Yoga Tune Up® Blog

Get Your Trapezius In Tune!

The upper trapezius elevates the shoulder while the lower trapezius depresses the shoulder, making them opposing muscle groups. However, they both also upwardly rotate the scapula, making them synergists too.  We do many things throughout the day that elevate our shoulders, such as hunching over a desk or carrying a heavy bag.  This can lead to dominance in the upper trapezius. When hunched shoulders become a normal posture, this can lead to abnormal movement of the scapula (scapular dyskinesis).

Dan Pope from Fitness Pain Free gives a great description of how the upper and lower trapezius work together and how imbalance in strength between these two can lead to shoulder impingement:

“Patients with impingement had on average greater recruitment of the upper trapezius and less recruitment of the lower trapezius when raising their arms overhead…  this upper trapezius dominance can cause hiking or shrugging of the shoulder during overhead movement and decrease the ability of the scapula to rotate normally. Taking a look at where the trapezius originates and inserts (attachment points to bone)  you can see that the upper trapezius will be responsible for elevating the scapula and rotating it upward as you elevate them arms overhead.  The lower trapezius will be responsible for keeping the shoulder blade stable and keeping it from excessively elevating.  The lower trapezius counterbalances the upper trapezius and allows the scapula to rotate normally.  Lastly, if the lower trapezius is not doing its job correctly then the upper trapezius will do more hiking/shrugging as opposed to rotating the scapula normally as you raise your arms overhead.”

Try this YTU Pose Shoulder Circles to help keep your trapezius balanced from top to bottom:

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Discover more solutions for shoulder pain.

Watch more shoulder videos.

Read “Trapezius Friend or Foe to Itself?


About This Author

After incurring a knee injury (ACL) during a basketball game as a teenager, Marla Brackman’s interest in human movement, injury prevention, health, and performance was birthed. She then sought out and completed her B.S. in Exercise Science from Montana State University – Bozeman. Shortly after, she acquired her Group Fitness and Personal Training Certification through American Council on Exercise. Most recently, Marla became a Certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher. You may find her leading group kickboxing (TurboKick®), pilates/yoga (PiYo®), stability ball, water aerobics, sports conditioning, bootcamp, TRX suspension training, as well as other formats. “This one tool, Yoga Tune Up®, is transforming all of the other tools in my box. I love that it not only helps others move better, but to FEEL better.”

14 Responses to “Get Your Trapezius In Tune!”

  1. This article was really helpful because it reminded me that what Ariel calls “vulture” posture, which can occur among anything from runners to bookworms, to weightlifters, is not merely a sign of dominance of pecs over posterior deltoid, and internal rotators of the shoulder over external, but also related to the scap stabilizers and the dominance of the upper over lower traps, which, as this article says, effects the free rotation of the scapula, and in turn can result in interference in the scapulohumeral rhythm. I need to focus,for myself and my clients on strengthening the lower traps, and anterior serratus.

    ~Sara lyn Phillips

  2. John Menist says:

    I have dealt with shoulder issues for all of my adult life, and while I have always blamed these pains on my history as a tennis and baseball player, I have recently found that it’s just as much a problem with my posture, and even more specifically with the constant over usage of my upper trapezius muscles in many of my daily activities. Yoga, and my growing understand of alignment, have shown me that I don’t have to live with these pains the rest of my life. And by maintaining a growing awareness of how I hold my traps and rhomboids on my back, I have laid the groundwork for much healthier and happier shoulders.

    Thanks for the post Marla, and for including Jill’s video – the perfect reminder to roll my shoulders out every day to keep them loose and healthy from toxins and stiffness!

  3. Kim says:

    My poor trapezius take the brunt of everything happening in my body. Relax your shoulders is something that I can say repeatedly to myself and almost everyone I know. I regularly see the hunched shoulders and protruding chin. Thank you for reminding me that something as accessible as rolling the shoulders can make such a difference.

  4. Veronica says:

    In these days more people due stress and the lack of excercise have movement restriction specially in the upper back and shoulders. This restrictions cause pain, that’s why is very important to practice excercises that release the tension on the shoulders like rolling the shoulders and move them in all directions.

  5. Michele K says:

    I can’t learn enough about relaxing the upper trapezius, not only for myself, but also for my students. So many are contracted, and in some cases rock hard, in these “stress muscles”. I love how Jill teaches Bridge Arms in Prasarita Padottanansa. I have practiced all the variations from clasped hands, to using a belt with arms in external rotation, to holding a block as a spacer and even grasping the ends of a rolled up yoga mat. I was amazed at the result, especially when instructed to let the scapula “release” into elevation in order to relax the traps!! I am especially aware of how important variability is in order to stress different tissues appropriately by using different variations and props.

  6. I do this segment of YTU a few times a week….While I can tell it’s a great exercise, I love learning about the “Why” part of it so thanks for filling that part in!

  7. Yvonne duke says:

    Thanks for this direct and informative blog. I think we are all guilty of “hunching” over, therefore having dominance in the upper trapezius.. I am so much more aware of my own posture now and find myself looking at the postures of people all the time. Depression of the shoulders has become a staple in my cuing to students. Those shoulders elevate all the time and the reminder to depress is key. It’s time to find balance!

  8. John Greenhow says:

    I hear so much at yoga studios about “pinching shoulder blades,” but I hear very little about Depressing shoulder blades, thereby balancing the use of the trapezius. I think this is an important article about a very important and altogether abused muscle. My experience in my body is that my upper traps are overworked and riddled with trigger points, and my lower traps are very weak. I see a similar relationship in most of my students.
    I believe this is also tied to a weak serratus anterior. I absolutely love Dolphin Supinate for the awareness of the interconnection between the Serratus Anterior and the Lower Traps.
    I believe that the cue “pinch the shoulder blades” is actually, in most cases, counterproductive in producing stability in the shoulder and organization in the spine. The focus should be on depressing the shoulder blades and slightly protracting them, in order to recruit the lower traps and serratus anterior. The Rhomboids, the “pinchers,” will elevate the scapulae, which is in of the situations in which “pinching” is cued not the desired outcome.

  9. Geoff Brown says:

    As a Canadian and with the cold winter breeze carving out the streets these days my traps and scapula are elevating my shoulders up around my ears as the chilled wind whips through my layers of clothing. I don’t think that we realize the consistancy that we hike our shoulders up in a sustained shrug for hours at a time. The wear and tear on on our poor bodies could end up in with an impingement (it even sounds sore!). With my knowledge and experience with YTU a nightly session with my therapy balls will be just as important as my scarf this coming winter season. Thanks for the article.

  10. [...] Read “Get Your Trapezius In Tune!” tweetmeme_url = ''; Share Bookmark on Delicious About This Author Jill is the creator of Yoga Tune Up®. Having studied Yoga, Dance, and Body Movement for more than 24 years she created the Yoga Tune Up® format to help people find and heal trouble areas before debilitating breakdowns occur. Jill teaches workshops and retreats internationally, is a longtime faculty member of the Omega Institute, and has traveled nationally choreographing programs for Discovery Health Channel. The L.A. Times calls her "kinetically arresting”. For more info on Jill go here. View RSS feed [...]

  11. [...] Tune Up® Blog « Shoulder Supplement: Daily Dose of Movement to Erase Shoulder Pain Get Your Trapezius In Tune! [...]

  12. Daniel Pope says:

    Thanks for sharing my link, great write up!

  13. Marla Brackman says:

    That’s great Paula! Your class must be so thankful for you!! I love how just a few minutes on the therapy balls and a few YTU exercises helps us find a new and improved posture. :-)

  14. Paula B says:

    This was the focus of my classes all week last week. I notice during the previous week that most students were coming in hunched over and practicing downward facing dog in full congestion at the shoulders. I started the class in downward dog then took them thru the YTU therapy ball upper back series beginning at the upper fiber of the Traps. What a difference!! Oh, and the comments afterwards were liberating: suddenly the neck aches disappeared:-)

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.


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