A big, thick set of traps shows that you’re a serious trainer—even more so than big arms, which can hide under clothing. Massive traps are on display pretty much 24/7. So if normal shrugs have let you down when it comes to building traps, I’ve got an exercise for you.
This is a hybrid version of the standard dumbbell shrug—and by hybrid I mean you’ll be combining two forms of resistance into one movement to better match the strength curve and fiber alignment of the target muscle, the trapezius.
To perform this exercise, you essentially do a normal standing dumbbell shrug, which exerts tension directly against gravity, while holding dumbbells that are attached to the two low pulleys, which are exerting outward and diagonal force.
To see why this is so effective, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of the trap muscles.
The fibers of the traps run in multiple directions in a fanlike pattern. The upper traps, which are what we’re targeting with the standard shrug, run diagonally upward (though never completely vertical). When you’re doing a standard up-and-down shrug movement, you’re only involving the fibers that can elevate the scapulae—the shoulder blades—in a straight up-and-down pattern. You’re also working the levator scapula muscles, whose sole purpose is to elevate the shoulder blades.
Now, when you add the lateral-resistance component of the two low pulleys, given the more diagonal arrangement of fibers in the traps, you’ll see how that additional pull is more in line with the direction of the upper-trapezius fibers. When you combine the heavy load of the dumbbells with the lateral pull of the cables, you get massive tension on more of the “meat” of the trapezius muscles—and that means serious trapezius growth.
Here’s how to do hybrid cable-dumbbell shrugs:
First, you’ll need a way to attach the low pulley to either your arms or your dumbbells. Fortunately, that’s very easy to do. My preferred method is to use two ankle harnesses attached to the low pulleys. Keep them buckled loosely so you can slide your hands in and out easily.
If you don’t have ankle harnesses, you can also loop the cable itself around the handle and clip it back onto itself. Keep that shifted toward the back of the dumbbell. It does make it a bit awkward, which is the reason that I like the ankle harnesses. At least it’s another option.
In addition, if you don’t have low pulleys, you can do this with bands hitched out to the sides and get a similar effect.
So get your dumbbells set in the center of the pulleys. I’m using a couple of 105-pounders and 100 pounds on each of the weight stacks. (Note: When you’re using heavier dumbbells, you need to match them with heavier weight on the cables. Otherwise the downward force of the dumbbell weight will overmatch the lateral force of the cables, and you won’t get the same effect.)
Now get your hands through the harnesses. Stand in the center and grab your dumbbells, getting into position for a regular shrug.
Next, with an explosive movement, shrug your shoulders as high as you can, and hold at the top for a maximum contraction.
You will feel this up into your neck as you never have before with shrugs. The direct lateral resistance on the traps targets fibers that simply don’t get worked during regular shrugs due to the vertical line of pull.
When you add lateral resistance with the cables, you’re also going to get continuous tension on those fibers, which is a further stimulator of growth.
1) Hitting more fibers.
2) Working them in a lateral line of pull, which is more in line with their direction of pull.
3) Maintaining continuous tension.
This is a killer combination that will give you monster trap growth.
Editor’s note: To get a copy of Nick’s Muscle Explosion—28 Days to Maximum Mass, visit his Web site, www.28DayMuscleExplosion.com.