Kill the traps
Let’s just admit it, everyone loves big, jacked upper traps. Traps are quickly becoming the new biceps. We see that person in the gym or watch Tom Hardy in “Warrior” and think, “man, if only I could get a pair of traps like that!” Unfortunately, large, overdeveloped upper traps usually means a muscle imbalance and improper movement patterns.
In CrossFit, we see this all the time, especially in upper body pulling movements. As we start to pull, the body must be able to stabilize itself. Instead of pulling our shoulder blades down and allowing our lower traps and rhomboids to stabilize for us, the brain allows the more readily available upper traps to stabilize the movement as we start our pull.
This becomes a problem for a few difference reasons. The first being our shoulder will now be in a compromised position. With our traps shrugged up, our shoulder will not be sitting back in the more stable position, creating a lot of unnecessary strain on the joint. Couple this with a dynamic movement like kipping pull up and your shoulder is hanging on by a thread! And if that’s not enough, allowing the upper trap to become dominate feeds imbalance. Always remember, improper movement pattern leads to imbalance, and imbalance leads to injury.
We mentioned the brain allows this to happen. That’s because it is only worried about accomplishing the task at hand. Our example will be, “did we do a pull up, yes or no?” If the upper traps are willing to do the work of the other muscles around it, the brain will let it. We then shrug up, take the lats out of the movement and rely mostly on our biceps to complete the lift. This is why we must be conscious of how we are performing a lift, making sure we are using the correct musculature. Otherwise, it is far too easy to have overdeveloped muscles.
We have been using the pull up as our example because it is arguably the most common fault we see, however, the theme of overactive upper traps is one that transcends the pull up. This applies to all upper body pulling movements and is very common in movements where the upper back need to be stabilized (in over words, everything!)
Next time you go to do a pull up, or any movement for that matter, stop and ask yourself what musculature are you really trying to develop? Chances are, it’s not what you were about to activate.