Build A Bigger Upper Body: Back, Shoulders And Traps Workout

Bro: it's time to work the torso. Set aside chest, bicep & abs for a moment. This workout helps you beef up your back, shoulders and traps, and fill out that t-shirt.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Single Muscle Group
6 weeks
45-60 minutes
Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female

Workout Description

The beach muscles: chest, biceps and abs. A typical gym rat works these bodyparts hard, while undertraining the rest of the torso. 

Only a token amount of work is put in for back, shoulders and traps. The typical bro torso attack looks like this:

  • Back - Lat pull downs and maybe (MAYBE) a few Hammer strength rows or seated cable rows for good measure.
  • Shoulders - Token Smith machine overhead presses followed by various (wimpy) lateral raises.
  • Traps - Light weight shrugs that aren't potent enough to pack mass on a rat.

This type of training won't cut it. If you want a truly impressive upper body - one that fills out t-shirts and screams "I hit the gym", then you want to train your back and shoulders as much as your chest.

And let's face it...a great upper body isn't a great upper body unless you have monster traps. Traps are the new abs. Repeat after me...traps are the new abs.

The following workout is performed on the same day, once per week. I recommend using it within a training split that looks similar to this:

Back, Shoulders and Traps Workout

Workout Notes

Shrugs. Don't baby your barbell shrugs. Slap on as much weight as possible and power shrug those bad boys up. Power shrugs are not strict. Don't fear the explosiveness of this lift; it's not cheating, it's life changing. You will build mountain peak traps.

Seated Dumbbell Press. If you can, perform these on a bench or chair with a back.

Pull Ups. If you can't perform pull ups, use lat pull downs instead.

Seated Cable Rows. If you do not have a cable row machine, use barbell rows or machine rows.

Upper Body Workout
Back, Shoulders and Traps
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts 3 8
Seated Dumbbell Press 3 10
Pull Ups 5 Max
Clean and Press 5 5
Seated Cable Rows 5 10
Barbell Upright Row 3 10
Power Barbell Shrugs 5 10

36 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 05/03/2017 - 02:36

Is there any other workout or workouts, I can substitute for clean and press?

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Posted Wed, 05/03/2017 - 09:32

Hi Kyle,

In terms of a full body movement, no not really.

But if you're not looking for any athletic benefits and simply just want to isolate shoulders to build shoulder muscle, standing or seated barbell military press will fit in here.

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Posted Sat, 10/11/2014 - 22:57

Hi honour, can you please send me a link of making a bigger bicept ?

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Posted Fri, 08/08/2014 - 16:44

Can you link me your other routines for the other days ?

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Posted Fri, 08/08/2014 - 16:43

Can I see your routine for chest and arms , and legs ?

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Posted Sun, 07/20/2014 - 17:07

Don't do deadlift on the smith machine planet fitness will kick you out...
Anybody that's doesn't know clean to press...YouTube exists for a reason
And if you're trying to substitute pull ups with something else I'd suggest you don't because it's what gives your back that muscular physique

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Posted Wed, 04/30/2014 - 18:46

Hi Steve,
I'm fairly new to hitting the gym still and have seen results from your workout in only 2 months! I have a few questions though in regards to lower back exercises.The gym I go to doesn't have free weight barbells and only the smith machine. Could I possibly switch to using dumbells for my deadlift? If not could I do back extensions instead?

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Posted Wed, 04/09/2014 - 00:09

i am gettig head ache when iam working on traps ( barbel shrugs ) pls help steve

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Posted Wed, 04/09/2014 - 00:05

i am getting head ache when iam workin on traps ( barbel shrugs) ,pls help

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Posted Wed, 01/08/2014 - 11:43
nolski bielskewitz

One request: There are a lot of differing examples on proper Clean and Press form. Can MS add a link to a demo they feel shows good form?

One question: I'm doing a split where I work legs twice a week, bench and tris once a week, and now adding this back routine. Should I add a 5th day to this split for biceps exclusively since they're not isolated in this workout? Your recommended split listed at the top of the article suggests doing "arms" (bis AND tris?) on my bench day. That would make for a very long workout and I'm concerned with fatigue/lactic acid buildup toward the end. Not to mention time restraints.

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Posted Sun, 12/08/2013 - 14:03

where is teh rest of the program for monday and wednesday

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Posted Sun, 07/20/2014 - 16:55

That was the program(Back, Shoulders & Traps). He just told you how to use it in a training split, to incorporate it in your workout.

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Posted Sat, 11/02/2013 - 10:22
steve h

Great routine will incorporate, ok with legs- ATG front and backsquats, unfortunately I would of finished off with leg press , but is not adjustable for back position (reclines to much for my liking)then seated and standing calve raises. Would love a routine for chest and arms though.
P.s my sympathies for some of they questions you get asked , must have the patience of a saint
Pps great articles

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Posted Fri, 10/25/2013 - 21:23

Hi Steve,
I was wondering if there is an alternative to the clean and press. I'm having problems getting the mechanics of this exercise.

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Posted Fri, 10/25/2013 - 11:20

I was incorporation Shrugs and Upright Row in my new workout but just read on forums that it is not safe exercise as it increases the chances of shoulder injure because it places arms in awkward position. please enlighten me.

Workout A
Bench Press
CG Bench Press
Upright ROW
Pull Ups

Workout B
Overhead Press
Inclined Bench Press
Bent Over Row
Barbell Shrug

Workout C
Dumbbell Squat
Dumbbell Calf Raise
Leg Press

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Posted Wed, 01/22/2014 - 15:45

If you are worried about the upright rows, what I like to do is use dumbbells. This allows a full range of motion and rotation. Also if you start with the dumbbells closer together and then allow them to move further apart at the top of your chest, V shape motion. I have had shoulder injuries in the past and doing them this way has not caused me any problems.

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Posted Thu, 10/10/2013 - 14:55

Hey Steve

Great article...I just started working out, I've heard working on your biceps and triceps on the same day is not a good it true?

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Posted Thu, 10/10/2013 - 13:10

if using lat pull downs instead of pull ups how many reps/sets should i do?

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Posted Tue, 10/08/2013 - 16:58

Hey Steve,

What's the optimal rest time between sets/exercises for this workout? Thanks.

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Posted Tue, 10/01/2013 - 14:51

Hi Steve,

I'm relatively new to lifting and was hoping you could tell me how long of a rest I should be taking between each set and each exercise.


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Posted Mon, 09/23/2013 - 07:30
Selwyn Francis

hi steve i've been off the lifting iron game for more than a year 18months to be exact since i was transferred to a small town that does not have a gym and i have slipped up on not only my physic but i can feel my health also because working in the garden makes me huff and puff. i am looking to get back into lifting again but need some advice not only on lifting but nutrition as well since my middle has extended dramatically. i will be waiting for your reply with some useful advise my friend i need it. selwyn francis

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Posted Mon, 09/23/2013 - 07:22

My weekly workout
Sat - chest
Sun- biceps triceps and forearm
Mon - shoulders
wed - Back + biceps
thurs - legs calves

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Posted Mon, 05/29/2017 - 02:35

You have 4 workouts dedicated to upper body.
Why only 1 for your entire lower half?

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Posted Mon, 09/23/2013 - 00:20

What is a clean and press ?
What about monday and wed. routine ?

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Posted Thu, 09/19/2013 - 09:43

I studied this workout and I am really interested in doing this more often to better my fitness. Can you write up Monday's and Wednesdays workout like you just did for this page or lead me to those links? I lifted weights in high school but I want to better train and do iso-work.

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Posted Tue, 09/17/2013 - 04:10

Hi Steve. Firstly, I always enjoy your articles as I'm on a strength and size crusade at the moment! I'm not sure if this question relates specifically to this article but you wrote somewhere about not training to failure and I wondered what your rationale for that was? Other articles I've read support training to failure and beyond (such as forced reps) for natural lifters as they need the extra volume. Would love to know your thoughts?...

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Posted Fri, 09/20/2013 - 09:42

When you push your body to the point where form starts to break down you are increasing injury risk. Best to push for progression rather than punishment. You will never need failure to make good gains. It is easier on some exercises than others, but still totally unnecessary.

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Posted Tue, 09/17/2013 - 04:03

Hi Steve,
Im having trouble trying to fit this into a 3 day split, im not sure how to arrange the other 2 days etc. Was wondering if you could recommend how I sort the other 2 days and the exercises?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 09/20/2013 - 09:45

Hi Adam,

I would do:
Monday - Chest, triceps and biceps
Wednesday - Back, shoulders and traps
Friday - Legs

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Posted Sat, 09/14/2013 - 17:17

Cheers Steve! I'm going to attack this today, ill let you know how I feel!

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Posted Sat, 09/14/2013 - 16:07

How its look like clean and press exercise? I can understand.

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Posted Fri, 09/13/2013 - 03:06

@Steve 8 reps is used because it falls in the optimal range for hypertrophy (muscle building). This range is 6-12 reps. Using a range of 1-6 reps more focusses on muscular strength. Whilst you will get bigger using this rep range, it is far more effective using the 8-12 reps at 70-80% of 1RM. Hope this helps!!

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Posted Fri, 09/13/2013 - 03:06

I'm an intermediate lifter (2 years), What changes would I make to the program?

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Posted Wed, 09/11/2013 - 21:35

Hi Steve,
WHy is a such high number of reps used for the deadlifts, wouldnt it be more optimum to use a lower rep range? Also is 5 sets of 10 reps of shrugs necessary if you are also doing deadlifts, clean and press, dumbbell press? And is this workout suited to me as a beginner.

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 09/12/2013 - 15:20

Hi Moss,

No that's not too much work. Guys do 20 sets of chest and bicep sets each week. Most lifters don't bat an eye at overworking the beach muscles. 8 sets of presses and 8 sets of deadlifts/traps isn't really extreme.

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Posted Tue, 01/14/2014 - 09:49

Please don't eat my cat :'(