The lower trapezius plays a vital role in scapula (shoulder blade) stability. This contributes to improved posture, reduced neck and back pain, and is essential for movements like lifting, pulling, and throwing.
Whether you’re carrying groceries, throwing a ball, or doing a pull-up… strengthening the lower trapezius makes things easier.
We also find lower trapezius exercises can help improve muscular balance around the scapula as a whole…. especially when the upper/middle traps are often over-developed in comparison to the lower section (which can increase tension around the neck).
But, it can be hard to know if you’re specifically targeting the “lower” traps or just strengthening the upper back in general when doing various pulling exercises.
So, we’ve outlined 6 of the best exercises that specifically focus on the lower trapezius muscle, including stability and strength movements. We’ve also provided video demonstrations and tips on how to perform each movement properly.
At a Glance – Lower Trapezius Exercises
- Y Raises
- Face Pulls
- Waiter’s Carry
- Overhead Press
- T Raises
- High Standing Row
What (and Where) are the Lower Trapezius Muscles?
The trapezius, often referred to as “traps”, is a large, kite-shaped muscle that spans your upper back and neck. It’s one of the most noticeable muscles of the back and plays a vital role in stabilizing the scapula (shoulder blades).
The trapezius is divided into three sections: the upper, middle, and lower, each with their own unique functions.
The upper traps are located in the upper part of your neck and shoulders. They’re the most visible part of the trapezius and are responsible for shrugging your shoulders (upwardly rotating) and tilting your head back.
The middle traps run along the middle of your upper back, between your shoulder blades. They play an important role in pulling your shoulder blades together (adduction).
The lower traps, the focus of this article, are located in the lower part of your upper back, extending down towards the middle of your spine. They help in moving and stabilizing the shoulder blades by pulling the scapular downwards.
Lower Trapezius Exercises
The Y raise is a simple yet effective exercise to target your lower traps.
To perform this exercise, either stand tall, holding a taut resistance band and extend your arms in front of you to form a ‘Y’ shape, then lift your arms as high as you can while keeping them straight.
You can also do this in a prone (lying face down) position with no weight or dumbbells.
The Y raise specifically targets the lower traps, helping to strengthen this hard-to-reach area. It’s a great exercise for anyone looking to improve their posture or enhance their upper body strength, regardless of what equipment you have access to.
To make the exercise easier, you can perform it without weights or with lighter weights. To make it harder, increase the weight or the number of repetitions.
Face pulls are one of our favorite exercises for posture and they make strengthening the lower traps really simple.
To perform face pulls, stand in front of a cable machine with the pulley set at upper chest height. Hold the rope with both hands, before pulling it towards your face while keeping your elbows high, then slowly return to the starting position.
You can adjust the weight on the cable machine to make the exercise easier or harder. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can also perform face pulls with a resistance band.
We find face pulls are particularly useful for people who tend to do a lot of pushing exercises like push-ups or bench press… as it helps to address muscular imbalance around the chest/upper back (by allowing you to naturally add more load to a pulling movement compared to something like Y raises).
The waiter’s carry is a functional exercise that works your lower traps differently from face pulls or Y raises.
The focus of this exercise is stability… you need to activate the lower traps to help create stability around the shoulder joint as you hold the weight overhead.
To perform a waiter’s carry, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell overhead with your arm fully extended, like a waiter carrying a tray, then walk for a set distance or time.
As well as strengthening the shoulder and back, this movement will also fire up the core, especially the obliques, as your body fights the natural instability of holding something overhead.
Change the weight/distance walked to make things easier or harder.
The overhead press is a classic strength training exercise that recruits most muscles around your shoulder and upper back.
Again, this requires the lower traps to help stabilize the shoulders as they press a weight overhead, which has lots of practical uses in everyday life, as well as sports.
To perform an overhead press, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Press the weights overhead until your arms are fully extended, then slowly lower them back to the starting position.
The T Raise is a great way to deactivate the upper traps and naturally pull the shoulder blades down before squeezing your upper back together.
The movement is very subtle, but it’s still really effective at strengthening the lower trapezius.
You can do it standing up or lying face down.
To perform T raises, lying face down, straighten your arms and rotate your shoulders so your thumbs are facing up (this pulls the shoulder blades down to help activate the lower traps specifically). Squeeze your shoulder blades together to lift your hands off the floor, before lowering them back down.
If this is too difficult, you could also do it in a quadruped position which will allow for greater range of motion at the shoulder joint.
High Standing Row
The high cable row is a popular pulling exercise that is easy to modify based on equipment and fitness level.
To perform a high cable row, stand in front of a cable machine with the pulley set at upper chest height. Alternatively, you could just wrap a resistance band around a sturdy object.
Hold the handle/band with both hands, pull it towards your body while keeping your elbows high, then slowly return to the starting position.
Focus on really retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades during the exercise.
You may want to experiment with different angles to see how it impacts your lower trapezius activation.
Things to Consider
The equipment you have available can determine which exercises you can do and how you perform them. For example, if you have access to a cable machine, you can do exercises like high cable rows or face pulls.
If you have dumbbells, you can do exercises like Y raises or an overhead press.
The type of equipment can also impact how you engage your lower traps. For instance, when using a resistance band, the tension increases as you stretch the band, which can provide a different kind of challenge compared to using dumbbells or a barbell, where the weight remains constant throughout the movement.
Experimenting with different types of equipment can help you find what works best for you and add variety to your workouts.
Proper technique is really important to effectively target the lower traps and prevent injury. Make sure to keep your movements controlled, avoid using momentum to lift the weights, and focus on engaging your lower traps during each exercise.
For prone (lying face down), pointing your thumbs upwards can be a simple cue to help encourage scapula retraction (which helps focus the attention on the lower trapezius).
Lower trapezius exercises often don’t feature in fitness routines enough, especially as they have such a direct impact on shoulder stability/health and posture.
More stability around the shoulder also means you can add more weight to other exercises without risking injury.
Opt for slow and controlled movements with the shoulder blades pulled down to help get the most out of these lower trapezius exercises.