How to Strengthen the Upper Trapezius

Improve your upper traps with shoulder shrugs.
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If you carry a purse with a shoulder strap, you are familiar with your upper trapezius muscle. The upper trap lifts your shoulder to prevent your purse from sliding down your arm. Often, when you carry a purse on one arm, one trap is larger and stronger than the other. Your traps are the slope along the side of your neck that ends before your shoulder muscle begins. You can equalize and strengthen both upper traps with an exercise that raises the shoulder blade. Your trapezius muscle is divided into three sections: upper, middle and lower. The upper trap is best strengthened with a shoulder shrug exercise.

    Step 1

    Select your resistance amount and type. Choose a weight amount that allows you to complete at least eight, but no more than 12, shoulder shrugs with proper form. Use dumbbells or a barbell as your training tool.

    Step 2

    Grasp a dumbbell in each hand or hold onto a barbell. Straighten your arms at your sides and face your palms toward you if you hold a dumbbell in each hand. Straighten your arms at shoulder distance apart down your sides so your hands are next to your hips. Grasp the barbell with one palm facing backward and one palm facing forward.

    Step 3

    Stand tall with your feet underneath your hips. Look straight ahead and keep your chin parallel with the floor. Exhale and raise your shoulders toward your ears. Leave your arms straight.

    Step 4

    Inhale and lower your shoulders to the starting or natural position. Repeat Step 3 and Step 4 for your desired number of shrugs.


    • A dumbbell offers a choice between shrugging with both shoulders or shrugging one shoulder at a time.


    • Begin with a light weight and perfect your form as you do the move. Increase the resistance when you complete one to three sets of shrugs with the proper technique.


    • You may come across suggestions for strengthening your upper trapezius that include the use of a head harness. While the upper traps are used for laterally flexing your neck, the addition of weight to this movement may lead to neck injuries. Although the shrug is a safe and effective way to strengthen your upper traps, always speak with your doctor before beginning any weight training routine.

    Things You'll Need

    • Dumbbells or barbell

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