A muscular upper back – namely traps, rhomboids, and rear delts – is dubbed “the yoke.” Building an impressive yoke screams high-performance body and caps off a V-taper physique.
It also provides additional shoulder stability and reduces computer-person posture. The key muscle you’ll focus on is your traps. They stabilize your scapula and function in a stability role on overhead press variations.
Your traps take on a direct loading role when retracting your shoulders (think rows and face pulls). It’s a big muscle with a short active range of motion. If you want to maximize the upper fibers (surrounding the neck), you need exercises that include upward movement and rotation of the scapula.
That’s where shrugs, cleans, and farmers walks come in. If you don’t already know how to shrug, these variations will get you there.
Here are some options for the two other trap-building lifts:
1 The Dumbbell Hang Clean & Press
This requires movement from the wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankle, knee, and hip joints, making it a total body exercise. This makes the clean a better bang for your buck than almost any other exercise.
The corresponding muscles that cross each of those joints must work in cooperation to accelerate a heavy resistance, stabilize the spine, and explosively transfer power.
When you combine a press on each rep, the exercise becomes one of the most efficient exercises possible, particularly for adding size to your traps and shoulders. And you don’t even HAVE to do it with a barbell. Just grab a couple of dumbbells.
Past strongmen like Sig Klein made the dumbbell clean, squat, and press a staple. In the 1930s, he claimed that few men in the United States could handle a pair of 75-pound dumbbells for 12 quality reps.
I’d argue even fewer could today. Take the challenge if you dare. And if you’re looking for a more joint-friendly variation, try a hang-clean, squat, and press.
How To Do It
- Squat down with dumbbells at your sides just below the knee in the “hang” position.
- With the dumbbells just below knee level and shoulders retracted, aggressively extend the hips and knees.
- As the dumbbells pass the hips, aggressively shrug and pull the elbows upward, rotating your arms until your triceps are parallel to the ground.
- Pull your body underneath the dumbbells while moving into the squat position.
- Hit the bottom of the squat and stand up immediately.
- Press overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells to the hang position and repeat.
2 Two-Minute Farmers Walks
Because the upper fibers of your traps have a limited range of motion for elevating your scapula, they’ll thrive with more time under tension and more reps.
But rather than those herky-jerky shrugs you see at most gyms, try two-minute farmers walks with a slight-shoulder shrug. Add 3 sets of two-minute walks with 90 seconds of rest at the end of your back or pull days.
The two-minute farmers walk will challenge your grip, force you to breathe under control while holding optimal posture, improve stability from head to toe, and put a ton of stress on your traps.
How To Do It
- Grab dumbbells, kettlebells, farmers walk implements or 45-pound plates with handles.
- Stand tall, retract and slightly shrug your shoulders.
- Walk while keeping your chest tall in heel-to-toe fashion for two minutes.
- Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat.