Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 04:08 pm
Deadlifts are probably the greatest posterior chain exercise there is.
In fact, they work a huge number of muscle groups in both the lower and upper body, front and back.
However, can you achieve truly fantastic trap development by performing deadlifts?
The traps are actively involved in deadlifts. As your torso goes from a forward lean to an upright position, the traps will be stimulated by a dynamic isometric hold. You can build your traps further from deadlifts by progressively adding weight, but also by varying your reps and intensity to stimulate new muscle growth in various ways.
Table of Contents
Trap Isometrics From Deadlifts
In the main, exercises with a greater range of motion tend to build more muscle.
So, when you consider the limited range of motion the traps go through when you deadlift it’s difficult to see how you build any significant size.
I will say that you are really looking to blow up your traps then you may want to focus on more trap-specific exercises.
Some of the more popular exercises include barbell and dumbbell shrugs, rowing variations, and even the overhead press (especially with a shrug at the top of the movement).
However, this is not to say that you can’t build traps from deadlifts alone.
The 3 Areas of the Traps
The traps are made up of 3 specific groups of fibres, or “sections” if you prefer.
Firstly, there are the upper traps that are located on the back of the neck.
Then there are the middle traps, which is what most people seem to concentrate on.
The middle traps sit on top of the shoulders and are the “show” muscles.
Finally, you have the lower traps, which go all the way down to the mid-back area.
Deadlifts Stimulate All the Trap Muscles
The great thing about deadlifts is that you will activate each of the three areas of the traps.
Now you won’t get a great range of motion unless you choose to shrug while you deadlift, which many people seem to do.
With that being said, I think this should be avoided, and that you should just concentrate on deadlifting with perfect form.
However, as the traps are activated throughout the deadlift movement you will perform an isometric hold.
This actually turns into a type of dynamic isometric hold as the torso changes position during the deadlift movement.
Your upper body will typically shift from leaning forward to upright when you deadlift.
And this simple movement will see the traps go through a small range of motion, while simultaneously applying isometric tension.
One thing that’s for sure is that isometric holds are a fantastic way to build muscle.
Progressive Overload Deadlifts Will Build Traps
I have yet to see someone with a BIG deadlift who doesn’t have massive traps.
Just take a look at any powerlifter or strongman and tell me I’m wrong.
These guys are lifting some very serious numbers when it comes to the deadlift, and unsurprisingly their traps have impressively blown up.
I know we typically look at the deadlift as a strength exercise.
So, in general, many of us perform the exercise with low reps and lots of rest between sets.
You could also say that building size and muscle may best be attained with a higher rep range and plenty more volume.
However, I would argue that going heavy, especially with the big lifts, such as the deadlift, will help you achieve most of your body composition goals.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to get stronger, pack on size, or even lose fat, a heavy deadlift will help you achieve this.
So, if you’re looking for deadlifts to build traps, I would recommend that you work on lifting as heavy as possible at least once a week.
Plus, look to add weight to the bar on a regular basis.
I know from personal experience that after a really good deadlift session, especially one where I focused on heavy sets of 1-3 reps, my traps are literally screaming out the next day.
I’ll repeat, it’s not often that you see someone with a huge deadlift that doesn’t have some seriously impressive traps.
Vary Your Deadlift Intensity
This is somewhat contradictory to what I’ve just said.
Now while deadlifting as heavy as possible, and adding weight regularly, will definitely build your traps, some variety can also help.
In fact, the same can be said for wanting to build any muscle.
The body adapts fairly quickly to exercise, which is why we look to progress, most commonly by adding weight to the bar.
However, variety is also the name of the game.
Look at any other muscle you train, and you typically hit it from every angle with various set and rep schemes.
I’ve been guilty myself of only viewing the deadlift as a pure strength exercise.
I typically only ever performed 3-4 variations of the deadlift for many years.
For me, anything over 5-6 reps was viewed as “dangerous”, and with my history of back issues I needed to be careful.
With that being said, I have studied and researched the deadlift in great detail.
And what I’ve learned is that I had been leaving so much muscle growth and strength gains on the table by not focusing on deadlift variety.
There are far more deadlift variations that I could have ever imagined.
Plus, you don’t have to simply stick to the same reps and sets in order to “protect” your lower back.
Just as you would with any other exercise, you can vary how you deadlift.
This is especially true if you want to build traps with the deadlift.
This will actually help to stimulate muscle growth, in not only the traps, but other areas of the body too.
Plus, learn the wide variety of deadlifts you can perform to stimulate your muscles and build your traps like never before.
Horizontal Torso Deadlifts Are Better For Traps
Sticking with the theme of deadlift variations, I have generally noticed that the more horizontal my torso is (at the beginning of the movement), the better my traps are worked.
So, the conventional deadlift seems to build the traps far better than Romanian or Sumo deadlifts.
I guess this has something to do with body mechanics.
However, I have found that wide-grip or snatch-grip deadlifts activate the traps to a far greater degree than even the conventional deadlift.
It reminds me of this article I read a few years ago by Christian Thibaudeau .
Christian’s article was more focused on the snatch-grip high pull to build the “power look”.
The aim was to hit the mid-back, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and most of the posterior chain as explosively as possible,
The exercise would help to build that powerful and athletic-looking physique very quickly.
Following on from this I experimented with various lifts using the snatch-grip, basically having my hands hold the bar wider than standard shoulder-width apart.
And I can definitely say that the simple change of hand position will go a long way to building impressive traps.
Key Learning Points
- Deadlifts will still activate the traps sufficiently to stimulate growth.
- Deadlifts hit all three trap muscles, i.e. upper, middle, lower.
- Lift as heavy as possible at least once per week, but also use other deadlift variations (light & heavy) throughout the week too.
- Use deadlifts variations that require a more horizontal torso to activate the lats to greater effect.
- Snatch-grip deadlifts are one of the best variations to target your traps.
I’ve spoken here about deadlifting multiples times a week, but discover what I have to say about deadlifting two days in a row.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.