This is going to be a real quick post. The prone trap raise, otherwise known as the “Y” in YTI (or YTW, or YTWL, or YTUMWAHLKZ), is one of the best ways to semi-isolate the lower traps, an important synergist muscle in any exercise involving upward rotation of the scapulae. The function of the lower traps is imperative to overall shoulder health and posture.
For years, YTIs and their variations have been done on the floor, on a bench, on a massage table, or on an exercise ball. But in my opinion, there’s issues with all of these variations.
Done on the floor, you are forced to keep your head up (extending your cervical spine) and recruit the upper traps to do the job, taking the emphasis off of the lower traps. Unless of course you want to squish your face into the ground. Additionally, the range of motion is horrendously small. There isn’t even an opportunity to downwardly rotate.
The problem with most benches is the range of motion. They’re simply not tall enough to accommodate the length of your arm as your move through the eccentric part of the movement. However, this is not as big of an issue as it is with the floor-based variation. Also, you should be careful to keep your chin (or face) tucked on the bench to ensure that the upper traps aren’t being recruited to support the head. But you will have to put your chin onto the same surface that some other guy just wiped his sweaty ass on.
The massage table is similar and is definitely my favorite variation because there is plenty of room for arm movement and an opportunity to support your face/chin. However, not many facilities have massage tables.
The exercise ball is, again, similar to the bench in that you don’t have much ROM and you need to support your chin on the ball itself, which is harder due to it’s spherical shape.
So what do we need in order to perform a good prone trap raise?
A tall, thinner-than-shoulder-width bench that allows us to support our chin while giving us the ROM to properly rotate upward and downward (as much as possible). But since nobody is in the business (maybe I should be!?) of creating a tall bench specifically designed for prone trap raises, we’ll just need to find the next best thing.
So what about an incline bench? Well, we still have the ass-sweat-chin thing going on. Plus, the increase in incline will slowly being to recruit more deltoid, taking the emphasis off of the lower traps.
Then, what’s the answer? The standing-head-supported-prone-single-arm trap raise. Say that one five times fast.
Lee Boyce beat me to the punch today with his T-Nation article, in which he demonstrates a good way to do prone trap raises. Here’s the video of Boyce (and an elderly woman demonstrating leg swings). And here’s what’s great about Boyce’s variation: thoracic mobility. With the core engaged to prevent lumbar hyperextension, this variation provides a great chance to combine our trap raise with thoracic mobility work, a recipe for shoulder health.
However, I believe Boyce’s variation could be improved just a bit if he used the bench or his forearm to support his head. This would prevent the upper traps from turning on to support the head.
Unfortunately, the only way to perform a double arm trap raise would be to support your entire upper body with your forehead. Not a good look. So we’ll need to restrict our exercise selection to single-arm raises. Although, performing a raise with each side individually may allow you to feel the lower traps working versus the upper traps or delts.
But for now, this variation will definitely work as my newly-created company works on developing the Prone Trap Raise Platform.