let’s get this party started with seated dumbbell press!

This is a great exercise for building muscle and strengthening your shoulders — especially the front heads of the shoulder.

While you can do this exercise with a barbell, using a dumbbell may reduce the risk of injury.

Plus, one shoulder can’t compensate for the other if you use a dumbbell.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How to do Seated Dumbbell Press

  1. Start by setting up a bench at a 90-degree angle and pick out your desired dumbbell weight from the rack.

  2. Lift the dumbbell from the floor with your palms facing in. Put the dumbbells on your knees and sit down on the bench.

  3. Lift the dumbbells into place in a slow and controlled motion. Try not to jerk or sling the weights up, this will help prevent injury.

  4. Once you have your dumbbells in place, rotate your palms so they are facing forward.

  5. Take a deep inhale and press the dumbbells overhead by extending your elbows.

  6. Slowly lower your dumbbells back to the starting position. Your arms should be around 90 degrees or lower depending on how long your arms are.

  7. Repeat the exercise as many times as you’d like. I typically perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

2. Barbell Military Press

Up next is the barbell military press, also known as an overhead press.

This compound movement helps to build the size of your shoulders and traps, while also increasing their strength.

We can perform the barbell military press as a strength lift or just to build the shoulder and trap muscles.

There are a variety of benefits that come with performing this exercise such as encouraging healthy shoulder mobility and builds your upper-body strength for other movements.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How to do Barbell Military Press

  1. Begin by adjusting your barbell just below shoulder height and loading the desired weight amount onto the bar.

  2. Stand with the feet about shoulders distance apart and place your hands about shoulder width on the bar.

  3. Step underneath the barbell and unrack it. Be sure to keep your spine in a neutral position while doing this.

  4. Once you have unracked the bar, take a few steps back. From here, tuck the chin and press the bar until it locks out overhead.

  5. Slowly reverse the movement until the bar is back at your chest.

  6. Repeat as many reps as desired.

3. Front and Lateral Dumbbell Raises

Number three on the list of shoulder and trap workouts is front and lateral dumbbell raises.

This exercise combines two movements that will strengthen the middle deltoids and anterior deltoids.

If you have little time to get a workout in, front and lateral dumbbell raises are the perfect exercise to get in a quick burnout session.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How to do Front and Lateral Dumbbell Raises

  1. For front dumbbell raises, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand to the front of your body.

  2. Keep a slight bend in the knees and begin lifting a dumbbell one at a time to the front of your body until it is shoulder height.

  3. Bring the dumbbell back to the starting position (in a slow and controlled motion).

  4. Repeat with the other arm. Repeat as many reps as desired.

  5. For lateral dumbbell raises, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your side.

  6. Keep a slight bend in the knees and begin lifting the dumbbells laterally until they are shoulder height.

  7. Bring the dumbbells back to the starting position (in a slow and controlled motion).

  8. Lower the weights and repeat the sequence as much as desired.

4. Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raises

Dumbbell rear lateral raises are another “must” to add to your shoulder and trap workout.

This upper-body exercise will add size and increase the strength of your posterior deltoids.

Keep in mind that this exercise targets a smaller muscle group, so you can do lighter weights and more reps.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How to do Rear Dumbbell Lateral Raises

  1. Begin with your feet hip distance apart. The knees should be bent and dumbbells in your hands.

  2. Hinge forward from the waist and let your arms hang forward. Face your palms inward and elbows should be slightly bent.

  3. Be sure to keep a good posture while performing this exercise to reduce the risk of injury.

  4. Start contracting the shoulder blades together as you lift the dumbbells in a lateral direction.

  5. Keeping a slight bend in the elbow, lift the dumbbells and then slowly lower back to the starting position.

  6. Repeat as many reps as desired.

5. Shrugs

Shrugs are a very popular exercise that is done to build and strengthen the trap muscles.

Not only does this exercise strengthen the muscles, it’s also very simple to set up and perform.

Which makes it an easy go-to shoulder and trap workout!

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How to do Shrugs

  1. Start in a standing position with the feet flat on the floor about shoulder distance apart.

  2. Put your arms down by your sides and turn the palms to face each other.

  3. Keep a micro-bend in the knees, chin lifted, face looking forward and neck straight.

  4. Lift your shoulders as high to your ears as possible. Be sure to do this in a slow motion so you can really feel the exercise and any resistance. (Tip: hold at the top for about three seconds to intensify the workout)

  5. Slowly lower the shoulders back down to the starting position.

6. Upright Rows

Last but definitely not least, a favorite of mine, upright rows!

This shoulder and trap workout will definitely get those babies growing in strength and size.

So, if you’re searching to build stronger, bigger traps, then upright rows are a must.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How To Do Upright Rows

  1. Begin with either a barbell or dumbbells hanging in front of your body. Keep in mind, your palms should face your body.

  2. Stand up straight and adjust your grip so that the hands are in line with the thighs.

  3. Maintaining good form, lift the barbell or dumbbells straight up toward the chin, leading with the elbows and keeping the weights close to your body. The arms shouldn’t go any higher than the shoulders.

  4. Pause at the top. Then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.

  5. Repeat the exercise as many times as desired.

7. Farmer’s Carry

While the Farmer’s Carry is a great shoulder and trap workout, it helps to increase strength in your shoulders and trapezius muscle groups.

It will also help to strengthen the biceps, triceps, forearms, chest, lower back, obliques quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

Besides building your muscles, the Farmer’s Carry, which is a very functional exercise, also helps to improve your postural control and strength. 

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How To Perform A Farmers Carry

As the mechanics of the exercise are the same, the equipment you choose to use to execute a Farmer’s Carry may vary from dumbbells to kettlebells to weight plates to sandbags. 

For instructional purposes, we will refer to using a pair of dumbbells. Depending on the focus of your workout you will want to adjust your weights accordingly.

Grip Strength – Target 75% of a weight you can carry for 3-4 sets. Target 40-50 meters in distance.

Conditioning – Target 65% of a weight you can carry for 4-6 sets. Walk until failure. 

Endurance – Target 55% of a weight you can carry for 3-5 sets. Walk until failure. 

  1. Begin standing upright, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with hands straight down at your sides. 
  1. Walking with a steady stride, keeping your body in an upright position, continue carrying the dumbbells with your arms hanging straight down at your sides.

  2. Focus on keeping your arms locked, not allowing them to move as you step or one side to dominate more than the other. 

8. Face Pulls (Cable or Band)

Face Pulls are a very effective shoulder and trap workout that you can do either as part of your warmup routine or as part of your regular upper body workout program. 

Besides being a muscle-building exercise, Face Pulls also help to build strength in your ligaments and tendons, which helps to avoid potential shoulder and upper back injuries. 

By improving strength in your upper back and shoulders, Face Pulls can also help to enhance better posture.

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How To Perform Face Pulls

For instructional purposes, we will refer to a cable setup, however, you can also do the exercise using a resistance band.

  1. Set the cable machine to face height and use the rope attachment. 
  1. Grab the rope with an overhand grip with your thumbs pointing upwards
  1. Step away from the anchor point (tower) with your arms straight out in front of you to engage tension in the cable.

  2. Stand in an athletic stance with your core and glutes engaged. 

  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the handles of the rope toward your face. Keep your elbows up (think football uprights). 

  4. As you pull the rope towards your face/eyes, allow your hands to separate until they are in line with your shoulders. 

  5. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position. 

9. Prone Dumbbell Press

A great shoulder and trap workout shoulder and trap workout exercise to help prevent a rounded upper back, the Prone Dumbbell Press targets the rear deltoids, the shoulder stabilizer muscles, and the lower trapezius muscles. 

This exercise also engages the pectorals.  

How To Perform a Prone Press

You can do this exercise using a bench or stability ball and dumbbells. 

You can also do it laying on the ground using just body weight. For instructional purposes, we will refer to using a bench and dumbbells. 

  1. Position yourself on a bench in a prone position, chest on the bench with your chin tucked in slightly. 
  1. Using a set of dumbbells, lift the weights up overhead, extending your arms forward (think of Superman flying) as you keep your shoulder blades squeezed together. 
  1. Be cautious of letting your shoulders roll forward as you could damage your rotator cuff muscles. 

10. Arnold Press

Named after famed bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Press tweaks the traditional shoulder press. 

Because of the hands rotating, all three deltoid muscles (including the often neglected medial and posterior deltoids) get hit in one motion. 

By working all three deltoid heads, you will increase the size of your shoulders while helping to improve shoulder stabilization and posture. 

How To Perform an Arnold Press

  1. While sitting on an exercise bench, begin by holding a pair of dumbbells at chest level with your palms facing toward you. 
  1. Keep your arms tucked in towards your torso and elbows bent. 
  1. Raise the dumbbells and in the same motion, rotate your palms until they face away from your body.

  2. Continue the lifting motion until your arms are extended above your head (do not lock your elbows).

  3. Following a slight pause at the top of your lift, slowly reverse the motion, rotating your wrists as you lower the weights, ending with your palms once again facing your chest. 

11. Barbell Overhead Carry

Most gym goers are familiar with shoulder and trap workouts that have you carrying weight at your sides or on your shoulders or back.  

But carrying weight overhead requires a whole new level of leverage, stability, muscle activation, and mental focus. 

Shoulder and Trap Workout

How To Perform A Barbell Overhead Carry

We can perform this exercise using a choice of a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. For instructional purposes, we will refer to using a barbell.

  1. Using a shoulder-width grip, lift the barbell overhead either by using a squat rack for help or by a clean and press movement off the floor. 
  1. With your wrists in a neutral position, arms straight above your head, and biceps even with your ears, slowly take small balanced strides forward. 

12. Dumbbell Snatch

The Dumbbell Snatch is an explosive unilateral strength shoulder and trap workout that targets many upper and lower body muscles. 

Besides building strength, the Dumbbell Snatch helps to improve agility, balance, and coordination. 

Use a light dumbbell to start this exercise as you learn proper form. 

How To Perform The Dumbbell Snatch

  1. With a dumbbell positioned on the floor between your feet, stand shoulder-width apart with your shoulders rolled back, back straight, and chest out.
  1. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees into a half-squat position. With a straight arm, reach down and grab the dumbbell with an overhand grip. 
  1. Prior to standing up, slightly externally rotate your elbow and shoulder. 
  1. With a straight back, push through your heels and use your legs and glutes to help you explode upwards.

  2. In the same motion, raise the dumbbell to a vertical position. Use the power and momentum of your lower body to help move the weight as opposed to just your upper body. 

  3. With the dumbbell at shoulder height, pull it slightly towards your chest as you flip the dumbbell by dropping your elbow underneath it.

  4. Continue to press the weight above your head as you would a regular one-arm shoulder press as you stand straight up (knees can be slightly bent).

  5. Slowly lower the weight by bending your elbow and then flipping the motion in reverse.
  6. Be aware that dropping it too quickly can injure your rotator cuff. Bend your knees and hinge at your hips to lower the weight to the starting position. 

Injury Prevention

So, you’re ready to hit the gym and get in a killer shoulder and trap workout. Good for you!

However, before going in full speed, it’s important to remember that preventing injuries should be a major consideration.

Here are a few things to take into account before beginning your workout:

  • Be sure to warm-up! There’s no need to dive right in and potentially injure yourself.
  • Don’t lift too much weight. Especially if you are a beginner. Either way, less weight and more reps are never a terrible choice.
  • Increase your weight in small increments to help prevent injury. Start small and work your way up. You’ll thank yourself for this later!
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Gabrielle McNair

I am obsessed with all things related to fitness and personal health. Outside of that, I enjoy spending time with my husband, being outdoors and traveling.

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