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Does Shoulder Press Work Traps?

Trap muscles start at the base of anyone’s neck and extend down to the middle back. These mainly help you perform core functions such as lifting your arms, stabilizing your shoulder blades, rotating, tilting your neck upward or downward, etc.

Working on your trap muscles is important because strengthening these muscles grow you resistant to injuries. A more common and easy-to-perform gym exercise is the shoulder press. Now, the question is, does shoulder press work traps?

Yes, the shoulder press does work traps, but it only focuses on the upper traps. Let’s take a more detailed look at things for better understanding.

Functions Performed by Traps

Before getting into the exercise, it’s important to understand how trap muscles work to promote muscle growth. Trapezius muscles or traps can perform different kinds of functions due to the unique arrangement of their fibers.

One of the core functions of the traps is depressing and elevating the scapula or the shoulder shrugs. The upper trapezius mainly does this function.

It can also retract the traps. Think of it as squeezing your shoulder blades together. And the middle trapezius does this.

Lastly, both the upper and middle trapezius can be used combinedly to rotate the scapula. This allows you to perform actions like flapping your arms.

Now that you know which type of actions work for your trap muscle groups, it’ll be easier for you to understand if your exercise and form are right or not.

Muscled Worked in Shoulder Pressing Movements

The movement in the shoulder press is very similar to that of the strict press. The difference is that a strict press is performed with a barbell, while a shoulder press involves two dumbbells. Moreover, the shoulder press works multiple muscles, but the muscles worked will vary based on the grip, angle, and variation used.

Irrespective, the muscles mainly worked in shoulder press are:

  • Triceps
  • Deltoids
  • Traps
  • Upper chest

Each of these muscles will be worked through different variations of shoulder press. In the following sections, we’ll discuss how different variations of shoulder press can help you.

Standing Overhead Press

Also known as the standing dumbbell shoulder press, this exercise requires one to lift a pair of dumbbells with both hands. While in the standing position, one should use core muscles, hips, and legs to attain stability so that the back can be extended. The dumbbells must be held with an overhand grip.

Overhead presses will allow one to work the shoulder, back, and upper chest. In addition, the overhead press stimulates your rotator cuff muscles, which work on your upper and middle traps. Also, they’re great for increasing one’s shoulder strength.

Some people confuse a military press with an overhead press. However, these aren’t the same. While the overhead press involves your entire body, the military press works only on your upper body.

If you want similar compound lifts with a barbell, you can try out the push press, as they involve the same muscles.


The Z-press is another exercise that helps work your traps. While it may seem a lot similar to the overhead press, functionally, they’re very different from one another.

Unlike the shoulder press, which requires you to be in a standing position, the starting position of the Z-press requires you to sit down on your hip with your legs extended to the front. As your lower body is eliminated from the equation, you have to rely a lot on your upper body and hips for stability and strength.

This is why the Z-press is great for working your upper traps. In the starting position, sit on your hamstrings with your chest forward and your back straight.

Now, take a dumbbell on each hand with a standard grip and press upwards with an upright posture. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t lean back at any cost throughout the session.

You can also do the Z-press with a barbell. To do so, hang the barbell on a stand and put appropriate weight plates on it. Now, sit in front of the barbells and lift them the same way you would’ve lifted the dumbbells. Unfortunately, due to their unique form, they can’t be done on an incline bench.

Some also recommend a seated overhead press. However, this kind of overhead pressing isn’t as effective for promoting trap muscle growth.

Bench Press

The bench press is a classic exercise that you perform on an incline bench with a barbell. This form uses many muscles as you push on the barbell with your whole body, including your feet.

So, these don’t work your traps as much as some other exercises. Yet, bench presses are very good for working your entire body.

Upright Row

The upright row can be a great choice for upper arm and trap exercise. To perform upright rows, you need to stand upright with a barbell. Your palms should be facing toward you as you hold the barbell at arm’s length.

Now, lift the barbell by working your arm, shoulders, traps, and upper back to your shoulder’s length. While lifting it, your hands should bend to the outer sides. After holding the form for a second, slowly lower the barbell to its initial position.

Arnold Press

Named after the famous “Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the Arnold press can help you work both your upper and lower traps. To start with this, you need to hold the dumbbells to your shoulder levels with your palms facing towards you.

Then, lift the shoulders upwards while twisting your arms. When the dumbbells are fully lifted, your palms should be facing away from you. This overhead pressing technique works all three kinds of trap muscles, which is why it’s a must for your workout routine.

Wide Grip Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs are also great for building traps. In the wide grip shrug, you position the dumbbells an arm’s length away from your hips. This will help you activate your traps much more than the traditional grip shrugs.

In this position, perform shrugs with a dumbbell of your preferred weight. It will not only work your mid and lower traps, but it’ll also increase upper body strength as well as shoulders.

Things to Remember During Trap Exercises

Trapezius muscle group exercises need to be done properly if you want to see any development. We’ve listed the top factors one must remember while performing these exercises.

Learn Proper Form

It’s important to maintain strict form while performing trap exercises. With a poor posture, you’ll end up working your shoulders and chest only. After a while, you’ll find your shoulder health deteriorating. So, learn proper form from an experienced trainer first. Using the right form will help you attain a balanced physique.

Start Slow

Just like any other form of strength training, you shouldn’t jump straight into intensive traps exercise. The human body takes some time to adapt to new forms of training, so start slow and set reasonable goals at first. Add more weight as you improve after a few weeks.

See a Doctor

If you have health issues related to your shoulders, chest, or shoulder impingement, for instance, you should consult a doctor before getting into trap exercises.

Stretch before Workout

There are special stretches made for trapezius exercises only. And you should always perform the stretching if you want to grow consistently.

Use the Right Equipment

Traps exercises can’t be done properly without using the right equipment, and that doesn’t necessarily mean heavy equipment. In fact, you should start with light dumbbells.

Does Shoulder Press Also Work the Trapezius Muscles?

The shoulder press is known for its ability to target the deltoid muscles, including the side deltoids. However, while the side deltoids are heavily engaged during the movement, the trapezius muscles also come into play. Thus, incorporating shoulder press for side deltoids can indirectly work the trapezius muscles as well.

Benefits of Performing Traps Exercises

Trapezius exercises offer a ton of benefits. In the following, we’ll share some of the best benefits you can gain from performing these.

Helps Avoid Pain

The traps help you perform various actions related to arm movement and weight lifting. If the traps aren’t strong enough, you’ll be forced to exert more pressure on your shoulders and chest.

Thus, you’re likely to suffer from shoulder pain and stiffness. With proper trap strength, you’ll be able to avoid these.

These Exercises Build More than Just Traps

Traps exercises aren’t just for improving your traps. These exercises involve many muscles of your body. While all shoulder workouts may not involve trap muscles, all trap exercises involve shoulder and chest muscles. And some of them even involve the serratus anterior and anterior deltoids.

So, performing these exercises can help you develop other parts of your shoulder joints, back, chest, and neck.

Helps Stabilize Your Body

Developing your traps will help you improve your overall strength. So, bigger traps can keep your body stable during strength training.

Enhances Appearance

Trap exercises are a must for those who work out to attain a toned appearance. These exercises help you gain large muscles on your traps and shoulders that give off a buff look.


After learning that shoulder press work traps does work, you know how important trap exercises are for gaining muscle mass and increasing shoulder width.

Not only do these help you improve your trap muscles, but they also strengthen your shoulder joint and chest muscles as well as enhance the overall stability of your body. This, in turn, will help you in your journey of building muscle.

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About Ben Adler

I'm Ben, a passionate fitness enthusiast on a mission to help you achieve your fitness goals. With a love for lifting and building a well-rounded physique, I founded Swole Class to provide beginners with the guidance and knowledge they need to navigate the gym and embrace a healthier lifestyle. Join me on this journey as we unlock our potential and inspire greatness together. Learn more about me