Avoid the Traps Trap!

If you are experiencing any pain to the shoulder or neck area, and require more information, don’t hesitate to contact a physiotherapist. Any muscle imbalances should be corrected, and a physiotherapist will be able to instruct you specifically with respect to corrective exercises.

The Anatomy of the Trapezius Muscle

Well defined upper traps are often the trademark for anyone seriously involved in resistance training. They are a goal for those less experienced, as one is perceived as being ‘big’ with developed traps.

What is often overlooked by the amateur, however, is the complete anatomy of the trapezius muscle. It is a diamond shaped muscle that covers much of the upper back. The muscle originates from the base of the skull and the cervical and thoracic vertebrae and inserts on the collarbone, and the spine and medial borders of the scapula. The muscle is divided into 3 sets of fibres: upper, middle, and lower. The upper fibres, which elevate the scapula are the ones most of us focus on. What we neglect are the scapular stabilizers-the middle fibres that retract the scapula (draw the shoulder blades together) and the lower fibres that depress the scapula and lower the shoulder, as well as act to control the rotation of the scapulae as you raise your arms.

In fact, the upper traps are on almost constant alert as they are postural muscles. These muscles are active during the majority of our activities of daily living including driving, writing, typing, carrying briefcases and groceries, picking up children, etc… Meanwhile, from sitting and standing in forward flexed postions and especially in slouched postures, our low and mid traps are prone to becoming weak and overstretched. This leads to repetitive strain injuries (tendonitis, bursitis) of the shoulder and overuse problems related to the upper traps and neck.

Slightly changing many activities that work the back can increase the involvement of the middle and lower fibres of the trapezius.

Exercises For Your Traps:

A) Lat Pull Downs, Seated Rows and Reverse Flies

can be properly executed by first bringing the shoulder blades together and down, keeping upper traps relaxed before initiating the movement. Without this ‘squeeze’ the biceps and posterior deltoids will be responsible for much of the effort, and momentum will replace any recruitment of the middle and lower trap fibres. (Try this on the rowing machine as well.) Focus on the muscles between the shoulder blades as you execute the movement.

B) If you choose to do SHOULDER SHRUGS, perfect form is very important.

The shoulders should be retracted back while the movement is performed. This will ensure the traps are strengthened in a functional position and do not contribute to rounded shoulders.

C) To isolate the low traps:

the following exercise may be performed. Lie prone, with forehead resting on rolled up towel. Raise one arm overhead so the elbow is bent and propped up on a pillow.  Draw shoulder blade back and down and hold for 5 seconds. Be certain that you are not using your upper traps at all, and that you don’t forget to bring the shoulder blade toward the spine, or else your lats may be doing all of the work. To progress this exercise, lift the arm slightly. Straightening the elbow will also increase the resistance and of course, weights can be added in time.