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Most of us have at least heard of our ‘traps.’ That’s the muscle you work with shrugs until your neck disappears, right? Well, kind of… but that’s also kind of the problem.
The trapezius superior is what most gym rats mean when they talk about their traps. But what you really want is balance between the upper and lower traps, and most of us don’t have it. We need to take a look at the problem, and to do that we need to look at the trapezius inferior.
The trapezius inferior is harder to see than the trap superior because it’s medial – closer to the spine – to the lats, and because it’s often so underdeveloped. It can be hidden under a layer of subcutaneous fat too. But we can find it if we can find our backbones and our shoulderblades. The trapezius muscle attaches the shoulderblade by the spine of the shoulderblade – the bony part that stands out in the middle of your shoulderblade – with the spine all the way down to the 12th thoracic vertebra.
As a result, imbalanced traps can pull your shoulderblades out of place, or pull your spine out of shape, or both.
Training the way a lot of people do, with an emphasis on the upper traps, pulls the shoulderblades higher and internally rotates the arms, making the elbows stick out. Meanwhile the neck is lordotic and the head is tilted back and pushed forward. Ths traps don’t actually pull your shoulderblades up your back – they just rotate them around your actual shoulder joint, the acronioclavicular joint to be precise.
So much for guys who train wrong. What does this have to do with the general population – those of us who don’t call each other brah and do curls in the squat rack at Planet Fitness?
What can we do about it? Well, you could get a better desk chair, but there are moves you can use to put your trapezius back in working order across your whole back too.
I’ve deliberately chosen to start with the focus on simple bodyweight exercises that almost anyone can do: if they’re so easy for you that they don’t do anything, try using equivalent barbell or dumbbell moves, or cables or bands with more resistance. Later on, there are some more challenging moves, but remember the goal is to improve your movement quality and fix bad motor patterns, not to move a ton of weight!
Also, bear in mind that it’s almost impossible to target one of the back muscles at the total exclusion of all the others; you just can’t train your trapezius and not your other scapular retractors, for instance. So some of these will hit many different muscles: that’s a good thing in my eyes, since it’s usually better to attack a bad movement by fixing the movement rather than focussing too much on the muscles involved.