The prone trap raise is a fantastic exercise for not just any athlete but for most of the population as well. However, as alluded to in the title, the prone trap raise is a difficult exercise to master. The article below will touch on a few reasons why this exercise, that appears simple, is actually one of our more complex movements we complete with our athletes.
What is the prone trap raise?
In this video, you’ll see Coach Brandon completing a prone trap raise on an incline bench. The exercise can be done on a table as well where the athlete is laying flat. Coaching cues for the exercise:
- Begin by having the athlete lay flat on the incline bench and crush their anterior core into the bench (there should be no excessive extension at the lumbar spine.)
- Cue to keep the chin tucked and pressed into the bench. This will prevent excessive forward head push. If the athlete were on a table, they should have their head turned toward the direction of the arm being used in order to decrease activation of the upper trapezius musculature (more about which muscles we target below).
- Have the athlete ‘scap load’ meaning, they will pull their shoulder blade into a retracted and posteriorly tilted position. Most of the time, this will be done so with the aid of a coaches guidance in order to ensure the athlete is setting up properly.
- The athlete should then raise his or her arm up at approximately a 135-degree angle in order to activate the lower trapezius regions. See picture below for the pennation angle of the striations in the trapezius muscle.
*Due to the many areas of focus for this exercise, we will typically begin each athlete by just utilizing the weight of their arm.
Why is this all important?
Attention to detail with this exercise is paramount to making sure we as coaches are not just prescribing exercises because they make sense on paper. As an industry, we need to take pride in knowing the why behind everything we do. This will allow us as practitioners to provide the best for our athlete as well as be able to educate the athlete on the importance of taking pride in the finer details of the movement. The prone trap raise is an important exercise because the exercise works to put the scapula in the proper position by activating the lower trapezius muscle fibers. Many times, the body is used to relying on the upper trapezius in order to complete movements. The lower regions of the trapezius are important for balancing this dominance by the upper trapezius as well as allowing the shoulder to get into an upwardly rotated position. In addition, utilization of the lower trapezius will aid in stabilizing once in the overhead position. Most sports such as (but not limited to) baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, and weightlifting involve a heavy reliance on the ability to raise the arm overhead. Understand that our body, especially as an overhead athlete, will not shut down once we fatigue. Even when improper muscle sequencing begins to take over, we will still find a way to throw, shoot, spike, and lift. As athletes, we will compensate and reach for a different part of our body that is less than optimal for completing the movement in order to get the job done. This repetitive compensation will overtime set us up for injury.
Why is this exercise is so difficult?
Not just as athletes, but as a society, our posture is pretty terrible. Take for example how we find ourselves in front of our electronic devices:
Typically, we have a very shortened and tight front side of our body. If we look at the upper body alone, the shortened pectoralis region can lead to an anteriorly tilted scapula. [insert picture of anteriorly tilted scapula]
This poor scapular position can lead to a multitude of dysfunctions with athletic movement. One of the more pressing issues is the inability to get into a proper upwardly rotated position. In order to help correct for this, we can add prone trap raises into the athletes exercise routine. Remember though, the very first thing we had to do in order to properly complete the prone trap raise was scap load our athlete into a posteriorly tilted position. But what if the athlete lives in an anterior position? What if the front side of his or her body is so shortened that they cannot get into the correct position in the first place? They’ll complete the prone trap raise but they’ll crank on their upper trapezius in order to get the job done. This is just further exacerbating their dysfunction! Instead of helping the athlete, we as coaches have put them in a position to hurt themselves. This is when a properly trained eye and guidance from a coach can aid in helping this athlete accomplish the purpose of the exercise.
Let’s take it one step further. So the athlete has a shorted front side of their chest. Why? What if there is a lower body dysfunction that is causing the upper body to compensate? In some cases, we observe individuals with extremely tight hip flexors. This tight hip flexor position pulls their low back into an extreme lordotic curvature. Over time, the body will compensate for this lordosis by developing a kyphotic curvature of the upper back (see image below). So, let’s say we as coaches try to get an athlete to posteriorly tilt their scapula by lengthening the front side of their chest but we are still missing the bigger picture which is that their lower half is a mess to start with. Working on releasing the tight hip flexors that are pulling the hips forward and causing thoracic flexion in the first place may be step one to correct these movement and posture deficiencies.
Posture is a bit of a rabbit hole and I hope I didn’t disrespect the topic too much by briefly going over general issues. It is important for someone who has chosen to study the human body as their career to keep in mind that there can always be more than one explanation for a movement dysfunction. Our role as coaches and specialists is to honor the complexities of the body and continue to educate our athletes on proper movement. By doing so, we will be able to better correct for issues in the human body and not only will you as a coach pay closer attention to movement but your athlete will too resulting in accelerated improvements.