The lower traps are one of the most important muscles on your back, as it is important for shoulder function due to its mobility and posturing of the scapula. Lower trapezius activity is typically low for angles less than 90 degrees for adduction, abduction, and flexion. The activity increases after 90 degrees to 180 degrees.
Very few people actually realize how important the trapezius muscles are, and if they do, they usually focus more on the upper traps because they are more visible from the front of the body. The lower portion is just as important as the upper portion when seen from behind. Arnold Schwarzenegger describes the traps as the visual center of your back, and are important for a more complete looking back. I am going to describe some lower trap workouts for you to try out.
The leaning shrug, also known as the silverback shrug, is about the closest you can get to isolating the lower traps. With the standard shrug, you hold a barbell, stand upright, and shrug your shoulders as high as you can. The upper traps are responsible for this motion. The lower traps retract your shoulder blades, pinching them together, so the farther you lean over, the more you’ll utilize your lower traps.
You’ll probably find a 30- to 45-degree angle to be the most comfortable. Shrug your shoulders straight up toward the ceiling. Your upper traps are very tough, often requiring a higher rep range of up to 20. Your lower traps may only need 10 or 12 reps per set. To remove balance from the equation, this exercise is easiest to perform on a Smith machine.
Dorian Yates has one of the all-time greatest backs in the history of bodybuilding, so of course, he invented his own row. The Yates row is like a standard barbell back row, except that instead of leaning forward as close as you can to parallel, you only lean forward about 30 degrees. Though Yates held the bar with an underhand grip, hold it with an overhand grip to minimize bicep activity in the exercise. Pull the bar to your stomach, hold it there for about one second, consciously pinching your shoulder blades together, then release. Perform this exercise in the bodybuilding rep range of eight to 12.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
The traps retract your shoulder blades. In order for your shoulder blades to fully retract during a row movement, your hands must go further back than a barbell or cable allows. To perform a one-arm dumbbell row, kneel with one leg on a bench and one arm supporting you. The other foot is on the floor, and your other arm holds a dumbbell. Your upper body should be just about parallel to the floor.
Allow the dumbbell to drop toward the floor and feel a strong stretch in your back. This stretch is important to get a full range of motion from your trap. Pull the dumbbell in until it rests beside your stomach. Your elbow should be past your back, and your shoulder blade should be fully retracted. Perform this exercise with each arm in the bodybuilding rep range of eight to 12.
In his classic book Ultimate Bodybuilding, Joe Weider suggests that because the traps are tough, you should consider super-setting your exercises. For instance, perform a set of Yates rows, then immediately transition into a set of leaning shrugs, then rest.