Build Big, Powerful Traps. Ditch the Shrugs.

Every skinny, weak guy has abs. Traps are the true sign of strength.

Paul Carter

I’d like to help save the weight-lifting world from the over-reliance on shrugs to build the traps and upper back.

Aside from the fact that half aren’t even shrugging properly, there are far more effective methods that can be utilized to build thick, powerful traps and a powerful looking back.

3 Powerful Tools for a Big, Strong Back and Massive Traps

I want to give you 3 movements you can integrate into your training to really build up your Upper back and in particular, your Traps. Nothing screams strength and power like a set of big, thick Traps.

You can watch the video below, and I definitely recommend reading the entire article to get a more in depth understanding of how to implement these ideas into your own workouts.

At the end of the article, I’m including a sample training session you can try out if you want a fresh approach to Back training with an emphasis on building a thick, powerful look and getting YOKED.

All of these methods and more are included in my programming, SWOLE TOWN, available through the TrainHeroic app. Check it out for free here.

The Snatch Grip High Pull

This movement is hands down the number one most effective way to build your upper back quickly and, in particular, the Traps.

The trap muscles are busy all day being utilized in a support capacity, and then we normally work them by shrugging.. a slow movement done usually for medium to high reps. Ditch the shrugs for a while…

The High Pull is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The explosive nature of the movement targets and stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers of the upper back, which are far more capable of explosive growth.

I have witnessed growth in the traps and upper back after just a handful of sessions, and that’s no bullshit.

High Pull from the Hang Position

How To Perform

I first learned this movement by reading an article on by Christian Thibaudeau many years ago. I’ll post a link to that article at the bottom of this post. My goal is to help you, the reader… not make myself out to be some sort of guru. The article is fantastic, and worth reading after this one if you’re serious about taking your back training to the next level.

I normally prefer to perform the movement from a standing position (hang position), as I am looking to target the upper back/Traps and not necessarily accrue the fatigue from pulling from the floor, but both can work very well.

Be sure to really focus on the explosive pull of the traps, and keep the bar close to your body, elbows high (higher than the wrists).

When your traps are more sore than you thought possible the following day, you will know I wasn’t kidding!

Try 3 sets of 5-7 reps to start. Use straps, and use a weight where you can be explosive with proper form, yet still challenged.

The bar should reach at least to your lower chest on each pull. When you’re pulling some decent weight in the high pull, you will be amazed at the results. It’s a game changer.

There are plenty of other ways to build up the traps and upper back, but I like this movement so much and I’ve seen such great results from it that it is definitely number one on the list of Trap Builders.

#2 – The Deadlift (of course).

Find me someone with an impressive deadlift that doesn’t have impressive looking Traps.

There’s no way around it. You simply cannot load the Traps (and the rest of the body for that matter) with any other movement the same way you can with heavy deadlifts.

When you pick heavy weight up off the ground, the entire body is put under tension. Sitting at the top of that chain supporting all that weight is the Traps.

You simply cannot pick up 400 – 500lbs off the ground without having some seriously strong Traps, and an overall very strong body period.

A conversation about upper back and Trap training would be worthless without including heavy deadlifts, and so here they sit at #2 on my list.

How To Perform

Deadlifts are best performed in sets of 1-5 Reps. I simply cannot justify going beyond 5 reps on such a big, taxing lift. Technical breakdown under fatigue is something you really want to avoid in the deadlift, as the risk of injury is going to rise unnecessarily.

I’m not going to go into great depth discussing deadlift technique in this article. If it’s a new movement for you, I suggest doing your due diligence and taking the time to practice the movement with light weight. Always a good idea to find someone more advanced than you to train with and/or show you how to do things as well.

A few keys worth mentioning though:

  • Before pulling the bar from the floor, ensure you’re bracing the trunk hard and creating tension on the bar. NEVER rip the bar off the floor in a jerking motion.
  • Visualize pushing your feet through the floor, like a leg press. The initial pull is all legs, while keeping the back braced and strong, not allowing it to hunch forward and round out.
  • Don’t hyperextend at the end of the movement, overemphasizing the end of the movement by rocking hard backwards. This is pointless, as there is no resistance at this point of the movement and will only serve to get you injured for no good reason. Just stand up with the weight.

#3 – Farmer Carries

Farmer carries are one of the absolute best, and least utilized builders of the Traps and Back.

The key word here again is TENSION. Holding onto heavy implements and walking for an extended period of time (25-45 seconds) puts tremendous tension on the Traps, Back, Arms and Trunk. That tension will lead to muscle growth, improved grip strength, improved Core strength and stability and for sure some thick ass Traps.

How to Perform

Me carrying 205lbs per side (May 2021)

To perform Farmer Carries, simply grab 2 heavy implements (Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Farmer Carry handles, etc..) and walk.

Be sure to:

  • Keep the chest up and stay upright. Do not hunch forward. If you can’t keep your posture in line, the weight is too heavy.
  • Challenge yourself. Like any other lift, you want to use progressive overload on these. Always look to get stronger and challenge the body by increasing weight, reps, distance, or all of the above.
  • Take small, choppy steps. Taking long strides will increase the risk of injury by putting one limb at a time under a heavy load.

Sample Workout For a Big Back and Huge Traps.

*Using this style of training, I would typically hit Back twice in the training week. This session would be one, and the other would be more traditional back training, comprised of Rows, Chin ups, etc.

Deadlift53-53 Mins
SG High Pull3-45-72-3 Mins
Kroc Rows1-220 at 1/2 body weightAs needed
Farmer Carries3-440yd
(30 sec)
2-3 mins secs
Rear Delt Partials1-2Max RepsAs needed

*For Kroc Rows, take 1-2 warm up sets of 5-10 reps before hitting one all out max effort set, with the goal of hitting 1/2 body weight for 20 or more reps.

*See video below for Kroc Rows and Rear Delt Partials if you aren’t familiar. Both of these are done in an HIT style (high intensity training), performing one max effort set to failure.


There’s a lot more to building up that YOKE than just shrugging yourself to death. Shrugs can be effective, but you need a lot more variety than that to really build an impressive upper back and to really make your Traps look scary big.

The three movements I’ve listed here are the ones I believe to be the absolute best bang for your buck when it comes to building thick, strong Traps. I hope you’ll give them a try.

As always, I hope this article helps get you one step closer to your best self. Keep pushing!

Take a Tour of Swole Town

If you want to check out the SWOLE TOWN training program, it’s right here.

Worth Reading:

High Pull for the Power Look – Christian Thibaudeau

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Bioforce Certified Conditioning coach, Trainer. Federal Law Enforcement Agent, Army Reserve Infantryman. Husband, Father, Brother, Son, Friend.
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[…] I prefer to hit the traps with high pulls, farmer carries and deadlifts, the shrug is always a good option to build them up, and we can still […]