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Tight Trapezius


I have a client who has difficulty performing overhead tricep and lat exercises . His trapezius is so tight that it takes over before other muscles have a chance to engage. We have been trying some stretches with foam rollers and bands to loosen the muscles before working out, but it only stays loose for a short amount of time. Are there any recommendations as to why this happens and what we can do to avoid the frustration of stopping sets because it's too tight?


As always, if pain persists refer your client to a doctor.

The problem you are describing could be caused by a number of issues. Most cases I encounter are caused by more than one issue. Let’s take a closer look at three key possibilities.

1. Over Active Upper Traps

The over activity of the upper trap can often be due to Forward Head Posture (FHP), as part of an Upper Cross Syndrome

2. Improper shoulder flexibility

Improper shoulder flexibility (usually flexion in the saggital plane) can also cause the traps to over activate and "cramp." Look at his lat/teres major flexibility, it is likely limited. Another contributing factor may be his scapular retraction rhythm, or lack there of. If when he performs a pulling motion, he doesn't have normal motion of the scapula, he may be over recruiting his teres major, this will then tighten and make it difficult to lift the arm past 90 degrees.

3. Improper motor patterning

Improper motor patterning is just a fancy way of saying "bad form." If he, for what ever reason, cant fire the right muscles, in the right order, with the right relative timing, he will perform the motion inefficiently. If it is off enough it will cause pain. This is more a symptom that a cause but it will need to be fixed anyway. To do this you need to teach him to depress, retract and elevate his scapula consciously. Use your hands to guide him at first so he will have some feed back mechanism.

I will also throw in my nutritional component, as I have yet to meet a client who's problems are not somehow connected to their nutrition.

Make sure he is drinking adequate amounts of filtered water, (1 oz per kilo of bodyweight per day). Also make sure he is not getting to much processed food, as the toxins in it will build up in the body, one of the side effects is muscle cramps.

Good Luck,

Craig Burris CPT, CHEK I
Peak Physique Personal Training


  1. article Shrug Science Part 1
  2. article Shrug Science Part 2
  3. article Essentials of Integrated Training Part 4
  4. article Flexibility Profile
  5. Scientific Back Training (CHEK Institute)
  6. Scientific Core Conditioning (CHEK Institute)
  7. Stretching and Strengthening Exercises (Thieme)
  8. Muscles Testing and Function (Kendall and Kendall)
  9. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes (Shirley A. Sahrmann)