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Deciding when to work the trap muscles can be confusing. You may want to do them on push day after overhead press or on pull day after deadlifts but are confused with conflicting information online. Don’t let this stress you out, it’s more flexible than people make it seem.
As a general rule, traps are a part of pull day since they are trained directly through most pulling exercises. However, they can also be worked on a push-focused day by utilizing agonist-antagonist paired sets (APS) or by performing overhead presses.
Not sure what these sets are? Not a problem, I’ll explain them below along with a deeper look at why the traps can be considered a push or pull muscle group.
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Why Traps Can Be Part of Push or Pull Day
Trap exercises are commonly included on pull days because rows and face pulls work the middle and lower fibers and deadlifts work the whole muscle. With this logic, it makes sense to train them directly after compound pulling exercises as they’re already primed.
However, training them on push day shouldn’t be out of the picture. If you do an overhead press the upper traps are going to be engaged via upward rotation of the scapula. This can also be true with lateral raises if the arms are raised above shoulder height, which is not the case with rows or face pulls.
So, exercises that train the middle and lower traps are better placed on pull days. Exercises that stimulate the upper fibers can be suited after push days that include an overhead pressing variation.
Just because this day is called push doesn’t mean you can’t still do pull movements at the end. There’s no rule saying you can’t do some shrugs at the end of a push day. And when you think about it, doing shrugs makes sense following overhead presses as they both hit the upper traps.
However, you don’t necessarily have to do overhead press if you want to train traps on push day. You can also do agonist-antagonist paired sets (APS). They sound confusing but once I explain them they won’t be.
APS is training two opposing muscles with two exercises simultaneously, kind of like a superset. A muscle that opposes the traps is the pectoralis major. This means you could do a pulling exercise for the traps combined with a pushing exercise for the chest.
For example, say you’re doing a push workout but haven’t gotten around to hitting traps all week. You can do one set of bench presses, rest for 20 seconds, do one set of face pulls, then rest for 20 more seconds. Then repeat this for 2-3 more sets, alternating between both exercises.
Not only does this save time, but it gives the traps a break during bench and the chest a break during face pulls. This allows you to progress with both movements without hindering recovery. Plus, you can get the necessary volume requirements for both of these muscles.
Here’s a table with common trap and pushing exercises that can be paired together for APS:
|Trapezius Pulling Exercises||APS Pairable Pushing Exercises|
|Barbell Upright Rows||Dips|
|Reverse Flies||Chest Flies|
|Shoulder Height Face Pulls||Barbell Flat Bench|
The placement of your exercises shouldn’t be dependent on norms like push or pull, but rather on what is best for you. If your upper traps are lagging, isolate them with shrugs after an overhead press. This will allow you to get a better mind-muscle connection.
If you’re skeptical about performing dumbbell shrugs, I recommend you read my article going over some better variations and alternatives.
Similarly, if your middle and lower traps are lagging, isolate them after rows or face pulls. You can do so by performing prone y-raises or reverse flies for high reps of 12-20.
Sample Pull Days With Traps
Here are two sample pull workouts. The first one includes shrugs as an upper trap isolation exercise after doing rows. This allows for complete trap development.
The second one includes deadlifts and upright rows as compounds for the upper traps. Although deadlifts work the entire muscle, they don’t actively contract it. Thus I included prone y-raises at the end to isolate the two inferior regions.
Pull day with shrugs:
- Bent-over barbell rows: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Face pulls: 3 x 12
- Shrugs: 2 x 12
- Bicep curls: 2 x 15
Pull day with upright rows:
- Deadlifts: 4 x 6
- Barbell upright rows: 3 x 10
- Bent-over lateral raise (rear delt focused): 3 x 15
- Prone y-raises: 3 x 12
Sample Push Days With Traps
Here are two push workouts that include a trap exercise. The first one utilizes APS. The second one places shrugs after the overhead press because remember, both movements hit the upper traps.
APS Push Day:
Rest 10 seconds between the APS exercises.
- Barbell flat bench APS with face pulls: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Face pulls APS with flat bench: 4 x 15
- Chest flies: 3 x 15
- Lateral raises: 2 x 15
Push Day With Shrugs:
- Overhead press: 4 x 6
- Chest press: 3 x 12
- Lateral raises: 3 x 12
- Shrugs: 3 x 20
Are Shoulders and Traps Considered Push or Pull Day?
Doing workouts that include both shoulder and trap exercises is common and can be effective. Whether the workout is a push or pull day is based on which head of the deltoid you hit with traps.
Training the anterior and medial shoulders and upper traps together is considered a push day. The exercises usually consist of lateral raises and overhead presses. Conversely, a workout with reverse flies and upright rows focuses on the posterior and medial shoulders and traps, which is a pull day.
You can also do a crossbreed of push and pull in a single session. For example, the first exercise could be an overhead press (push) followed by reverse flies (pull). Then you might finish with some direct trap work using shrugs or prone y-raises (pulls).
Are Shrugs a Push or Pull Day Exercise?
Shrugs are a great exercise to train the upper traps specifically. By placing them on the right day, you can ensure that the entire muscle is being stimulated.
Shrugs are a pull-day exercise because the weight is being lifted towards the midline of the body. They fit in well at the end of rear delt or back-focused pull day to work the upper traps as the preceding exercises will have already worked the middle and lower fibers.
However, if you want to focus on the upper traps specifically, doing shrugs on a push day is acceptable.
I like doing high-rep shrugs (12-20) on push day to burn them out after they’re pre-exhausted from the overhead press. If I do them on a middle/lower trap fatiguing pull day I’ll focus on strength (8-12 reps) since the upper traps are still fresh.