Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Thick, towering trap muscles are one of the biggest hallmarks of a muscular physique. And without them, even the strongest powerlifters just look weaker.

That’s why training your traps with dedicated exercises should be a regular part of your lifting routine. But most people only know one or two trap exercises with any equipment, much less, dumbbells.

To fix that problem, this article shows you 12 unique dumbbell trap exercises to add to your workouts. So you can build your upper back and neck to Incredible Hulk proportions.

What Are Dumbbell Trap Exercises?

Dumbbells are a versatile piece of weight training equipment found in every gym, from dingy garages to world-class fitness clubs.

And for good reason. You can train every single muscle group with this one type of equipment, including traps.

Dumbbell trap exercises include shrugging, pulling, and raising movements that target the trapezius muscle.

Trap Muscle Anatomy

In bodybuilding, the term trap is short for trapezius—a large diamond-shaped muscle that runs from your mid back towards your shoulders and up to your neck.

Several exercise movements target different parts of the traps. For example, the lower trapezius sits between your shoulder blades in the mid back. At the same time, the upper trapezius spans the back of your shoulders and neck.

In addition, many trap exercises also work the levator scapulae, which are posterior neck muscles.

Trap Muscle Anatomy

Benefits of Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Dumbbells provide a unique opportunity to train your trap using both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time. You don’t usually get this independent arm movement with bars or machines.

In addition, dumbbell trap exercises are easily adapted to different body positions and arm angles. So you can target different parts of your upper traps and lower traps.

Another benefit of dumbbells is that you can do these exercises with minimal gym equipment and space. So whether you have a small home gym or workout in a packed commercial gym, you can use these trap exercises.

Finally, free weights like dumbbells generally involve more muscle groups and muscle fibers during the exercises. And that means you build more muscle and burn more calories.

  • Able to work each lat independently or both lats simultaneously
  • More body position options for targeting specific parts of the lats
  • Perform a complete lat workout at home with minimal equipment
  • Free weights like dumbbells activate more muscle groups
  • Burn more calories compared to machines or cables

When to Use Dumbbell Trap Exercises

The trapezius fits into a couple of different muscle groups due to the size and shape of this muscle.

Traps often get lumped into shoulder training because they are heavily involved during deltoid exercises. But the mid and lower traps are more involved during back workouts.

Therefore, you could include dumbbell trap exercises in shoulder workouts, back workouts, or both. Plus, you could include these exercises on the pull day of a push-pull-legs split.

12 Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Now it’s time to share the best trap exercises with dumbbells. To make this list easier to navigate, I broke it up into sections based on the movement type.

First, I’ll show you all the variations of shrugs with dumbbells. Then you’ll see the rowing movements for traps. And finally, we’ll end with some miscellaneous dumbbell trap exercises.

Shrug Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Shrugs are an exercise where you elevate your shoulders while holding a weight in your hands. The movement is like the way you shrug your shoulders when you tell someone, “I don’t know.”

Moreover, shrugging your shoulders with resistance is the best way to build your upper traps.

1. Dumbbell Shrug

The traditional shrug is the go-to exercise for training traps. Most often, people do this exercise with a barbell. But dumbbells work just as well, if not better.

One reason is that long bars force your hands and arms to remain slightly in front of your body. In comparison, dumbbells allow you to pull up and back as you shrug and give a deeper contraction.

To do a dumbbell shrug, grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your palms should face toward the sides of your thighs.

From this starting position, shrug your shoulders towards your ears while keeping your arms straight. Then lower the weight to the starting position to complete one rep.

For the best results from dumbbell shrugs, it’s vital not to bounce the weight or use momentum when performing this exercise. Doing so results in less activation of the trap muscles.

Also, be sure you’re working through the full range of motion. Let the bar get low enough at the bottom to feel a stretch through your traps and neck. And lift it high enough to get a good muscle contraction.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Shrug

2. Seated Dumbbell Shrug

The seated dumbbell shrug is a good way to reduce body momentum because the seated position takes your lower body out of the exercise.

Start by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand. Then sit down on a bench with your legs together and your arms hanging by your sides.

Now perform the shoulder shrug movement as you usually would.

3. Incline Dumbbell Shrug

Another dumbbell shrug variation involves leaning forward with your chest supported on the back pad of an incline bench. This change in body position works the upper traps and the mid-traps.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Incline Shrug

4. Alternate Incline Dumbbell Shrug

You could also do incline dumbbell shrugs by leaning back against the angled bench. With this body position, you shift the loading to the front of the upper trap.

In addition, the leaned-back version of incline dumbbell shrugs helps activate the muscles in your neck.

Dumbbell Incline Shrug Alternative

5. Dumbbell Overhead Shrug

The overhead shrug is a slightly different variation where you hold dumbbells above your head instead of by your sides.

Start by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand to do an overhead shrug. Then hoist the dumbbells to shoulder level and press them overhead, so your arms are almost locked out.

Shrug your shoulders without bending or moving your arms from this starting position. Then lower them back down and retract your shoulder blades at the bottom.

Overhead shrugs target your upper traps, similar to regular shrugs. However, one advantage is that this variation requires you to balance the weight overhead, which activates more stabilizer muscles.

For this reason, you should use lighter dumbbells when doing the overhead shrug. Instead of using heavy loads, focus on proper technique and squeezing your traps.

Row Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Next, let’s shift gears to look at some dumbbell trap exercises that utilize a rowing motion. Each of these exercises involves pulling dumbbells in a vertical movement path.

6. Dumbbell Upright Row

Upright rows are another upper back and shoulder exercise typically done with a barbell. But you can also do this exercise with dumbbells to work your traps.

To do a dumbbell upright row, start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand resting on the front of your thighs. Then pull both dumbbells straight up the front of your body until they reach about chest level.

Try keeping the dumbbell handles relatively parallel to the floor throughout the exercise. And maintain a constant distance of 6-12” between the dumbbells.

Remember, keeping the weights close to your body is the key to doing dumbbell upright rows safely and effectively.

Related: How To Do a Smith Machine Upright Row

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Upright Row

7. Single Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

You can also perform the dumbbell upright row with one arm at a time. With this variation, it’s a little easier to concentrate on squeezing your traps.

Also, you can alternate arms with each rep. Or perform all the reps with one arm before switching to the other.

You can complete a designated number of reps with each side or alternate sides with each rep. Another option is performing a push-up between each rep. This is like a superset for a back and chest workout.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises One Arm Upright Row

8. Incline Dumbbell Row

The incline dumbbell row is like a chest-supported bent-over row. For targeting your traps, try a steeper incline and pull the dumbbells toward your chest.

Also, your elbows should flare out and up more than they would for a lower lat dumbbell row.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Incline Row

Other Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Lastly, let’s look at some other movement variations for targeting traps with dumbbells.

9. Dumbbell Farmers Carry

The farmer’s carry or farmer’s walk is an exercise for building the upper back, traps, and grip strength. It involves holding a heavy object in each hand while walking for a time or distance.

The dumbbell farmer’s carry typically involves heavy weights that you can only hold for 60 seconds or less. When using this exercise to target traps, you can consider using wrist straps to ensure your grip doesn’t give out first.

While doing this exercise, hold your shoulders up and back while keeping your arms relatively still.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Farmers Carry

10. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The dumbbell reverse fly is typically performed as part of a back workout. But you can also use it to target your lower and mid traps.

To do a dumbbell reverse fly, sit or stand with your back leaned forward but relatively straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and start with the weights hanging straight down.

From this starting position, lift the dumbbells up and back while keeping your arms relatively straight. Think about pulling your elbows toward the ceiling instead of your hands.

As you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your lower traps for a brief hold.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Reverse Fly

11. Incline Front Raise

The incline front raise utilizes the same chest-supported position as the previous exercises. However, this time you will raise the dumbbells to the front while keeping your arms relatively straight.

Set the inline at around 45 degrees to get the most trap activation, and keep your palms down during the front raise movement. As with other dumbbell exercises, you can perform this movement with both arms or one arm at a time, as shown below.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Incline Front Raise

12. Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The traditional dumbbell lateral raise is an upright exercise emphasizing the side delt. But you can lean to one side during the lateral raise to shift more load to the traps.

To do a leaning dumbbell lateral raise, you will need a sturdy object to grab hold of, like a power rack. Start by standing perpendicular to the sturdy object with your feet close to the base.

Then, hang onto the sturdy object with one hand and lean away with a dumbbell hanging in the other hand. From here, lift the dumbbell to the side, away from your body, while keeping your arm relatively straight.

You should notice more resistance at the top of the range of motion and feel a squeeze in your upper traps.

Also, you can do this exercise with both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time, as shown below.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Leaning Lateral Raise

Advanced Dumbbell Trap Exercises

You will find that It’s more challenging to isolate your traps on some exercises compared to others. For example, making your traps fail on an exercise like upright rows is hard.

But you can use some simple strategies to ensure that you’re overloading your traps for maximum size and strength gains.


A superset is when you perform two exercises back-to-back, with the goal being to do more work in less time. And it’s an excellent method to increase workout intensity and stimulate new muscle growth.

Additionally, you can use pre-exhaust supersets to target a specific muscle. This technique involves supersetting a compound movement immediately after an isolation movement to make the target muscle fail first.

To illustrate, you could do a set of dumbbell shrugs, then immediately go into a dumbbell upright row. This way, your traps are already tired after shrugs and are more likely to fail first on upright rows.

Giant Sets

Giant sets are another high-intensity training technique where you do 3 or more exercises back-to-back with minimal to no rest period. Again, the idea is to increase time under tension and total workout volume.

An example of giant sets for traps would be incline shrugs, immediately followed by incline front raises, immediately followed by incline dumbbell rows.

In this example, I chose a group of dumbbell trap exercises that all utilize the incline bench. This way, you can switch from one exercise to the next with no break.

Drop Sets

Drop sets involve completing two or more sets to failure back-to-back. With each successive set, you lower the weight to enable the muscle to keep working.

It’s easy to do drop sets with dumbbell trap exercises if you have two or more pairs of dumbbells. Just perform one set with the heavier pair, then immediately perform a second set with the lighter pair.

For example, you might do a set of dumbbell shrugs with 75 lb dumbbells to failure. Then immediately pick up a pair of 50 lb dumbbells and go to failure again.

You can even keep going for a double or triple drop set to really burn out the trap muscles.

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More Exercises & Workouts

The dumbbell trap exercises you just learned are excellent for building a thicker upper back and neck. But, if you can, you should include some barbells, cables, or machines.

And don’t forget to train the muscles surrounding your traps! Click the links below for trap, shoulder, and back exercises that go above and beyond dumbbells alone.

How to do Barbell Shrugs

Smith Machine Shrugs for Targeting Traps

13 Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Cable Shoulder Exercises for Destroying Delts

19 Unique Cable Back Exercises

Complete Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a big back and gnarly neck. But don’t stop there; keep learning with these other great articles on workouts, nutrition, and supplements!

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