Overactive traps are a common complaint among both gym-goers and non-gym-goers.
The traps, or trapezius muscles, are located on the upper back. They are shaped like a trapezoid (hence the name) and start at the base of the skull and end at the bottom of the shoulder blade.
It’s specifically tight, or overactive upper trapezius muscles (located from the base of the skull to the tops of the shoulder blades) that cause the most problems.
In a lot of people, the upper traps are overactive and the lower traps, as well as the other muscles of the upper back and shoulders, are under active. This creates a muscle imbalance and contributes to upper-crossed syndrome (which is characterized by rounded shoulders and the head protruding forward).
Lots of people deal with overactive upper traps because they work at an office and spend all day slumped over a keyboard.
Sitting in this position means your shoulders are elevated and your upper traps are engaged throughout the day.
When you head to the gym or workout at home later, you’re more likely to carry that same pattern over into your lifts. This just makes the problem worse and can contribute to other issues like poor posture and tension headaches.
Signs You Have Overactive Traps
Not sure if you have overactive traps? Here are some common symptoms people experience when they do:
- Shoulders elevating during workouts, especially when doing overhead movements or upper body exercises
- Poor posture, often with shoulders rounded and head protruding forward
- Chronic tension headaches and neck pain
- Pain and tightness in the chest
- Jaw pain
- Soreness in the shoulder blades and upper back
Mobility Drills for Overactive Traps
Do any of those signs sound familiar to you? If so, there’s a good chance you could benefit from some mobility drills.
The key to correcting overactive traps is to correct the muscle imbalance and strengthen the underactive muscles in the back and shoulders.
A lot of people assume that they can fix overactive traps with the help of massage or soft-tissue manipulation tools like thera-guns. These tools can be helpful, but they won’t fix the problem by themselves. If you only rely on these tools, you’ll get some temporary relief, but you don’t actually correct the muscle imbalance that’s causing your symptoms.
Here are three for overactive traps that can help to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff and upper back and correct the imbalances that contribute to overactive traps:
Banded External Rotation
This exercise helps to strengthen the teres minor and infrapsrinatus, two of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff muscles help to stabilize the shoulder joint.
To do this exercise, start by wrapping a resistance band around a stable object like a table or couch leg.
Lie on your right side with your head resting on your right hand for support.
Grab the resistance band with your left hand and perform a row to create tension and pull it toward your body. Then, keep the elbow close the side of the body and externally rotate your arm so that you’re bringing your fist up toward the ceiling.
Move slowly and with control and really think about using the muscles in your shoulder and upper back. Don’t let your shoulder rise up toward your ear.
Single-Arm Banded Row
This is another exercise that’s great for the infraspinatus and teres minor, as well as the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, posterior delt, and erector spinae.
Start by sitting up straight with your legs extended in front of you.
Reach for the resistance band with your left hand and, while keeping your shoulders pressed down, slowly pull it back as you bend your arm at the elbow.
Focus on retracting the shoulder blade and squeeze it for a second when you’ve pulled your arm all the way back before releasing it.
Kneeling Banded Rear Delt Flye
This exercise helps to strengthen the posterior deltoid (or rear delt), as well as the teres minor and infraspinatus. It targets the latissimus dorsi a bit, too.
Start by kneeling on all fours with the resistance band on your left side. Reach for the band with your right hand.
Keeping your arm in a fixed position (do not extend or flex the elbow joint), pull the band under your body and extend your arm out to the side. Remember, keep your arm fixed with a slight bend at the elbow.
Squeeze the shoulder at the top of the exercise, all while keeping your shoulder blades pressed down your back, then return to the starting position.
Mobility Drills for Overactive Traps Video Breakdown
Need extra help with any of these exercises? Check out this video breakdown to see how they’re done:
Incorporate these mobility drills for overactive traps into your routine on a regular basis and you’ll start to correct your muscle imbalances and avoid letting your upper traps take over when you’re working out.
Remember to be consistent and be patient — it took you years to develop this muscle imbalance, so it’s going to take a while for you to correct it, too.
If you give these drills a try, please let me know how it goes in the comments down below!