Have you ever wondered why body builders tend to have such curved, sculpted 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 your shoulders and 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 your 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, sports and exercise science researcher, and executive director of the International Tennis Performance Association. Here are four exercises they recommend to keep your trapezius strong.
1. Shoulder blade squeeze
“Unless you’re a bodybuilder trying to get a large trapezius, you 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.
- Slowly squeeze the shoulder blades together, and hold for 3 seconds.
- Slowly release the shoulder blades back to their relaxed positions.
- This exercise can also be done using cables, a resistance band, or holding your arms out front in a goal post position.
Simple shrugs are another away to keep your 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. For an added challenge, do this exercise with weights in your hands.
- Stand up with good posture.
- Raise your shoulders as high as you can get them, as if attempting to touch your ears with your shoulders.
- Hold for a count of two.
- Release them back into their relaxed positions.
- Repeat 20 times.
3. Upright row
This is a popular exercise for strengthening the trapezius. You can also try this with dumbbells or a barbell in your hands.
- Stand up straight.
- With your fists clenched, pull up your fists 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 clenched.
- Repeat 20 times.
There are a few different variations of the pushup. Do the version that’s easiest for you: 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 toward your hands 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 your body until you’re close 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 with the pushup 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 doesn’t happen very often, Kovacs says. It usually only happens to bodybuilders who attempt to work the trapezius with too much weight.
“Another type of injury 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.
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 help balance them back. Older adults can also benefit from having a strong trapezius muscle when they begin to experience balance challenges.
“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. The muscle is very important when picking something up off the ground or lifting anything.”