Do Deadlifts Build Bigger Traps Than Shrugs?

June 29, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “do deadlifts build bigger traps than shrugs?”. When people think about how to build big traps, the first exercise that often comes to mind are shrugs.

But are deadlifts a better exercise for building big traps? This article will explore this topic in detail and will provide some useful insights. I hope you find it an informative and engaging read.

Deadlifts And Shrugs Both Hit Traps

Deadlifts and shrugs both hit the traps very well. Deadlifts engage more muscle mass and involve a lot more work. Shrugs are predominantly an isolation exercise for the traps.

You can use dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands or kettlebells to perform shrugs. Barbell shrugs will inevitably have the highest loading potential. You can overload further by doing power shrugs.

Similarly, you can make use of deadlift variations like a high rack pull to move the most weight and build massive traps. Heavy dumbbell shrugs will also build up your traps, but you are limited in most gyms to around 50kg dumbbells.

Previously on this site I have explored trap bar shrugs and whether they are better than normal barbell shrugs.


Can Deadlifts Build Big Traps?

The answer is yes, deadlifts can build big traps. You are moving a lot of weight on the deadlift – most people can deadlift more than they can squat.

Lots of muscles are involved in the deadlift from glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, forearms, traps and upper back. When I used to deadlift heavy every week I would find that my traps got quite sore after the deadlift workouts.

This is a testament to the fact that deadlifts do build up your traps. The stretching component with heavy weights plays a bigger role than people think in trap development.

With deadlift sets of multiple reps, you should lock out every rep. When you are standing with heavy weight in the locked out position, you will find that you get a tremendous stretch on your traps.

As you are pulling the weight off the floor, the traps also get engaged heavily during the pull. There is a reason why many big deadlifters have big traps. The sheer volume and poundage that they use will develop them.

A good example is Pete Rubish. He was known for his massive neck and traps. Pete credits this predominantly to deadlifts. He deadlifts heavy and performs various deadlift variations. He also incorporates quite a bit of volume on deadlifts.

How Well Can Shrugs Build Traps?

Many people prescribe shrugs for improving trap development. How well do shrugs actually work in developing big traps?

I would say that shrugs are a worthwhile exercise for building the traps. But there are some caveats, you have to go heavy! Some people claim that you can build big traps by doing light weight shrugs with a long squeeze at the top.

However, this is not the optimal way. Traps respond to heavy weight, which is why very heavy deadlifts elicit such a soreness in the traps.

If you are going to do shrugs, I would recommend going as heavy as you can with dumbbells, resistance bands or barbells. Barbells will allow for the highest loading. 

In terms of handling the heaviest loads, high rack pulls are better than shrugs. You will build up your traps very well if you try high rack pulls consistently over a period of time. 

A lot of people believe that high rack pulls are an ego lift. This is true to a degree, but there is also a lot of utility to performing them in order to get big traps.

Some people also execute shrugs in an ego lifting fashion. You will see people performing shrugs in the power rack using lots of momentum and cheating. You should try and aim for quality reps and good technique.

If you can get stronger over time with good technique, you will be working the muscles well and they will develop more optimally. You are also less likely to get injured by practicing good technique.

Do Deadlifts Provide More Stimulus For Trap Growth?

Deadlifts do provide more overall stimulus for trap growth. You can use very heavy weight and the movement is incredibly functional.

Being able to pick up heavy weight from the floor is very useful in everyday life. The traps are used in conjunction with other muscles throughout the pull on the deadlift.

It is true that you can also go very heavy with barbell shrugs. However, the range of motion is shorter and more targeted. You will get better overall stimulus from deadlifts as the muscles are under tension for longer.

For the best results you can perform deadlift variations such as rack pulls from below the knee or above the knee. Rack pulls from above the knee will really overload the traps with maximum weight and prove very beneficial for inducing growth. 

Alex Leonidas’s Views

Alex is a popular figure in the online fitness community. He echoes my views when it comes to building the traps. Too many people believe that they can build big traps with light weight shrugs.

If you perform light dumbbell shrugs and squeeze at the top of each rep for a few seconds, you will not built huge traps. Traps ultimately respond to weight, to induce soreness and growth you need to use heavy weight and provide progressive overload.

For reference, Alex has previously hit an 1105lb rack pull from above the knee. This is a tremendously heavy weight and illustrates the strength potential of the traps.

You need to use heavy weight to work your traps well and get them to grow. The same is true with most muscles. You can’t expect to build huge arms by doing curls with ultra light weight!

Final Thoughts

Do deadlifts build bigger traps than shrugs? The answer is they do, the stimulus and time under tension is far greater with heavy deadlifts.

A high rack pull is also a shorter range of motion variation of the deadlift, it can elicit the most soreness and growth in the traps. 

Shrugs have their place as well and are a useful accessory exercise. I am a big fan of dumbbell shrugs and shrugs with resistance bands. The key is to go heavy and apply progressive overload.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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