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Straight-Arm Pushdown Master Class

Target your lower traps for balanced shoulder development and reduced injury risk by pushing down as often as you shrug up.

straight arm pushdown lower traps exercise technique

Note: The above video was recorded as a Facebook Live tutorial in conjunction with the Train With Jim Full-Body Shortcut to Size program.

Straight-Arm Pushdown Key Points

  • The straight-arm pushdown is an isolation exercise for the lower trapezius muscles; it’s the opposite movement of a shrug, which hits the upper traps.
  • Isolating the lower traps in the gym is important for eliminating strength imbalances to reduce injury risk and help keep your shoulders and back pain-free.
  • The straight-arm pushdown is a fairly subtle movement, entailing a relatively small range of motion. To maximize the contraction of the lower traps, the key is to keep your arms extended (and stationary) throughout the exercise.  

Most people are concerned with building big upper traps, primarily through shrugging movements (barbell shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, etc.), but also with upright rows. When you focus only on the upper traps, though, you create a problem: an imbalance between the upper traps and lower traps.

That’s why I’m a big proponent of regularly incorporating exercises for the lower traps, like the straight-arm pushdown. That way, you have better balance between the upper and lower traps, and you reduce your risk of injury.

Anatomy of the Straight-Arm Pushdown

Most people are concerned with building big upper traps, primarily through shrugging movements (barbell shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, etc.), but also with upright rows. When you focus only on the upper traps, though, you create a problem: an imbalance between the upper traps and lower traps. That’s why I’m a big proponent of regularly incorporating exercises for the lower traps, like the straight-arm pushdown. That way, you have better balance between the upper and lower traps.

When people reference the “traps,” they’re usually talking about the upper traps. But there are actually three different trapezius muscles on the posterior side of the torso: the upper, middle, and lower traps. All three need to be sufficiently developed for optimal performance, movement patterns, and joint health. It all comes down to balance.   

Strength imbalances anywhere in the body can cause problems. Before I get into traps, let’s discuss another more common example: the quadriceps and hamstrings. One of the reasons the hamstrings are so frequently pulled in runners is because the quadriceps tend to overpower the hamstrings. There are typically strength differences between the quads and hams. When it's a significant difference, it leaves one muscle group susceptible to injury (usually the hamstrings, but not always), and you also tend to...

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