Have you ever wondered why body builders tend to have such curved, muscly necks?
It’s because they’ve heavily worked their trapezius, a large, stingray-shaped muscle. The trapezius starts right below the skull, runs down the neck and across the shoulders and then continues down the spine in a “V” shape.
The trapezius works to stabilize the shoulders and the upper back. Bodybuilding may not be for you, but in order to maintain good posture and avoid back pain, it’s important to keep the trapezius strong.
We spoke to two experts to learn some easy ways to work the trapezius, whether you’re a regular at the gym or prefer to work out in your living room. Dr. Matthew Gammons is a primary care sports medicine physician at Vermont Orthopedic Clinic and second vice president of the American Society for Sports Medicine. Mark Kovacs, CTPS, MTPS is a performance physiologist, sport and exercise science researcher, and executive director of the International Tennis Performance Association.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze
“Unless you’re a bodybuilder trying to get a large trapezius, we need exercises to help the trapezius do its job well, stabilizing the shoulder and upper back,” Gammons says. The shoulder blade squeeze is an easy way to do that.
- Stand with good posture, with your arms at your sides.
- Slowly squeeze the shoulder blades together, and hold for three seconds.
- Slowly release the shoulder blades back to their relaxed positions.
- This exercise can also be done holding your arms out front in a goal post position.
Simple shrugs are another away to keep the trapezius strong. “The shrug is very common and easy to implement, and it’s one of the best exercises to activate the trapezius,” Kovacs says.
- Stand up straight with good posture.
- Raise your shoulders as high as you can get them, as if attempting to touch your ears with them.
- Hold for a count of two.
- Release them back into their relaxed positions.
- Repeat 20 reps.
- Stand up straight.
- With your fists clenched together, lift your arms as high as you can while bending your elbows, keeping your hands close to the front of your body.
- Hold for a count of two.
- Release your arms back into a relaxed position, fists still together.
- Repeat for 20 reps.
This can be done however way it is easiest for you. You can do a standard pushup, a pushup while kneeling on the floor, or a standing pushup against a wall. Put your hands flat on the floor or the wall. Lower your body to the ground while keeping your back straight and your stomach tight. Do not let your head drop; keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Lower to the floor or the wall, and then push back into an upright position. Inhale as you go down and exhale as you push up.
The key is to “really concentrate on pushing the shoulders together” during the exercise, Gammons says. “Make your middle and lower trapezius work to do the job.”
Is it Possible to Injure My Trapezius?
Tearing or straining the trapezius does not happen very often, Kovacs says. It usually only happens to bodybuilders who attempt to work the trapezius with too much weight.
“Another would be when you’re forcing resistance in one direction and you move very quickly in the opposite direction, such as with the frictional forces that occasionally happen in an acute, violent crash,” he adds. This can happen in an automobile accident or to linemen who collide when playing football.
Gammons notes that, as with any exercise, you should start gently when working your trapezius. Don’t overdo it.
The Benefits of a Strong Trapezius
A healthy trapezius is not just for the fittest of the fit. Pregnant women often struggle with a changing center of gravity that pulls them forward, so they need a strong trapezius to hold them back. Older adults can also benefit from having a strong trapezius muscle when they begin to experience challenges with balance.
“When most people think of the trapezius, they think of a bodybuilder’s mature neck muscle,” Kovacs says. “But it does much more than control neck movement. It is very important when picking something up off the ground or lifting anything.”