Overcoming Upper Trap Dominance

June 20, 2018

Dr. Sara Solomon, June 11, 2018


My name is Sara Solomon, and my StrongFit odyssey began in December of 2016. I had numerous muscle imbalances and wanted to learn how to identify and improve them. I tried to understand why muscle imbalances happen in the first place. I was motivated to be my own guinea pig, so I enrolled in the StrongFit mentorship program.


At the time, I was suffering from left upper trap dominance, but CrossFit or sports did not cause it. It was created by practicing dentistry in awkward postures for 8 hours a day, five days a week for over a dozen years.


When I first embarked on my StrongFit odyssey in 2016, my goal was to decrease pain, improve joint mobility and improve my quality of life.


I was initially skeptical because nothing had ever helped me in the past (not even my degree in physiotherapy). In fact, my imbalances just kept getting worse.


I would never have predicted my 16-month outcome. I still cannot believe I overcame upper trap dominance and learned how to hold a handstand at 40 years of age!

I know first-hand how life-changing StrongFit can be, and that’s why I’m so passionate about teaching others what I have learned along the way.


Today, I’m going to teach you how to identify upper trap dominance, why it happens, and how to improve it.


The Upper Traps


The upper traps are the uppermost fibers of the trapezius muscle. They are part of the external torque chain.


Their role is to elevate (shrug) your shoulders.


What is upper trap dominance?

Upper trap dominance occurs when one or both upper traps compensate for muscles that aren't doing their job. That’s what happened to me. Take a look at this photo of my left upper trap dominance. This photo was taken in 2016, a couple of months before my StrongFit Odyssey commenced.


How Does Upper Trap Dominance Present?


I presented with the following:


·    Decreased left shoulder active range of motion. I couldn’t lock out my left arm overhead, and my left arm would buckle if I tried to kick up into a handstand.

·     Chronic soreness in my left upper trap.

·     Episodic tingling in my lateral 3 and ½ fingers (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome)

·   My left upper trap was visibly larger than the right one, and it was hiking my shoulder into an unfavorable position.

·     My left lat and teres major were visibly smaller than the right ones.

·     My left upper trap dominated all left shoulder pressing and pulling movements.

·    I couldn’t depress my scapula, and I struggled to engage my lats, teres, and pecs on the left side.


Take a look at this photo: notice my left upper trap shrugging up when I press overhead. That's not good!




Notice my left teres major is smaller than the right one in the photo below:


Had I not intervened, there is a chance that my left upper trap dominance would have lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain on the left side. There is also a chance that the overpowering left upper trap would have “pushed” the right shoulder joint into an unfavorable position. That’s why some people present with shoulder pain on the side opposite the hypertrophied upper trap.


If the cause of the upper trap dominance is not addressed, then surgical intervention may be inevitable.


Why Does This Happen?


Contrary to popular belief, muscle imbalances are not caused by small muscles. If you have a problem, it's likely a big muscle causing the problem.


My big muscles (my teres major, lat, pec major and short head of the bicep) were not doing their jobs during my workouts and activities of daily living. That’s why my left upper trap was compensating. Because the left upper trap was continually working overtime, it hypertrophied. It was also very tender (b