Tip: A New Exercise for Upper Back and Traps

Build some real beef back there. Here's how.

Yoked: The New Sexy

Nowadays, having big meaty traps can make you as sexy as having a chiseled six-pack, which means building them is a sought-after training goal. But why is that?

My first theory is that CrossFit (and athletes in general) have a lot to do with it. A lot of serious lifters now want to look like athletes. CrossFit has made that trend even more popular and has encouraged more people to do deadlifts, cleans, and snatches (for better or worse).

With the increase in popularity of these lifts, you had a spillover effect to powerlifting and Olympic lifting which have seen their membership increase exponentially in recent years. And those lifts do normally make your traps jacked. So having big traps is a physical sign of being an "athlete."

But maybe a better reason has been highlighted in a recent study conducted in an Australian university. It gave women shirtless pictures of male torsos and they were asked to rank them in order of attractiveness and perception of strength.

Not surprisingly, the more muscular physiques were seen as a lot more desirable than the less muscular ones. In fact, none of the skinny or fat torsos received ANY votes for being attractive. (More info here: 70 Percent of Your Sexiness Comes From This).

But the one cool conclusion is that it was the impression of strength that made the greatest impact on how desirable a male physique is. If a physique looked strong AF – even if the guy wasn't super lean – he was seen as desirable. And nothing screams "strong" like big traps.

The Wendler Row

Over the years I've always been on the lookout for new and effective traps exercises. I thought I'd tried everything, but I recently learned a new one from Jim Wendler and it's quickly becoming my favorite.

While I call it the Wendler row, Jim himself would likely call it the T-bar shrug. Regardless of what you call it, it's a superb exercise.

Because of the line of pull, you'll hit not only the upper but also the middle fibers of the traps, which will give you "height" and "thickness." These characteristics will give you a much thicker torso and will also give you better leverage when bench pressing. They'll help keep the rhomboids and upper back tight when pressing.

It's a pretty straightforward movement. Using the landmine/T-bar set-up, and ideally a parallel/neutral grip, you stand upright and row the weight up, initiating the movement with a shrug. It's not a pure shrug because, just like with the standing cable row and the Kirk row, you're pulling with your arm (bending at the elbow joint). That actually facilitates a more important trap contraction.

It’s best to keep your elbows pointing back, which is why I prefer to use a neutral grip. This allows you to recruit the middle fibers more effectively and prevents internal shoulder rotation, which you should avoid when training traps.

You can even do a form of mechanical drop set by changing the angle of the torso during the set. As you get fatigued, you can lean back a bit more and that'll allow you to get a few more reps.

I like to go fairly heavy on these, sets of 6-8 reps, but with a 2-second hold at the peak of contraction. I do these twice per week as my third exercise in a session, but it's mostly because my main goal is strength. (I currently do 4 exercises per workout: the main lift, the assistance exercise, upper back work, and then a loaded carry.) Those who are more into pure bodybuilding should shoot for sets lasting 40-60 seconds under tension.

So for hypertrophy you could do...

  • 8-10 reps with a 3-second hold and 2-second eccentric/negative. The set would last around 48-60 seconds.
  • 10-12 reps with a 2-second hold and 2-second eccentric (50-60 seconds)
  • 12-15 reps with a 2-second hold and normal eccentric/concentric (48-60 seconds)
  • 15-20 reps with a 1-second hold and normal eccentric/concentric (45-60 seconds)
  • All of these put you in the ideal hypertrophy zone for a targeted exercise.

Note that I also use a variation of this exercise with a pulley station. It's a slightly different stimulus but works equally well.

Give this one a shot. It's an awesome way to get a thick upper back.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.