The Tricky Trapezius

The trapezius is one of the most over and under trained muscle in the body.  It is responsible for a number of actions, but is vastly overtrained in the scapular elevating motion; the shrug.  This can lead to a number of problems.  Why? Well as a muscle with multiple origins, insertions, and actions, it’s responsible for a number of different things.  The origins of the trapezius run from the occipital bone at the base of the skull down to the bottom of the thoracic spine.  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that all insertions occur at the spine of the scapula, even though in reality the insertions vary for the different divisions of the muscle.  The main concept, however, is that the trapezius, in all divisions, is responsible for moving the scapulae (shoulder blades).

This is where the issue and over and under training come on.  Most meatheads guys tend to think that the trapezius is adequately trained with tons of shrugs and shrugs and shrugs.  However, the trapezius doesn’t just pull up; it also pulls the shoulder blades together and down.  While the upper fibers run downward and laterally from the occipital bone to the acromion process and lateral third of the clavicle, the middle division runs laterally and pulls from the superior border of the spine of the scapula to the upper thoracic vertebrae, while the lower division runs upward and laterally and pull from the spine of the scapula down to the lower thoracic vertebrae.

I know that reading that made you hate me, but it’s important for a reason; most people only train the upper traps through the action of elevation; they neglect the middle and lower traps, and they’re equally if not more important sections.  The combination of overtraining the upper traps and undertraining the lower traps leads to some pretty serious muscle imbalances.  When one division of the muscle becomes dominant over the others, then compensation occurs among the synergistic muscles, and a host of problems arise.  Don’t be scared though, it’s easy to correct.

There are a number of corrective exercises that can be performed to activate the lower trapezius, but I find the facepull to the be the most superior exercise.  There are a number or reasons for this:

  • The facepull integrates the actions of all divisions of the trapezius.
  • For many people there is a distinct activation of the lower trap when performing the facepull.  This is important because very few people have proper upward rotation of the scapulae, and the lower trap is responsible for this.
  • The facepull is superior to traditional lower trap activation drills because there is external rotation at the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint, and a great deal of people also have a glenohumeral external rotation deficit.  If you strengthen the external rotators, you strength the shoulder.

The facepull is an amazing bang-for-your-buck exercise because it integrates the lower and middle trapezius, two divisions often overlooked by shrug-addicted mirror driven lifters.  By adding external rotation, it becomes one of the best exercises that you can use to improve your health, posture, and strength.  Use it as an activation drill prior to heavier compound movements, or after your heavy lifting to help integrate the middle and lower divisions of your trapezius into your movements.

By now, I know you’re saying, “I understand how important the lower trap is and how awesome the facepull is.  How do I do it?!”

Here’s the video; watch, learn do.

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2 Replies to “The Tricky Trapezius”

  1. Hey there Harold, nice article, first time on your blog.

    I have a question in regards with your post, would you say that inverted rows work the trapezius muscles the way the face pull does?

    I’m asking cause that’s what it feels like when I do those.

    Thans!

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