Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trapezius Development - Charles A. Smith

Here are the four sections of the trapezius muscle
indicated by the thick black lines, and
the directions of their actions.

Trapezius Development, Part One
by Charles A. Smith

In this article we will consider the Trapezius not only as a back muscle, but also as a very important posture muscle and one that in some mysterious way has a profound influence on the size of the chest and bodyweight gains. The trapezius, apart from the effect it has on movements of the neck, also moves the shoulder blades and shoulders themselves. It helps maintain an erect posture and overcomes the effects of too much pectoral work (the pectorals have a "shoulder rounding" effect). It is a very prominent muscle to be considered in remedial exercises when bad conditions of kyphosis are present for it helps to overcome bad postural defects as well as acting as an antagonist to the chest muscle.

A cardinal point to remember when specializing on a certain muscle or group of muscles is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to divorce one section of the body from another and this MUST be kept in mind throughout any specialization routine. If you worked hard on those neck exercises mentioned in my last article, you would have found out that not only did the muscles at the front and back of the neck get stiff, but also right down the middle of the back and chest, too. The muscles of the human physique can be likened to a single chain in which each muscle or group is a connecting link. Weaken one and you weaken the lot.

I am trying as hard as possible to keep this series of articles interesting, but anatomy and physiology can be very dry at times. However, it is very necessary that you have a good working knowledge of the function of each muscle or group so that you can choose the movements that will give that muscle a thorough workout. Apart from the actual function of the muscle and the selection of a given group of exercises, there are certain other considerations which will be fully dealt with from time to time and as the discussion of them is opportune.

The trapezius muscle comes into play when you have to carry a heavy weight on the shoulders. It rotates the head or moves it backwards. When you raise your shoulder blades, squeeze them together, or rotate the shoulders, the "traps" are doing most of the work. Briefly, this is how they function, but let's go into further detail and try to determine why so many fellows undertake a shoulder specialization course yet fail dismally to build any size, shape or power.

The trapezius is best studied in its four separate parts. In my previous article, its attachments were fully explained as well as the fact that it was a "multi-muscle." The first part is a thin sheath of fibers dropping down from the base of the skull, curving sideways and forwards to where it is attached to the collarbone. The second part is thicker and stronger. Part three is more powerful still, while part four is not so strong as the two middle portions, yet is more powerful than the tip section of the muscle, the one running from the base of the skull to the collarbone.

If you had access to a skeleton, you would be able to observe the exact action of the traps, but since the only skeleton the average guy has is in his closet, you'll have to take my explanation as reference. When the head is free to move, the first section of the muscle will lower the BACK of the skull and turn the head to one side. As the skull is poised freely on a pivot at the base, this action of dropping back the head will also tilt the chin up and turn the face to the opposite side. And obviously when the right and left sections of the first part of the traps contract at the same time, they PREVENT rotation of the head and will tilt the chin UP with DOUBLE FORCE. So here you see why it is IMPORTANT to FORCE the head BACK when performing shoulder shrugs. Here is another very eminent factor for you to remember and contains the clue to the reason why so many lifters find it hard to get good trapezius development with only shoulder shrugs. When the head is held still and the shoulder girdle is allowed free movement, contraction of the first portion of the trapezius muscle will lift the shoulder blades and collarbone but WITH LITTLE FORCE BECAUSE THIS SECTION OF THE MUSCLE IS THIN AND WEAK.

Action from part two of the trapezius pulls upwards and inwards on the collarbone and the acromium, that flattened end of the spine on your shoulder blade. Depending on the position of the neck and shoulder, it also pulls slightly backward or forward as well as up and in. The third part of the trap pulls the shoulder blade towards the spinal column from where it is attached to the "spine" of the scapula . . . this is the action of squeezing the shoulder blades "together". The fourth section of the trapezius pulls the edge of the shoulder blade near the spine, down and slightly in, with the power fibers exerting more direct downward pull.

Perhaps, before we go on to the posture and weight gaining factors attached to the development of the trapezius, it would be well to consider some interesting facts. First, let us go back to the first section of the muscle again. Now, I have already pointed out that it exerts little force, and this is probably the reason why many bodybuilders fail to gain the best results from a plain common shoulder shrug. To test this for yourself, try the following. Press the tips of two fingers down behind the outer end of your collarbone. Shrug the shoulders. Not only does the first section of the traps fail to lift your fingers out, but when you remove your fingers while the shoulders are lifted, a big hollow remains. Now press your fingers down behind the collarbone again and RAISE THE ARM SIDEWAYS ABOVE THE LEVEL OF THE SHOULDER. Not only are the fingers thrust strongly OUT but the pocket disappears. Another curious point is this - if shrugging of the shoulders is done strongly against resistance, the first section of the trapezius DOES act in SOME subjects but not in ALL. Thus once again, what we are always pointig out - musclebuilding schedules must be INDIVIDUALIZED.

What a muscle can do is no sure indication of what it will do. At first glance, the first section of the trapezius is admirably suited for shoulder shrugging, and when stimulated by Faradism (electrical current) it does shrug the shoulders. Therefore, it would be natural for the bodybuilding beginner, if he witnessed the electrical stimulation of this muscle, to draw the conclusion that this is what the first part of the trapezius is for, whereas, in the preceding paragraph I have shown you that it does nothing of the kind in the MAJORITY of poeple, remaining in COMPLETE relaxation while the shrugging motion is performed.

Another point to remember is this: The muscle is very important in the performance of deep knee bends. Recollect that the trapezius supports the bar as it is held across the shoulders. Now, many lifters complain of splitting headaches occurring during a deep knee bend session. I have experienced this myself, and after comparing notes with Joseph Curtis Hise I found that he too had the same trouble when his squatting weights climbed above 375 and over the 400 mark. At the time, J.C put the headaches down to an insufficiency of protein in his diet; but it has recently become my opinion that these "deep knee bend headaches" are caused through strain on that section of the trapezius muscle where it is attached to the occiptalis, also by the retarding of blood supply to the brain by bar pressure. A session of squats I engaged in recently produced headaches along the back of the neck, and these were quickly dispelled when I undertook neck specialization exercises, particularly those that powerfully affected the first section of the trapezius.

Now we come to the postural and weight-gain effects accrued from trapezius work. The popularity of flat and incline bench exercises has produced a crop of outsize chests insofar as pectoral development is concerned. Those men who perform no compensating exercises quickly gained the appearance of round shoulders and FLAT CHESTS . . . for, believe it or not, the pectoral muscle DOES TEND to produce a flat chest condition if these "compensating" exercises are not engaged in. Therefore, all men who use inclined bench and exercise bench presses should undergo intentional trapezius specialization courses at intervals to combat the effects of too much pectoral exercise on the posture.

Some years ago, Joseph Curtis Hise introduced what he called the "Cartilage Mass Theory." A lifter grew muscle size, or mass, by the stimulation of the cell manufacturing areas - the Reticulo-Endothelim system. "Growth," said Hise, "depends on mass of connective tissue," and went on to point out that to maintain a favorable balance of cell manufacturing areas, exercises for growth should be FEW and EASY, and for strength should be FEW and HEAVY. He tried to strike a balance between growth and strength by exercising the pectoral muscles, because these "require the use of little nerve energy." In effect, what Hise said was this . . . "The better your posture, the more efficiently will your body function . . . the more quickly will you become bigger and stronger."

One of the exercises suggested by Joe Hise was his "Symbolic Squat." You simply held an extremely heavy weight across the shoulders, shrugged them as high as you could at the same time taking several deep breaths, making an effort to inhale and exhale! The body was held erect, the knees locked, the floor was "gripped" with the toes . . . that is, the toes pressed down on the floor. Hise suggested that the exerciser should breath through the mouth, lift the chest HIGH with each breath, contract the trapezius and the muscle in front of the neck, making a DELIBERATE effort to raise the chest and shoulders as high as possible. His theories, later examined by Dr. J. S. Van Wye, an osteopathic surgeon, were approved: Dr. Wye adding that in this "Symbolic Squat" the bar should be raised up and down two to three inches with each breath with light weights and as much a possible as the exercised grew accustomed to handling extremely heavy poundages.

It is easy to see why this heavy "Symbolic Squat" was so successful in building larger chests, better posture and an increase in bodily weight . . . and if you read over the last few words carefully, you will see that each effect explains the next . . . "The large chest came because of the practice of the forced breathing . . . the breathing muscles were strengthened. The tidal capacity of the lungs increased, and so did the endurance of the lifter. His metabolism functioned more efficiently because improved lung and heart tone, his posture improved too and finally, as a result of this more efficient functioning of the metabolism of the body, food itself was assimilated more efficiently making for an increase in bodyweight because of the better use made of the body fuel. Muscle breakdown as the result of exercise was repaired more rapidly. Recuperation period shortened; energy and stamina increased . . . and all because of improved posture caused by the intensive work applied to the trapezius and breathing muscles.

In summing up this initial chapter on trapezius development and specialization for same, it would be well to again point out the profound effect certain parts of he muscle have on t he posture of the trunk in actions of the second and third parts. A glance at the accompanying chart will show the great importance of these movements . . . When the shoulder is lifted as high as possible or when a heavy weight is held on the shoulder with the bodybuilder maintaining an erect position, part two contracts strongly and part three hardly at all. If the bodybuilder assumes a stooping position, that is as if lifting an object from the ground, sections two, three and four all act at once with the lower sections RELAXING as erect posture is reached. The only action that employs the ENTIRE trapezius is when the arm is raised sideways above shoulder level . . . NO OTHER BODILY MOVEMENTS SEEM TO EMPLOY THE WHOLE OF THE MUSCLE AT THE SAME TIME.

Here is your guide to trapezius development. You have the simplest and the best method of specialization, of getting the most from a muscle by way of strength, size and shape. Definition is another matter entirely, so we will not mention it here. This subject will be dealt with thoroughly in a separate article because definition requirements that apply to one muscle group apply to all. So you can see that to obtain muscle mass and power, the easiest way is to make a thorough study of the muscle action, determine exactly what it ca do in what position, then select the exercises that will give you the best results . . . and these exercises will be given in the next chapter.

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