Best Middle Trap Exercises (Build Your Trapezius)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

The trap is a huge muscle that comprises three segments: the middle, lower, and upper traps.

Numerous workouts target the traps, but some are more effective, particularly when targeting a single segment of the trap, like the middle trap.

As a certified fitness trainer, I've helped many clients achieve their goals of developing bigger and stronger mid-traps.

And with over six years of experience, I will provide my expertise on the best middle trapezius workouts and how to train the trap muscles effectively.

Quick Summary

  • The best middle trapezius exercises include the incline Y-raises, behind-the-back barbell shrug, bent-over rows, chest-supported T-bar rows, reverse dumbbell flys, and unilateral rows.
  • Any exercise that requires you to squeeze the shoulder blades together targets your middle traps.
  • According to the National Institute of Health, the middle traps not only contribute significantly to back thickness but are also essential for maintaining general shoulder health, highlighting their importance in upper body fitness.
  • In my opinion, focusing on middle trap exercises is crucial for a balanced upper body workout, as it enhances both aesthetic appeal and functional strength in daily activities.

The Best Middle Trap Exercises

A person doing middle trap exercises

Incline Y-Raise

Y Raises are a fantastic, simple shoulder stability workout that works the rotator cuff muscles and mid- and lower traps.

I often adapt the Y Raise to fit my clients' specific needs. While it's commonly performed on an incline bench, it can also be effectively done on the floor, with a Swiss ball, on a flat bench, or even standing.

How to perform:

  1. Lie facedown on an incline bench, your chin extending past the end of the bench.
  2. Hold two weight plates or dumbbells, in each hand.
  3. Raise both dumbbells as high as possible while forming the letter Y with the arms and body.
  4. Hold this stance for two seconds before bringing the dumbbells to their starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Behind-The-Back Barbell Shrug

A person doing Behind-The-Back Barbell Shrug workouts

As a trainer, I always recommend the barbell behind-the-back shrug to my clients for targeting the traps.

Holding the bar behind the body helps keep the shoulders lifted and back, preventing them from rounding forward.

This exercise is a staple in upper-body conditioning and muscle-focused training.

How to perform:

  1. Stand while grasping a bar with an overhand grip behind the thighs. Have both your hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift the shoulders as high as possible toward your ears while maintaining your arms straight.
  3. Hold the stretch briefly before returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Bent-over Row

The bent-over barbell row is among the most effective workouts to develop a larger and stronger back.

This workout requires very little equipment and can be done in almost any gym. It works the rhomboids, the middle trap, biceps, forearms, lats, and core.

"Instead of folding forward, bend over by pulling your hips backward. Pushing the hips back helps you maintain your spine neutral during your workout."

- Scott Laidler, Celebrity Personal Trainer

How to perform:

  1. Bend both knees, push the hips back, and lean forward while keeping a neutral spine while grasping the weight with a shoulder-width-pronated grip (knuckles facing up).
  2. Maintain a neutral head position, brace the core, and breathe deeply. Bend your elbows and retract the shoulders to pull the bar towards your tummy.
  3. Pause for a bit at the peak of each rep and compress your back.
  4. Exhale as you extend your arms and drop the weight back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

A person doing a Chest-Supported T-Bar Row workout at the gym

Chest-supported T-bar rows enable you to train your whole mid and upper back while minimizing lower back involvement.

You will require a chest-supported T-bar row machine for this upper-body workout.

How to perform:

  1. Adjust the foot base so that your knees are slightly bent, your torso is supported on the pad, and you may safely hold the T-bar.
  2. Load the machine with a suitable weight before walking onto the platform and placing the chest against the pad.
  3. Grab the T-bar handles with a pronated grip slightly wider than shoulder width and unrack the bar by pushing it from the loading rack.
  4. The barbell ought to be in front of you, with both arms fully stretched, feet on the base, and chest on the bench; this is your starting position.
  5. Take a deep breath before bringing the T-bar closer to your torso by flexing the arms and retracting the shoulders.
  6. Tuck your elbows between 45° and 90°.
  7. At the top of the repetition, squeeze the back and pause for a second.
  8. Exhale as you gently drop the weight back to its starting position by straightening your arms.
  9. Repeat for reps.

Read More: Chest-Supported Rows: Dumbbell and Barbell Variations

Reverse Dumbbell Flys

The reverse dumbbell fly is an excellent exercise for isolating your middle traps.

However, as an added benefit, this exercise will train your rear delts, rhomboids, and rotator cuff.

"When raising the dumbbells, concentrate on pushing your shoulder blades together. When lifting dumbbells, lead with your arms, keep your elbows slightly bent, and don't exceed shoulder height."

- Lacey Stone, Certified Personal Trainer

How to perform:

  1. Select the required weight from the rack, then walk a few strides back into an open space.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hinge from the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground, then hang your arms straight down from your shoulders with a neutral grip.
  4. Breathe deeply and lift the dumbbells towards the roof.
  5. Slowly lower the load to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Unilateral Rows

A person doing unilateral rows at the gym

The unilateral row is an excellent workout for building strength and growth in the back and traps.

How to perform:

  1. Make a 45-degree inclination on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in the right or left hand using an overhand grip.
  2. Slowly lower yourself face-first onto the bench, ensuring your chest is firmly planted at the apex of the bench.
  3. Lift the head slightly while gazing at the ground with the dumbbell at your sides. Begin rowing the dumbbell by bending your elbows.
  4. Use the free hand to grab the top of the bench to keep yourself in position.
  5. Repeat as many times as needed, then swap hands and perform the action with the other arm.

Learn More: Best Unilateral Exercises: Tips and Workout Plan

What Is the Trapezius Muscle?

A person working out his Traps at the gym

The trapezius, often known as the traps, is a big paired trapezoidal-shaped superficial (surface) back muscle extending from the lower part of the head to the bottom of the thoracic vertebrae of the spine and laterally to the scapular spine.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the trapezius muscle is split into upper, middle, and lower traps, each stabilizing and moving the scapula and neck [1].

According to NIH, the upper trap starts at the skull, extends to the collarbone, and helps raise the arm girdle and move the head [2].

As per a study from the National Library of Medicine, the muscle fibers of the middle trapezius emerge from the first, second, and third thoracic vertebrae right below the neck and go laterally to the scapula spine near the shoulder joint [3].

According to NIH, the middle traps pull the shoulder blades towards the spine, aiding in shoulder support during arm movements, crucial for posture and stability in horizontal pulls and pushes [4].

The lower traps, originating from thoracic vertebrae T4-T12, primarily work to lower the shoulder blades, counteracting the upper traps.

Related Articles:

How To Train the Middle Trap

A person flexing his trap muscles and back muscles

As a trainer, I always emphasize that the mid-trap muscles, situated over the shoulders, are crucial for stabilization and respond best to high-repetition, low-weight exercises.

They're primarily activated by squeezing the shoulder blades together and upward rotation. Key exercises like bent-over rows, seated rows, and Y raises are effective for targeting these muscles.

Rows, involving the compression of shoulder blades, directly work the middle traps.

Additionally, these muscles are engaged in major back exercises, often making extra focus on them redundant.

Benefits of Training Your Middle Traps

Here are the benefits of training your middle traps:

  • Improved Posture: Regular training of the middle traps strengthens and stabilizes the upper back, correcting and maintaining good posture, which is essential for reducing strain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders.
  • Enhanced Shoulder Stability: Strengthening the middle traps contributes to shoulder stability, which is crucial for performing various upper body exercises effectively and safely, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
  • Better Scapular Movement: Strong middle traps facilitate smoother scapular movement (shoulder blade motion), improving overall shoulder function and aiding in activities that require arm mobility.
  • Increased Upper Body Strength: Training the middle traps boosts overall upper body strength, enhancing performance in exercises like rows and pull-ups, and contributing to a more balanced muscular development.
  • Supports Healthy Spine Alignment: Strong middle traps play a role in supporting a healthy spine alignment, essential for both everyday activities and athletic performance, helping to prevent back pain and spinal issues.


How Do You Get a Bigger Middle Trap?

You get a bigger middle trap by performing workouts that directly target the middle trapezius muscles, enable a full range of motion, and stabilize the traps, such as shrugs and deadlifts.

What Is the Function of Middle Trapezius?

The middle trapezius' primary functions are to pull the shoulder blades closer to the spine (scapular retraction) and to support the shoulder during specific arm motions. It is essential for overall posture and stability when performing horizontal pulling and pushing.

Do Shrugs Work Middle Traps?

Yes, shrugs work the middle traps. Some synergist muscle groups involved in the shrug action include the middle trapezius muscles. Similarly, the levator scapulae, a muscle on the side of the neck, performs a secondary function in shrug motions.


Was this article helpful?

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

You May Also Like

A muscular man holding a volleyball
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 15 hours ago
10 Killer Chest & Triceps Exercises (From a Trainer)
Exercises using the trap
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 15 hours ago
5 Best Trap (Hex) Bar Exercises of All Time
The Calisthenics Diet Plan How to Get the Best Results Featured Image
By Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT 2 days ago
The Calisthenics Diet Plan: How to Get the Best Results
Bowflex vs PowerBlocks Dumbbells
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 2 days ago
Bowflex vs Powerblocks Dumbbells (2024) Which Is Better?
A person who is about to eat a paleo meal from best paleo meal delivery service
By Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT 3 days ago
8 Best Paleo Meal Delivery Services (2024 Updated)
mass gainer vs whey
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 3 days ago
Mass Gainer vs Whey Protein: Which One Should You Pick?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our scoring system is the result of objective testing data and subjective expert analysis by a team of fitness coaches and medical experts. Our scoring factors are weighted based on importance. For more information, see our product review guidelines.