Muscle of the Month: Trapezius
Massage Therapist and Trainer Sara Stevens walks you through a new muscle each month, highlighting everything from what the muscle does to how to relieve tension in that muscle and how we use that muscle in Spears Strong workouts. We hope you enjoy learning about the muscle of the month, or MOM as we're calling it. Want to learn more? Come to Sara's Strength & Flexibility and Relax & Restore workouts where she'll teach you all about the muscles.
By Sara Stevens
Location The trapezius starts at the base of the skull and the back of the spine and runs from the neck all the way down to approximately the waistline. It fans down and out from the neck to attach to the far end of the clavicle (collar bone), and comes up from the lower part of the spine to attach to the scapula (shoulder blade).
Because this muscle is so big it creates multiple movements. Also because it is such a big muscle, it’s divided into three sections, based on the direction of the muscle fibers.
The upper fibers of trapezius run diagonally downward from the neck to the scapula and clavicle.
What's it do? Upper fibers of trapezius extend your neck (tilt your head back), laterally flex your neck (tilt your head to the side, or “cock” the head), and rotate your head to the opposite side (so when your left trapezius contracts, it turns your head to the right), such as when you turn to look at someone sitting next to you. They also elevate the scapula, a movement most of us recognize as shrugging, and upwardly rotate the scapula.
The middle fibers of trapezius run horizontally from the spine out to the ends of the shoulders, in line with the top of the shoulder. Middle fibers adduct or retract the scapulas, also known as pinching your shoulder blades together.
We do this in a Spears Strong workout when we do rows, tricep bridges, and shoulder blade contractions, to name a few. We use it in our daily lives when we open doors, pick something up off the floor or pull something out of the oven.
Lower fibers of trapezius run diagonally up from the spine to the scapula. They will depress the scapula, or pull it down the back, and upwardly rotate the scapula. When the scapula upwardly rotates, the bottom of it swings outward, away from the spine. This usually happens in conjunction with other movements at the shoulder joint. Scapular depression occurs when you dunk your kid under water at a pool party, or when you push yourself up out of a chair. Upward rotation occurs anytime you raise your arm more than 90º, such as during airbench wall glides, or waving to the neighbor.
Day to day use Most of us feel our upper and middle traps on a day to day basis. It’s one of the neck and shoulder muscles that can get very tight with long periods of sitting, and can contribute to chronic tension headaches.
Because they pull the shoulder blades back and tilt the neck back, they are one of the main muscles that fight that slumped forward posture that many of us are all too familiar with. However, because they are one of our main “shrugging” muscles, they can also get tight from being stuck in that stressed out shoulders-in-the ears position.
You may notice that during Spears Strong workouts, you’ll frequently hear the cue “pull your shoulders away from your ears”. That’s to remind you that your upper traps don’t have to do everything. They need a break, and having you physically pull your shoulders away from your ears actually activates the lower fibers of trapezius (remember, those are scapular depressors; they pull the shoulder blades down). Activating those lower fibers during your workouts means that those fibers will be easier to turn on later, which makes it harder for the upper fibers to take over when you’re not thinking about it. It’s all about restoring balance, and making sure all fibers of traps are working evenly and when they’re supposed to be.
How to relieve it So let’s say you’re sitting at a desk working away, and you notice that your neck is starting to feel tight or sore. What do you do? Reverse pullovers, of course! Reverse pullovers will pull those shoulders down away from your ears, stretching out upper fibers. They will also pull your shoulder blades back together, relieving middle fibers from the constant struggle to pull your shoulders back in place.
As an added bonus, if you’re standing up from a sitting position to stretch our your shoulders, you might as well spread those feet nice and wide and stretch our your hips at the same time. Spread foot reverse pullovers are every desk jockey’s dream.