Top 10 Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Written By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: January 28, 2024

Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Having thick and towering trap muscles is a powerful aspect of a muscular physique. Even the strongest powerlifters look less impressive without big traps. Therefore, including dedicated trap exercises in your lifting routine is crucial.

However, most people are only familiar with one or two trap exercises using dumbbells. As a certified personal trainer, I thought it would be helpful to share my top ten dumbbell trap exercises to help you build your upper back and neck.

Intro to Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Dumbbells are a versatile piece of weight training equipment found in every gym, from dingy garages to world-class fitness clubs. The reason for their ubiquity is their versatility. You can train every muscle group with this one type of equipment, including traps.

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

Trap Muscle Anatomy

The trapezius, or “trap” muscle, is a large muscle in the upper body that runs from your mid-back out to the shoulders and up to the base of your neck. There are several exercise movements that target different parts of the traps.

For instance, the lower trapezius is located between the shoulder blades in the mid-back, while the upper trapezius spans the back of the shoulders and neck. Additionally, many trap exercises also work the levator scapulae, which are the posterior neck muscles.

Trap Muscle Anatomy

10 Best Trap Exercises With Dumbbells

  1. Dumbbell Shrug
  2. Seated Dumbbell Shrug
  3. Dumbbell Incline Shrug
  4. Dumbbell Upright Row
  5. Single Arm Dumbbell Upright Row
  6. Incline Dumbbell Row
  7. Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry
  8. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
  9. Incline Front Raise
  10. Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise

I have compiled this list of the best exercises to work your traps using dumbbells based on my 24 years of training experience. Next, I’ll walk you through how to perform each exercise to target your trapezius muscles.

First, I will demonstrate all the different types of shrugs that can be done with dumbbells. Then, I will show you some great rowing movements for the traps. Finally, we will end with a few miscellaneous dumbbell exercises for the traps.

Shrug Dumbbell Trap Exercises

Shrugs are a type of exercise that involves lifting your shoulders while holding a weight in your hands. The movement is similar to raising your shoulders when you don’t know something. Additionally, shrugging with resistance is a great way to strengthen your upper trapezius muscles.

1. Dumbbell Shrug

The traditional shrug is an excellent exercise for training your trapezius muscles. Although most people prefer this exercise with a barbell, 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, whereas dumbbells allow you to pull up and back as you shrug and give a deeper contraction. 

To perform a dumbbell shrug, grab a pair of dumbbells and stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Your palms should face 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, it is important not to bounce the weight or use momentum when performing this exercise. Doing so will result in less activation of the trapezius muscles.

Additionally, make sure you are working through the full range of motion, letting the dumbbells go low enough to feel a stretch through your traps and neck and lifting them high enough to get a good muscle contraction.

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2. Seated Dumbbell Shrug

The seated dumbbell shrug is a good way to minimize body momentum by removing the lower body from the equation. As such, you may want to use lighter weights for this shrug variation.

To perform this exercise, begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then, sit down on a bench with your legs together and your arms hanging down by your sides. From there, perform the shoulder shrug as usual, maintaining a neutral grip.

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 from different angles.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Incline Shrug

Row Dumbbell Trap Exercises

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

4. Dumbbell Upright Row

Upright rows are a great exercise for your upper back and shoulders, usually done with a barbell. However, you can also do this exercise with dumbbells to work your traps effectively.

To perform a dumbbell upright row, begin by standing with feet shoulder-width and a dumbbell in each hand resting on the front of your thighs. Next, pull both dumbbells straight up the front of your body until they reach about chest level.

Keep the dumbbell handles parallel to the floor throughout the exercise to maintain proper form. Remember, always move the weights in a controlled manner to maintain constant tension on the muscles and prevent shoulder injuries.

Related: How To Do a Smith Machine Upright Row

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Upright Row

5. Single Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

Another way to perform the dumbbell upright row is by using one arm at a time. This can help you focus on contracting your traps. Try alternating arms with each repetition or complete all the repetitions with one arm before switching to the other.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises One Arm Upright Row

6. Incline Dumbbell Row

The incline dumbbell row exercise is similar to a chest-supported bent-over row. If you want to focus on your trapezius muscles, use a steeper incline and pull the dumbbells toward your chest. Remember that 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

Finally, let’s examine some additional exercises that use dumbbells to target the trapezius muscles.

7. 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 heavy loads 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 to improve grip strength. When using this exercise to build stronger traps, you can consider using lifting straps to ensure your grip doesn’t give out first.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Farmers Carry

8. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The dumbbell reverse fly is a popular exercise usually performed as a part of a back or rear delt shoulder workout. However, you can also use it to target your lower and middle traps.

You need to sit or stand with your back leaned forward to perform this exercise. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and start with the weights hanging straight down. Next, lift the dumbbells up and back while keeping your arms relatively straight.

Instead of pulling your hands, focus on pulling your elbows toward the ceiling. As you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your lower traps for a brief hold.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Reverse Fly

9. Incline Front Raise

The incline dumbbell front raise starts in a similar position as the chest-supported row. But this time, you will raise the dumbbells to the front while keeping your arms relatively straight.

Set the incline at around 45 degrees to get the most trap activation, and keep your palms facing down during the raise. You can perform this exercise with both arms or one arm at a time.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Incline Front Raise

10. Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is a classic exercise that targets the side delt. However, you can modify it to put more emphasis on your traps by leaning to one side during the exercise.

To do a leaning dumbbell lateral raise, you’ll need a sturdy object such as a power rack to hold onto. Stand perpendicular to the object with your feet close to the base. Hold the object with one hand and lean away with the other holding the dumbbell.

Lift the dumbbell to the side, away from your body, while keeping your arm relatively straight. You should feel more resistance at the top of the motion and a squeeze in your upper traps.

Dumbbell Trap Exercises Leaning Lateral Raise

Benefits of Dumbbell Trap Exercises

The trapezius exercises provided here offer unique advantages compared to barbells or machines. One of the biggest advantages is that you can do these dumbbell exercises whether you have a small home gym or work out in a packed commercial gym because they require basic equipment and very little space.

Moreover, dumbbell trap exercises can be adapted easily to different body positions and arm angles, allowing you to target specific parts of your upper and lower traps. Also, they require you to balance and coordinate each arm independently, which improves functional strength.

 Lastly, free weights such as dumbbells generally engage more muscle groups and muscle fibers during the exercises, leading to bigger traps.

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

Programming Trap Exercises

Due to its size and location, the trapezius has a couple of complimentary muscle groups. Trap workouts often fall into a shoulder day because they are heavily involved during deltoid exercises.

However, the mid and lower traps are more involved during back workouts and pulling movements. Therefore, you could include dumbbell trap exercises during a back workout or a pull day in a push/pull workout routine.

Dumbbell Trap Workout

Some exercises can make it harder to target your trapezius muscles specifically. For instance, exhausting your traps during upright rows can be difficult. However, you can use a few straightforward techniques to ensure you’re putting enough stress on your traps to promote muscle growth and enhance strength.

Supersets

A superset is a workout technique that involves performing two back-to-back exercises to do more work in less time. This method is highly effective in increasing workout intensity and possibly triggering new muscle growth.

Moreover, pre-exhaust supersets can focus on a specific muscle group by pairing a compound movement with an isolation movement. This technique aims to exhaust the target muscle by performing the isolation exercise before the compound exercise.

To illustrate, a set of dumbbell shrugs can be followed immediately by a set of upright rows. This will cause your trapezius muscles to tire quickly after the shrugs and, hence, be more likely to fail first during the upright rows.

Giant Sets

Giant sets are a high-intensity training technique where you perform three or more exercises in a row with minimal rest periods. The main goal is to increase time under tension and overall workout volume. 

For instance, if you want to work on your traps, you can perform incline dumbbell shrugs, followed immediately by incline front raises and then incline dumbbell rows. These dumbbell exercises target the traps and can be done on an incline bench. By selecting exercises that use the same bench, you can transition from one exercise to the next without taking a 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.

Moreover, 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-pound dumbbells and go to failure again.

You can keep going for a double or triple-drop set to 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

Cable Shoulder Exercises for Destroying Delts

19 Unique Cable Back Exercises

Complete Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

13 Best Dumbbell Back Exercises for Lat Strength & Size

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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By |January 28, 2024|Workouts|0 Comments
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