For many people, the lower part of the trapezius muscle is a weak link. Strengthening the lower traps can do wonders for improving upper body strength and performance.
Understanding Trapezius Musculature
The trapezius muscle is a pair of large triangular muscles extending over the neck and shoulders down to the middle of your back. Most people have overdeveloped upper traps but are considerably weak in the bottom of the trapezius (often referred to as the Trap 3).
Upper traps are huge stabilizer muscles, and they get a lot of work, often at the expense of the lower traps.
When you neglect your lower traps, your shoulder blades do not have the support systems they need to properly do what they are meant to do.
Train The Trap 3 Raise
The solution is the Trap 3 raise. Popularized by Charles Poliquin to strengthen the lower part of the trapezius muscle, the trap 3 Raise is a great way to isolate and strengthen the lower traps. Technique for the Trap 3 is covered here.
For some exercises, just knowing the technique is not enough. The Trap 3 raise can be awkward and needs a lot of repetition. It takes multiple exposures to this exercise to get good at performing it and recruiting the muscles needed to stabilize the scapula. It is my experience that changing the training parameters of this exercise too frequently actually lowers strength if you haven’t perfected technique yet.
Therefore, here are three tips for strengthening your lower traps with the Trap 3 Raise.
Tip 1: Strengthen Your Neck
If your neck is weak, it will impair your ability to recruit and strengthen the lower traps. Weak supporting muscles in the neck lead the upper traps to take over, negating the point of this exercise. I like to incorporate these neck exercises:
Isometric neck hold of a medicine ball against the wall
Manual neck extensions, 5050 tempo
Neck strengthening machine
Tip 2: Use A Longer, Linear Training Phase
I often recommend changing training parameters every 6 to 8 workouts. For the Trap 3 Raise you need a longer training phase.
Program the Trap 3 for 12 weeks straight, using linear periodization instead of non-linear. This approach allows you to master the technique and takes advantage of motor learning. If you change the Trap 3 too quickly, you won’t have gained adequate ability to recruit the fibers in the muscles properly.
Here are Training Parameters for The Trap 3 Raise. Each phase lasts 3 to 4 weeks.
First Phase: 3x12-15 (2111)
Second Phase: 3x 10-12 (2111)
Third Phase: 3x 8-10 (3011)
Fourth Phase: 3x 6-8 (3110)
Tip 3: Play With The Time Under Tension (TUT)
Another option to reinforce motor patters and improve your body’s ability to get strong is to progressively modify tempo for the Trap 3.
Here are Tempo Variations for the Trap 3 Raise
First Phase: 3x 4-6 (2118), total tut per set is 72 seconds
Second Phase: 3 x 6-8 (2014), total tut per set is 56 seconds
Third Phase: 3 x 6-8 (2012), total tut per set is 40 seconds
Fourth Phase: 3 x 4-6 (3010), total tut per set is 24 seconds
By training the Trap 3 exercise for 12 weeks, you reinforce correct motor patters, which lets you effectively recruit and strengthen the lower traps.
You have choices when programming the Trap 3 Raise, so you’ll never get bored!
Learn the movement pattern first. Then you can start using exercise variations to bring about additional strength and development.