by Barton Horvath (1947)
While body building and training with weights is not particularly difficult to learn, as in any other enterprise superior results depend to a large extent upon knowledge and the ultimate application of this knowledge in an intelligent manner.
The trapezius muscle is a comparatively easy one to develop, since it is involved in so many different motions that almost any well planned bar bell and dumbell course will produce a satisfactory development of the trapezius.
However, the sincere student of body building should not be satisfied only with incidental results; he should know the reason why these results are obtained and should possess the specialized knowledge to permit him to improve on these results if he should feel that his development requires it.
I well realize that the study of anatomy is a rather dry subject, but for a full understanding of the problem at hand it will be necessary for us to be able to locate the trapezius anatomically as well as to completely understand its anatomical functions. It is to be noted that I have used the plural word “functions” in relation to the trapezius and the reader will be amazed later on as this article progresses at all the varied tasks the trapezius performs, and when fully developed it performs these tasks very proficiently.
The trapezius muscle is situated on the upper half of the back, starting thing at the spine at about the middle of the back and spreading out in a fan-like manner until it practically covers all of the upper back and a portion of it blends right into the shoulder muscles. It then narrows off again as it rises higher and covers much of the back of our neck and continues right up to its final insertion at the base of the skull.
In addition the trapezius is not satisfied to contain itself to the back alone, for a part of it can be seen from the front of the body as well, as it permits that pleasing slope of muscle to be formed from the neck to the shoulders.
If this section of the trapezius is developed out of proportion to the shoulders it will tend to make the shoulders look narrow, but if the shoulder muscles are also highly developed this optical illusion cannot exist.
The muscular function of the trapezius is manifold. It helps to pull the shoulders up to the ears, it helps to move the neck about, it helps to squeeze the upper back together and it helps to pull the shoulders down.
It should be rather obvious at this time that in every upper back motion the trapezius comes into play to some extent. In some movements this assistance is slight, while in others it is great. It is for that reason that many readers will perhaps be surprised when I later on explain the actual motions, in terms of bar bell and dumbell movements which have some effect on the important trapezius muscles.
To further our complete knowledge it should also be explained that the trapezius is actually capable of motion in any one of four separate sections without much immediate influence upon any of the remaining three sections. Section 1 is that high upper section on the rear of the neck. Section 2 is the one that imparts the slope to the shoulders and Section 3 is the one just below section 2 but it is the one that is brought into play in conjunction with any rotary action of the scapula or shoulder bone. Section 4 is the part located down towards the middle of the spine and works mainly in conjunction with the lower back muscles. In effect they form a chain that works in sequence and contributes greatly to making it possible for a person to lift an object from the ground to an overhead position. To locate these four sections readily, I suggest the reader refer to an anatomy text for himself.
Let us now follow through the action from lifting a weight off the ground to above the head. At the start we bend forward and lift the weight off the ground. Section No. 4 comes into play. After we have stood nearly erect we pull our shoulders up towards our ears so that we can obtain the power for the clean of the weight to the shoulders. Section No. 2 comes into play now. Kindly note that we have jumped right over section No. 3 and have gone from section No. 4 to section No. 2. However, we now start raising the weight above the head with a lot of rotary action in the shoulder blade and here is where section No. 3 takes over and finally when the weight is fully extended above the head section No. 1 is contracted. When the weight is held overhead all four sections are contracted, though there is not too much strain on section No. 3 with most of the effort being handled by section No. 2 and No. 4.
I believe that the reader will now have had sufficient technical information to permit him to follow me in a discussion of the various movements which tend to develop the trapezius fully.
Let us start with section No. 4. Obviously, this section works in conjunction with the lower back muscles and therefore all that need be done to develop it fully is to perform lower back exercises such as dead lifts, repetition cleans and so on.
Section No. 3 is the part that is most active when there is a rotary motion at the scapula or shoulder girdle. By rotary action I refer to some action aside from the one that is straight up and down such as in a straight shrugging motion. A rotary action would be one in which the shoulder girdle rotates as in raising the elbow to right angles with the body, one which rotates the scapula or shoulder girdle.
Naturally there are a huge variety of movements that cause this action and almost all active shoulder movements fall into this class. Gymnastic work places a great amount of strain upon this area and as a result many gymnasts have extremely well developed upper sections of the trapezius. Naturally all heavy overhead lifts bring this section into play and as a result most weight lifters show a fine development of the trapezius muscles. Later on I will list actual exercises for full trapezius development, but merely mentioned the two above types of exercises as an illustration.
Section No. 2 of the trapezius muscle is that section that works mainly in drawing the shoulders up to the ears. Naturally the shrugging motion exercise is ideal for developing this area of the trapezius. Section No. 2 and No. 3 also work in conjunction with the latissimus dorsi muscle, another large back muscle, in pushing the shoulders down. The bulk of the work is done by the latissimus dorsi admittedly, but the trapezius does assist and should be credited as a result. Also, sections No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 all work together in pulling the shoulders up and back though here too the latissimus dorsi gets a workout also.
The last section of the trapezius muscle is section No. 1. This section is affected mainly when there is action at the neck and nearly all neck exercises will influence it to some degree.
At this time I should like to bring out a pertinent observation. While in this particular article we are containing ourselves as much to a discussion of one muscle as is possible, it continually becomes necessary to bring out the fact that this muscle either assists another muscle or group of muscles in a particular motion, or in turn is assisted by other muscles itself.
It is important that this fact be emphasized, for it is my contention that good training is not training in which the trainee attempts to limit the movement to any one particular muscle. The very best exercises are those which utilize the largest number of muscles or groups of muscles at the same time. I have made this observation so that when I list those exercises which I feel are the best for fully developing the trapezius the reader will not question the fact that some of them involve many other muscular areas. Indeed it has long been my contention that a complete development of any muscle in the body is dependent to a large extent on the full development of other associated muscles. There are some exceptions to this rule but for the most part this fact is true. Therefore, while this is a course of development for one single muscle, if the reader was to follow the exercises as outlined for this one muscle he would find that he would be following a very nearly complete all round exercise course. This is exactly the way it should be. For any specialized course of instructions to be worthy of its title, the course must not only restrict itself to the most obviously direct movements, but must also consider other general movements in which the muscle that is being specialized on is assisted by other muscular groups.
I believe that the reader should now have a very good working knowledge of the anatomical location of the trapezius along with some idea concerning its full development. Just before we enter into the actual exercise phase of this discussion I should like to point out just one more bit of incidental knowledge. I always like to feel that I have done a thorough job on any subject so I therefore feel that it is in order to bring out the advantages of a well developed trapezius, aside from the obvious advantage of pure muscular strength. I should say the pure primary function of he trapezius is to assist in holding the shoulders square and flat and also the head upright and well placed. In other words a well developed trapezius will do much to eliminate a slouchy posture and enhance a person’s social and business progress. also the No. 1 and No. 2. sections of the trapezius will do much towards keeping one from suffering a fractured neck in the unfortunate event of a severe blow or an accident. These two reasons alone should make us resolve to develop our trapezius even if we have no desire to become “supermen.”
Let us now consider the actual exercises which will develop the trapezius fully. Obviously it should not be expected that one single routine of exercise will serve the requirements of all enthusiasts. All body builders can be broken down into three distinct classes. These three classes are the beginner, the intermediate and the advanced. The beginner is one who has had little or no previous bar bell and dumbell training. The intermediate is one who has had some experience and his body already shows very definite improvement. The advanced trainee is one who has a nearly perfect development, and is just putting on the finishing touches. Naturally each of these three types wil need to train differently for best results. Perhaps the reader never dreamed that there were so many different matters to be considered in weight training, and while to some the entire affair ma appear as being a bit complex, truthfully it really is not and is quite simple to the qualified professional instructor.
However, this is one reason why some beginners do not make the progress that they ought to. They rely upon the advice of well meaning to be sure, but not qualified friends, and as a result waste much valuable time. so take a tip from me an of you readers who are not satisfied with your progress, and procure professional advice either in person or through the pages of any of the fine courses and books that are advertised in this magazine as well as its associate magazine “Your Physique.” Also read all of the articles contained in both of these magazines, for the authors are all qualified and have had vast experience. Don’t ever make the mistake of accepting just any training partner’s advice.
As stated previously, the beginner, the intermediate and the advanced trainee will each need to follow individual training programs. Therefore I will now list a separate course of instruction for each of these three groups.
Exercises for the Beginner
The beginner will have a comparatively simple matter before him so far as showing a definite response as a result of performing a few elementary exercises. Naturally after a while he will have made enough improvement to follow the intermediate exercises but I suggest that he adheres strictly to this preliminary routine for at least several months.
Exercise No. 1. The most direct trapezius movement is the shrug. The beginner should use a barbell. The elbows remain stiff throughout.
Exercise No. 2. Another rather direct trapezius motion is the rowing motion exercise. This exercise involves the other upper back muscles too, but it does influence the trapezius very strongly. Lift the bar to the chest without any motion from the body.
Exercise No. 3. The forward neck strap exercise will develop the upper area of the trapezius. Let there be no motion from the rest of the body and restrict all movement to the neck only.
Exercise No. 4. The two arm overhead barbell press is the final exercise I will list for the beginner.
As a summary let us study just how much of the trapezius muscle has been influenced by these four exercises. The shrug has taken care of the No. 2 section of the trapezius, and also due to the fact that we were forced to lift the weight off the ground to start the movement, the No. 4 section was also involved. The rowing motion went after the No. 2 and 3 areas mainly, though of course there was also some stimulation in the No. 4 area. The forward neck strap lift was a very nearly entire sections No. 1 and 2 exercise, while the overhead press affected all four areas with emphasis on areas No. 2 and No. 3. It is therefore rather apparent that this routine will do much to start you on the road to full trapezius development.
Exercises for the Intermediate
Now that we have gotten the beginner embarked on the road to super trapezius, we can consider the intermediate. It will not be necessary for me to be so detailed in my exercise descriptions since the intermediate ought to know most of the standard exercises by name, and should have some idea of their correct performance.
Exercise No. 1. The intermediate should use the shrug movement as his warm up movement. He can make one variation though, and that is instead of just pulling the shoulders up to the ears, he can perform a sort of a circular movement. By this I mean that he should pull them back to the rear and finally lower, still holding the shoulders to the front and repeat the entire movement. This exercise will vigorously affect all the sections of the trapezius with the exception of section No. 4.
Exercise No. 2. This is the press behind neck. This exercise causes a vigorous contraction of the upper three sections of the trapezius and is a fine movement.
Exercise No. 3. This exercise is the upright rowing motion. Because of the upright position of the body, more strain is thrown upon the trapezius that the standard rowing motion exercise and it should be practiced.
Exercise No. 4. The dumbell side raise is considered by most persons as being a deltoid or shoulder muscle exercise, and while it does affect the rear head of the deltoid a lot, it also exercises the upper sections of the trapezius tremendously. The dumbells are held to the rear of the body at start, are raised to shoulder height with the arms remaining stiff throughout.
Exercise No. 5. The rocking wrestler’s bridge is a swell trapezius developer. Resistance can be added by holding a barbell in the arms extended position.
Exercise No. 6. The repetition clean from the hang position is a great all round exercise but it will place a very heavy demand upon the trapezius muscle and should be practiced by all means. Do not be too particular with the style you use, for this is a muscular exercise and is not intended to be used as a practice for lifting form. Just heave the weight up to the shoulders and lower to the hang position, and then repeat.
Exercise No. 7. The dip between the parallel bars while leaning forward is another fine upper back exercise, as well as being fine for the trapezius.
Exercise No. 8. The chin behind the neck is also a good one for trapezius growth.
Exercise No. 9. Here we have another dandy trapezius exercise. Start the movement standing upright with the arms at either side, holding a light dumb bell in each hand. The palms should be facing directly to the rear. Now raise the arms straight back as far as possible. You will feel this forcibly in the trapezius though you may have to toughen up your arm muscles first before you will be able to perform this exercise correctly.
Exercise No. 10. You can now wind up your work-out with the one arm dumb bell press and when you have you may be certain that you have performed just about every type of trap exercise that an intermediate is ready for. Naturally there are still other exercise I have not mentioned, but in this course there is at least one of each distinct type of intermediate trapezius exercise and other exercises would either be too advanced for you or else would merely be a slight variation of one of the exercises that I have listed and not needed if you follow my suggested routine.
After a while you will advance further in your training and you will be ready for harder work. Don’t try to rush things, for it will be of no value for you to follow advanced methods until you are ready for them.
Well, finally we have reached the point where you advanced trainers and myself can have a talk. I will be able to ‘talk turkey’ to you boys for you surely must understand my language or else you aren’t advanced at all and have no right to think you are.
As an advanced trainee it is to be expected that you have already obtained a much better than average development of the trapezius. But of course you are human and want to go even further. O.K. I’m all for you so let us study advanced methods. Advanced methods will extend all the way from tow extremes. They will need to be very direct and isolated movements as well as exercises which use large masses of muscle.
Let us study the direct methods first. The most direct type of exercise is posing and muscle control. Yes, if you want clean delineation of the trapezius muscle you will need to pose for muscular display and practice muscle control. Get a good book on muscle control and practice those controls that are intended for upper back display.
Less direct methods would be gymnastic movements such as muscle up and kips on the Roman Rings and high bar as well as parallel bar stunts of a similar mature. Hand balancing and certain tumbling movements will also bring out a lot of definition.
While I admit that weight training is far ahead of any other method of physical method of physical training, I know that all perfect men have devoted at least some time to gymnastic moves. Do not make the mistake of becoming too enthused over these gymnastic movements, for they should not comprise more than about one fifth of your work-out time, and it is not even necessary to follow them each workout. Just practice them with a fair amount of regularity and all will be well.
In addition there are some expander and pulley exercises which must not be overlooked. Exercises of this type should also comprise only a very small part of your work out period, and it is to be understood that the bulk of the exercises to be followed are to be with either dumb bells or a bar bell. However, these other exercises have a very distinct place in the routine of the advanced trainee.
Advanced weight exercises are the dumb bell shrug, the shrug wit a bar bell, but with the bar bell held behind the back, the dumb bell upright rowing exercise, the dumb bell alternate press, as well as all the various types of straight arm raises which are mainly associated with shoulder development but in reality play an important role in trapezius development. The advanced trainee will find that he will need to include more and more dumb bell movements in his routine if continued progress is to be made.
The most advanced trapezius exercises are those which utilize large masses of muscles. At the start, even an advanced trainee will need to perform them with a bar bell. However, later on he will find that better results will be forthcoming form following these movements with dumb bells instead. The two arm repetition snatch from the hang position, the two arm repetition clean from the hang position as well as the repetition jerk from the shoulders are all advanced movements. When performed with dumb bells they become so strenuous that none but the most advanced men can follow them.
These are the types of movements to ultimately aim toward, and besides giving your trapezius muscle a severe work out, your all round strength and general health will show a marked improvement.
This is the only way it can be, for no person can really develop only one part of his body to perfection unless all the other parts are exceptional also. So you advanced fellow who wish to specialize on any part of your body, regardless whether it is the trapezius or not, see to it that your routine puts a stress on the desired section, but that in addition it also includes those vital exercises that promote a full all ‘round growth of the entire body. The final result will depend upon just how much you put into it yourself. Good luck to you.