I'm looking for some way to exercise my upper trapezius muscles using only my body weight. Normally, this would be accomplished with shrugs or upright rowing, but without weight, shrugs and rowing are practically useless. I think every other muscle gets hit during my workout cycle, but I'm missing my upper traps.

EDIT: I have Erb's Palsy (right arm) due to a birth injury, and hence cannot do handstands of any kind.

9 Answers 9


I also have Erb's Palsey in my left shoulder/neck. I am now almost 20, and I have had therapy and tests done up until I was 12, when I moved away from my therapist I never was able to continue occupational therapy.

Some of the things that helped me the most were wall push-ups, and a thing called 'superman' which you lay on your stomach, put your arms as straight out in front of you as possible, and lay your legs straight behind you. In order to do one set, you lift your legs off the ground about 4-8 inches, and lift arms about 5 inches off the floor in front of you all at the same time. Then after holding that position for 15 seconds, go back to the resting position. This should work mainly your back/shoulder muscles, your abs, and stretch the muscles that get tight when our Erb's palsey is being 'difficult.'
This is a great exercise for many of the muscles that are hard to target, and when doing it, you should work your way up slowly, and make sure you are ready to go for longer, so that you don't stress those muscles too much. If you are not safe about things like that, it can have a reverse reaction, where you get hurt, not better. I hope that I helped some. Have a great day! -Whit.


The traps can be a bit hard to hit with bodyweight only, but handstands, handstand walks, handstand push-ups, pull-ups, and levers all use them in supporting roles. If you don't have barbells but have access to other heavy objects - sandbags, kegs, stones, tires - any motion where you press/hold something overhead (press, push press, jerk, overhead squat) or carry/pull something by your sides (farmers walk, shrugs, cleans) will make heavy use of the traps. The latter is easy to do: grab a couple heavy suitcases and go for a nice, long walk :)

  • I got a suggestion for wall push-ups, too. I'm trying to find something with no weights whatsoever, just body-weight. Anything handstand related is out of the picture for me due to a gimp arm (erb's palsy) related to a birth injury. Neither push-ups nor pull-ups work the upper traps very effectively. Back levers look plausible if I have the space here... I'll try that out. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 5:01
  • I did edit my question to include the Erb's Palsy bit, since that's pretty relevant info for you to have :D Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 5:04
  • Why "no weights whatsoever"? Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 17:56
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    Because I live in a very small apartment and keeping weights around is pretty inconvenient. I live a pretty minimalist existence on purpose, and keeping extra stuff around just to exercise one set of muscles seems pretty pointless. (minimalist: think "100 things" time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1812048,00.html although I'm not quite that extreme) Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 18:13
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    So why not go to a gym? Bodyweight exercises are great and should be part of every routine, but for building raw strength (and size), it's hard to beat the efficiency of weights. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 18:38

I would recommend looking into isometric exercises, simulating weight ones. You can take hold to the bottom of a couch or door jam and pull (simulating a row) and focus on the tension. Same thing with shrugs and pull ups, you don't need to come off the ground to put tension on the traps.


Based on the comments you added regarding the price of gym memberships in your area and the reasons why you don't want to buy a set o weights, I strongly suggest that you get a pair of adjustable dumbbells such a the bowflex or nautilus ones. They will cost you a few hundred dollars but will last you for a lifetime. Very compact and convenient for extremely small apartments!

They are definitely one of the best purchase I've ever made!


Reverse push ups:
Get between two chairs and put your elbows on them with your back towards the floor (You should be looking at the ceiling ). Hold your body stiff like a plank, press your elbows into the chairs as you contract your traps. Relax letting your torso drop as low as you can and get your back as round as you can without falling off the chairs.

  • Wouldn't that work your lats more than your traps? Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 16:26

Probably a bit late for this, but if you lie back on a bed with your head hanging off the edge and move it forward/backward, twist left to right and touch each ear to your shoulder it can be a pretty effective exercise. other than that, neck bridging is the only one i've heard of, but it's a bit high level (good chance of injury if you're not strong enough)


Without weights, i think the only way to build your traps are commando press ups and diamond press ups....with diamond press ups make sure you emphasize your upper back and keep form, really strain the traps and keep the exercise normal to slow but very controlled.

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    It might help if you explain why you think those exercise might help (especially under the circumstances), as other exercises have allready been mentioned.
    – Baarn
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 21:06

Inverted shrugs are the way to go in my opinion.

Please notiche that they are bodyweight, but they are not equipment free, though. You have to build a TRX-like device (I did with less than 10 euros) and find a place to hang, so it's impractical if you're looking for something to do with nothing more than your own body. If you want to ditch the gym and have a (safe!) place where to hang from, then this is an amazing exercise. This is the best video I could find of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kibHxko15BY although you should not bend your head that way. Just keep your whole body in a straight line. Have fun. :)


Neck bridge

Ring rows

Australian pull ups

Inverted face pulls

Elevated ring rows

Neck extension

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