The 7 Best Lower Trap Exercises

Almost every bodybuilder knows how important trapezius training is for sculpting the ultimate back. Well-developed traps make you look powerful, and mountainous traps are even visible from the front.

But the traps are more than just a good-looking muscle group; they’re also crucial for the proper function and health of your shoulders.

Keep doing shrugs to make your traps bigger, and don’t forget to include some face-pulls and band pull-aparts for your mid traps. However, you need to train your lower traps too. You might not be able to see this muscle, but it’s still critical.

In this article, we explain why and how to train your lower traps.

Lower Trap Anatomy

The trapezius is a broad, diamond-shaped muscle that covers a large part of your upper back. While the traps are a single muscle, it has three sets of fibers that run in different directions.

This means the traps have several functions:

  • Upper traps – elevation of the shoulder girdle
  • Middle traps – retraction of the shoulder girdle
  • Lower traps – depression of the shoulder girdle

Trapezius Muscles

The lower traps, the focus of this article, help stabilize your scapulae (shoulder blades) and keep them down during exercises like overhead presses and lat pulldowns. Weak lower traps mean your shoulders are less stable, which increases your risk of shoulder pain and injury.

For example, during shoulder presses, if your shoulders rise up as you press a barbell or dumbbells overhead, you increase your risk of rotator cuff impingement. This debilitating shoulder injury can take months to heal.

Weak lower traps can also affect your performance of exercises like bench presses and biceps curls. Most upper body and some lower body exercises start by pulling your shoulders back and down. Pulling your shoulders down is the job of your lower traps. Less stable shoulders mean you won’t be able to handle as much weight, and that instability could also mean that you fail sooner, making your workouts less productive.

Strengthening your lower traps won’t directly add a lot to your physique. No-one is going to congratulate you on your massive lower traps! However, eliminating this weak link will reduce your risk of injury and boost your training performance, and that WILL improve your physique.

The Seven Best Lower Trap Exercises

One of the easiest ways to increase lower trap strength is to focus on pulling your shoulders down and back when you do lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and triceps pushdowns. In fact, you should get into the habit of setting your scapula before every exercise in your bodybuilding program.

That said, there are also some exercises you can use to target the lower traps more directly, and here are seven of the best.

1. Y-raises

Y-raises are an excellent exercise for your mid and lower traps. You can do this exercise using just your arms for resistance or make it a little harder by holding light dumbbells.

However, for many exercisers, no weights are required. If you’ve never trained your lower traps before, this is an excellent place to start.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the floor on your front. Extend your arms out in front of you, thumbs pointing upward and hands about 1.5 shoulder-widths apart, so they form a Y-shape. Rest your forehead on the floor.
  2. Keeping your chest and head on the floor, lift your arms a few inches off the floor, ensuring your thumbs remain vertical.
  3. Lower your arms back down and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise face-down on an exercise bench to increase the range of motion.

2. Lat shrug downs

Most exercisers do some form of shrugs to work their upper traps. This shrug variation involves pulling your shoulders down instead of lifting them up to target the lower traps. Use a parallel grip pulldown bar for this exercise to put your shoulders and arms in a posture-friendly position.

How to do it:

  1. Grab your pulldown bar and sit down on the lat pulldown machine. Extend your arms overhead and keep them straight throughout.
  2. Shrug your shoulders down and back. Imagine you are trying to put your shoulder blades in your back pockets.
  3. Let your shoulders rise up to your ears and repeat.

3. One-arm straight-arm pushdowns

Pushdowns are mostly thought of as a triceps exercise. This variation hits your lower traps instead. Working one arm at a time means you can use a larger range of motion and also spot and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances. All you need is a high cable machine and a D-shaped handle.

How to do it:

  1. Stand sideways onto your cable machine and hold the handle. Bring your hand down to the outside of your leg, keeping your arm straight and your core tight.
  2. Without leaning to the side, push your shoulder down and then let it rise up again.
  3. Try to do the same number of reps on both sides.

4. Incline overhead presses

Incline Overhead Presses

This is a more advanced version of Y-raises (exercise #1). If you can keep your shoulders down when you are stationary, this is the next exercise to try. Go light; this is a deceptively challenging exercise!

How to do it:

  1. Set an exercise bench to about 45-degrees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie face down. Raise the weights to your shoulders, palms facing the floor. Pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Extend your arms and press the weights forward and up. They should remain in line with your body.
  3. Return the weights to your shoulders and repeat.
  4. Make this movement more challenging by doing them without the bench, i.e., in a bent-over row position.

5. Isometric pull-ups/chin-ups

Most lifters recognize chin-ups and pull-ups as lat exercises, and both are good for building bigger biceps too. However, with a simple modification, you can turn these bodyweight back builders into lower trap exercises.

How to do it:

  1. Grab your bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, a shoulder-width underhand grip, or a neutral grip as preferred.
  2. Bend your arms and pull yourself up, so your chin is above the bar.
  3. With your shoulders pulled down and back, maintain this position for as long as you can. This is called an isometric contraction.
  4. Lower yourself down under control and rest.
  5. If you aren’t strong enough to do this exercise, you can use a lat pulldown machine instead. Just pull the bar down to your chest and hold it.

6. Shrug dips

Dips are a very useful chest and triceps exercise, although some people find that they cause shoulder pain. This shoulder-friendly dip variation targets your lower traps, and your triceps get an isometric workout too.

How to do it:

  1. Grab the bars and support your weight on straight arms.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, allow your shoulders to rise, and then push them back down again.
  3. Too challenging? You can also do this exercise using an assisted chin/dip machine or by doing bench dips

7. Half-kneeling face pulls  

Face pulls are one of the best mid-trap and posterior exercises you can do. Every lifter should do face pulls! However, a simple adjustment will turn this move into a useful lower trap exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to a high pulley. Grab an end in each hand, step back to tension the cable, and then adopt a half-kneeling position. Brace your abs.
  2. Keeping your shoulders down and back, bend your arms and pull the handles into either side of your head. Extend your arms and repeat.
  3. Change leading legs set by set.

Lower Trap – Wrapping Up  

The lower traps are not the biggest, strongest, or most glamorous muscle, but they’re one of the most important. Weak lower traps increase your risk of shoulder injury and could undermine your performance of many key exercises.

Very few people bother training their lower traps, but spending even a few minutes on this muscle will be very beneficial. Do a few sets of lower trap training as part of your warm-up or between sets of abs, biceps curls, or bench presses. Your shoulders will thank you!

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