Deadlift Your Way to Bigger Traps? Fact or Fiction? (Here’s What You Need to Know)

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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.

Trap Isometrics From Deadlifts

Ronnie Coleman: "Deadlifts aren't just for legs and back. They build traps like crazy, too. I wouldn't have had that yoke without 'em!"

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

Menno Henselmans: "Progressive overload is key for trap growth, just like any other muscle. Gradually increase weight or reps over time."

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.

Bret Contreras: "Don't underestimate the deadlift for building a complete physique. It's a compound king that sculpts traps alongside other major muscle groups."

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.

So, don’t be afraid to do low, moderate and high-rep deadlifts.

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.

That being said, I have also included other deadlift variations and trap-specific exercises in the FAQ section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Deadlift is Best For Traps?

So, you’re aware that deadlifts are a great exercise for trap development, plus I’ve mentioned that a more horizontal torso and a wider grip will better activate the traps from deadlifts.

However, are there particular variations that are better?

For me, I have found that traditional and suitcase deadlifts, as well as rack pulls, seem to provide the best trap activation.

Traditional Deadlift: This exercise involves lifting a barbell from the ground, engaging the entire body, with significant emphasis on the traps. To perform it, stand with your feet hip-width apart, bend at the hips and knees to grip the barbell, and lift by straightening your hips and knees. Focus on heavy weights and lower reps for trap development, like 4-5 sets of 4-6 reps, taking a 3-4 minute rest between sets. It’s best done at the start of your workout when you’re freshest.

Rack Pull: A variation of the deadlift, the rack pull starts with the barbell set up in a power rack at knee level. This shorter range allows for heavier lifting, which can be more effective for building the traps. The movement involves lifting the barbell from the rack to a full stand. Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps with a rest period of 2-3 minutes between each.

Suitcase Deadlift: This variation is unique and highly effective for trap development. It can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a trap-bar. Stand beside your weight of choice, bend at your hips and knees, and lift the weight as if carrying a suitcase. Obviously, if using a trap-bar stand directly inside the bar.

Keep your back straight and your core engaged. This exercise not only works your traps but also engages your core and the deeper stabilizer muscles of the torso. For the suitcase deadlift, try 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps on each side, with a rest of about 2 minutes between sets.

Admittedly, suitcase deadlifts are often performed just on one side and target the core really well, but they also hit the traps to great effect.

Should I Do Shrugs For Traps if I Already Deadlift?

Whether you need to do shrugs if you’re already performing deadlifts for trap development depends on your specific fitness goals and how your body responds to these exercises.

Deadlifts, particularly the variations I’ve mentioned above are very effective for engaging and developing the traps. 

They involve a significant amount of trap activation as part of the lifting and stabilizing process. 

John Meadows: "For even thicker traps, incorporate shrugs and high pulls into your routine. Deadlifts alone are great, but targeted work helps refine definition."

If your routine includes regular deadlifting, you’re already working your traps considerably.

However, shrugs specifically target the traps with a more isolated movement. 

If you find that your trap development is not progressing as you’d like with deadlifts alone, or if you’re aiming for more pronounced hypertrophy in that area, incorporating shrugs can be beneficial. 

Shrugs can be performed with dumbbells, barbells, or even a trap bar, and they focus directly on the elevation of the shoulders, which is the primary motion of the traps.

If you choose to add shrugs:

  • Perform them after your main lifts like deadlifts.
  • Aim for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.
  • Use a moderate weight that allows you to maintain proper form.
  • Rest for about 1-2 minutes between sets.

Include them in your routine once or twice a week, depending on your overall training volume and intensity.

Furthermore, here are some of my favourite exercises, outside of deadlifts and shrugs, for developing the traps.

🏋️ Exercise 🔢 Sets & Reps ⏱ Rest Periods
Face Pulls 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps 1-2 minutes
Upright Rows 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps 1-2 minutes
Farmer’s Walk 3-4 sets, 30 sec to 1 min walk As needed
Power Cleans 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps 2-3 minutes
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Should I Lift Heavy For Traps?

Lifting heavy weights can be effective for developing the traps, as they respond well to both high volume and heavy loads. 

However, it’s essential to balance heavy lifting with proper form to avoid injury, especially to the neck and shoulders.

For exercises like deadlifts and rack pulls, which significantly engage the traps, consider lifting heavier weights with lower reps. 

For instance, you might do 4-5 sets of 4-6 reps for these exercises, with a rest period of about 3-4 minutes between sets.

The lower reps and longer rest periods are due to heavy deadlifts hitting the central nervous system so hard.

Phil Heath: "Traps are a show muscle, but don't forget function. They help with stability and posture, so train them for both aesthetics and performance."

On the other hand, exercises like shrugs and upright rows can also be performed with heavier weights, but ensure that you’re not compromising your form. 

Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps for these exercises, with a rest period of about 2-3 minutes between sets.

It’s advisable to include trap exercises as part of a broader workout routine, focusing on overall back or shoulder strength. 

Heavy lifting for traps should typically be done once or twice a week, depending on your overall workout intensity and volume.

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.
  • Other deadlift variations, such as conventional, rack pulls, and suitcase will target the traps to great effect
  • You can incorporate shrugs, power cleans, upright rows, face pulls, and farmer’s walks for further trap development

I’ve spoken here about deadlifting multiples times a week, but discover what I have to say about deadlifting two days in a row.

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