7 Best Lower Trap Exercises for Improved Shoulder Strength

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: April 30, 2024
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Weak lower trap muscles can cause shoulder problems and bad posture, but they are one of the groups of muscles that most of my fitness clients haven't targeted before.

To fully develop their upper back muscles and prevent the aforementioned health issues, I always encourage my clients to incorporate a selection of lower trap exercises into their workout routine.

Here are my top picks for the most effective ones.

Quick Summary

  • Effective trap exercises include Y-raises, shrug dips, face pulls, and more.
  • Activating your lower trap muscles before exercising is crucial for proper muscle engagement.
  • According to National Library of Medicine research, the trapezius muscle is a diamond-shaped structure comprising upper, middle, and lower groups of muscle fibers.
  • Based on my years of training clients, I've seen firsthand how lower trap exercises can significantly reduce shoulder issues and improve posture.

7 Best Lower Trap Exercises for a More Defined Back

Close up shot of a person flexing his back muscles after lower trap exercises

Lower trap exercises are crucial for building stability in your torso and upper body during big lifts and for improving your overall posture and health.

Since it’s a muscle responsible for this focused tension (stability), you first need to establish the muscle-mind connection and activate this part of the trapezius muscle before exercise.

I've seen many clients transform their upper-body strength and posture dramatically by incorporating this strategy.

Strengthening the lower traps is especially important for athletes in sports like archery and swimming, where shoulder stability is crucial for performance and injury prevention.

4-Step Lower Trap Activation

To engage the lower traps, follow these four steps:

  1. Upward rotation: Extend your arms out in opposite directions.
  2. Retraction: Bring your arms back, squeezing your scapulae (shoulder blade).
  3. Posterior tilt: Rotate your palms towards the back, pointing your thumbs towards the floor, and extending as far as possible.
  4. Feel the contraction: Focus on the squeeze around your shoulder blades.

Now, for these exercises, you will need access to a top-quality cable machine, parallel bars, and dumbbells. Let’s dive right in.

Exercises

1. Y-Raises

A person doing Y raises in the gym
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold light weights in each hand.
  • Raise your arms up and out to form a “Y” shape, keeping your elbows straight.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then lower the weights back down.
  • Repeat for several reps, keeping the shoulders down.

2. Face Pulls

  • Attach rope or band to the chest-height cable machine.
  • Grasp the rope with both hands and step back for tension.
  • Pull the rope towards the face, keeping elbows high.
  • Squeeze the scapula together (engage your rear delts and traps), then return to starting position.

3. Shrug Dips

A person doing shrug dips in the gym
  • Hold parallel bars with arms straight and feet suspended.
  • Lower shoulders as far as possible, then raise towards ears.
  • Hold shrug at the top for a second, then lower back down.
  • Repeat for several reps, engaging lower traps and keeping shoulders down.

4. Farmer’s Carry/Walk

  • Hold heavy weights in each hand with shoulders down and back.
  • Walk forward with a tall posture, taking small, controlled steps.
  • Avoid swinging arms and walk for a certain distance or time.
  • Rest and repeat for several sets.

5. One-Arm Straight-Arm Pushdowns

A person doing one arm straight arm pushdowns
  • Attach a single-handled rope or bar to the shoulder-height cable machine.
  • Grasp the handle with one hand using a neutral grip and step away from the machine.
  • With knees slightly bent, pull the handle down towards the hip with the arm straight.
  • Slowly release the handle back to the starting position.

6. Reverse Shrugs

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold light weights in each hand.
  • Raise arms to shoulder height, then lower shoulders down and back.
  • Raise shoulders towards ears, then forcefully push them back down.
  • Repeat for several reps, focusing on keeping shoulders down and back.

7. Bent-over Rear Delt Cable Raise

  • Stand facing a cable machine with a D-handle attached to the low pulley.
  • Hold the D-handle with one hand and bend forward with your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the ground.
  • Keep your back straight and raise the cable to the side, keeping your arm straight.
  • Squeeze your rear delt at the top of the movement, then lower the cable back down and repeat.

Each of these exercises can be a part of the recommended bodyweight warm-up routines or can be easily incorporated between sets of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, etc.

Lower Trap Anatomy

A person with great lower trap muscles

The trapezius is a diamond-shaped muscle composed of the upper, middle, and lower groups of muscle fibers, as revealed by National Library of Medicine research [1].

The lower traps are a set of muscles located on the back of the scapula, just below the midline of the spine.

From my experience, many clients are unaware of the lower traps' role in posture and shoulder health.

The muscles work with the rhomboids and middle traps to retract and depress the scapula (shoulder blade) and assist with the rotation and upward movement of the arms.

“Lower traps are a critical player in scapular upward rotation, which is necessary to prevent impingement and elevate performance in a variety of upper extremity activities.”

- Eric Cressey, Strength & Conditioning Coach

In addition to poor posture, weakness or imbalance in the lower traps can lead to shoulder pain and decreased athletic performance, as per National Institutes of Health research[2].

In rehabilitation, these muscles play a pivotal role, especially in shoulder injury recovery.

Related:

FAQs

How Many Times per Week Should I Train the Lower Traps?

You should train the lower traps three to four times a week. This frequency will give your lower trap muscles enough attention and recovery time.

Are Shrugs a Good Exercise for the Lower Traps?

No, shrugs are not a good exercise for the lower traps, specifically. Since shrugging requires elevating the shoulder bone, this exercise primarily hits the upper traps. Exercises that hit the lower trapezius muscles involve scapular retraction and depression.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518994/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32202262/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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