Why Do My Traps Hurt Doing Lateral Raises? (Causes, Solutions, and More)

why do my traps hurt doing lateral raises?

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Why Do My Traps Hurt Doing Lateral Raises? (Causes, Solutions, and More)

Lateral raises are a staple in many workout routines, aimed at developing the deltoid muscles in your shoulders. However, a common issue that many people face is feeling the exercise more in their trapezius muscles—or traps—rather than the intended deltoids.

This not only hampers muscle development but can also lead to discomfort or even injury over time. The importance of proper form and technique cannot be overstated. Incorrect form can lead to muscle imbalances, ineffective workouts, and even long-term injuries.

This article aims to be your comprehensive guide to understanding why your traps hurt during lateral raises and how to correct this issue. We’ll delve into the anatomy of the shoulder, common mistakes, expert opinions, and even community insights to provide a well-rounded understanding of the problem.

Why Do My Traps Hurt Doing Lateral Raises?

If your traps hurt during lateral raises, it’s often a sign that your form and technique may be off, causing you to engage the wrong muscle groups. Using too much weight, incorrect arm positioning, or improper stance can shift the focus of the exercise from the deltoids to the trapezius muscles, commonly known as traps. When the traps take over the movement, it can lead to discomfort, strain, or even injury over time. To avoid this, it’s crucial to use lighter weights, maintain proper arm alignment, and adopt the correct stance to ensure that you’re effectively targeting your deltoids rather than overloading your traps.

The Anatomy of Shoulder Muscles

Understanding the anatomy of the shoulder is crucial for pinpointing why you might be feeling discomfort in your traps during lateral raises. The shoulder is a complex joint made up of several muscles, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll focus on two main muscles: the deltoids and the trapezius.

The deltoids are the rounded, triangular muscles that cover the top of your shoulders. They are primarily responsible for arm rotation and lifting movements. The trapezius muscles, commonly known as traps, are large muscles covering the upper back and extending to the back of the neck. These muscles are more involved in shrugging and neck movements.

In terms of volume, the deltoids are relatively small compared to other major muscle groups like the pectorals (pecs). This makes them more susceptible to being overshadowed by larger, more dominant muscles like the traps, especially when performing exercises like lateral raises incorrectly.

By understanding the roles and volumes of these muscles, you can better target your workouts and avoid the common pitfall of traps taking over during lateral raises.

The Importance of Proper Form

When it comes to lateral raises, the role of proper form is paramount, not just for effective muscle targeting but also for injury prevention. The deltoid muscle is divided into three distinct “heads” or parts: the anterior (front), middle, and posterior (rear) deltoids. Each of these plays a specific role during the lateral raise exercise.

The anterior deltoids are involved in lifting the arm forward, the middle deltoids take over when lifting the arm to the side, and the posterior deltoids are activated when pulling the arm backward. In a perfect lateral raise, the middle deltoids should be doing the majority of the work.

However, if there’s an imbalance in strength or technique, other muscles like the traps can take over, leading to ineffective targeting of the deltoids.

Such an imbalance often occurs when individuals use too much weight, leading to a form breakdown. When the weight is too heavy to be managed by the deltoids, the body naturally engages stronger muscle groups, like the traps, to assist in the lift.

This not only minimizes the work done by the deltoids but also increases the risk of strain or injury in the traps.

Understanding and maintaining proper form is crucial for isolating the intended muscle group and for the overall effectiveness of the exercise.

Related: Is Shoulder Press Enough for Side Delts? Myth or Reality?

Common Mistakes and Their Fixes

Using Too Much Weight

One of the most prevalent mistakes in performing lateral raises is using weights that are too heavy. The allure of lifting heavy can be tempting, but when it comes to isolating smaller muscle groups like the deltoids, less is often more.

Heavy weights can compromise your form, causing you to engage other, stronger muscles to assist in the lift. In the case of lateral raises, this usually means your traps will take over, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise for your deltoids and increasing the risk of injury or strain in your traps.

Incorrect Arm Positioning

Another common mistake is incorrect arm positioning. Ideally, your arms should come out to the side in line with your body. However, many people inadvertently bring their arms forward or backward, which can engage the anterior or posterior deltoids more than the middle deltoids.

Worse yet, incorrect arm positioning can also cause your traps to activate, especially if your arms are more towards the front. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise for your deltoids but also puts undue strain on your traps.

Improper Stance and Posture

Your stance and posture during lateral raises can also have a significant impact on which muscles are activated. A common mistake is to stand too straight or even lean backward, which can shift the focus from the deltoids to the traps.

The ideal stance is to have a slight bend in your knees and to hinge slightly at the hips, leaning forward. This posture helps to isolate the deltoids and minimizes the engagement of the traps.

Raising the Dumbbells Too High

The height to which you raise the dumbbells is another critical factor in determining muscle engagement. A common mistake is to lift the dumbbells too high, often above shoulder height. When you do this, the traps become more engaged as they assist in the lifting motion.

To effectively target the deltoids, you should aim to raise the dumbbells to shoulder height, no higher. This ensures that the middle deltoids are doing the majority of the work, and it minimizes the involvement of the traps.

By being aware of these common mistakes and their fixes, you can significantly improve the effectiveness of your lateral raises, ensuring that you’re targeting the right muscles and minimizing the risk of injury. Remember, the key to effective muscle targeting is not just the amount of weight you lift, but how well you lift it.

Advanced Techniques for Better Deltoid Activation

Once you’ve mastered the basics of lateral raises, you may want to explore advanced techniques to further isolate and activate your deltoids. Two such techniques are flaring out the lats and performing single-arm raises.

Flaring Out the Lats

Flaring out the lats involves consciously spreading your latissimus dorsi muscles (the large muscles on the sides of your back) as you perform the lateral raise. This action helps to stabilize the shoulder blades and minimizes the involvement of the traps. To do this, think of pushing your arms out to the sides rather than lifting them up. This subtle shift in focus can make a significant difference in targeting your deltoids more effectively.

Single-Arm Raises

Another advanced technique is the single-arm lateral raise. By focusing on one arm at a time, you can pay closer attention to your form and muscle activation. This technique is particularly useful if you have muscle imbalances, as it allows you to work on each shoulder independently. To perform single-arm raises, simply hold a dumbbell in one hand and execute the lateral raise as you would normally, keeping your focus on isolating the deltoid.

Related: Unlocking the Mystery: Why Don’t I Feel Shoulder Press in My Shoulders?


Why do my traps hurt during lateral raises?

If your traps hurt during lateral raises, it’s likely due to improper form or technique. Using too much weight or incorrect arm positioning can cause your traps to take over the movement, leading to discomfort or even strain.

Is it normal to feel the traps during lateral raises?

Feeling the traps during lateral raises is generally a sign that you’re not isolating the deltoids effectively. While some engagement of the traps is normal, they shouldn’t be doing the majority of the work.

How can I isolate my delts during lateral raises?

To isolate your delts, focus on using lighter weights and maintaining proper form. Techniques like flaring out the lats and performing single-arm raises can also help in better deltoid activation.

Do lateral raises work your traps?

Lateral raises are primarily intended to work the deltoids. However, if performed incorrectly, they can engage the traps, which is usually not the desired outcome.

How do you avoid traps during lateral raise?

To avoid engaging the traps, maintain a slight bend in your knees and hinge slightly at the hips. Keep your arms in line with your body and focus on lifting “outwards” rather than upwards.

Is it normal for lateral raises to hurt?

Lateral raises should not cause pain if performed correctly. Pain is often a sign of improper form or technique, and it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider if you experience persistent discomfort.

Why does my neck hurt when I do lateral raises?

Neck pain during lateral raises could be a sign that you’re engaging your traps too much, leading to strain in the neck area. It could also indicate underlying issues that require medical attention.

Final Thoughts…

Lateral raises are an excellent exercise for targeting the deltoids, but they can be tricky to master. The key to effective lateral raises lies in proper form and technique. By avoiding common mistakes like using too much weight, incorrect arm positioning, and improper stance, you can ensure that you’re effectively targeting your deltoids and minimizing the risk of injury.

Advanced techniques like flaring out the lats and single-arm raises can further help you in isolating your deltoids for maximum muscle activation. Don’t underestimate the value of expert opinions and community insights; they can provide a well-rounded understanding of how to perform this exercise effectively.

We encourage you to implement these tips and techniques in your workout routine for better shoulder growth and overall muscle development. Remember, the journey to a stronger, more muscular physique is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, focus on your form, and the results will follow.

Why do your traps hurt doing lateral raises? Have our tips been beneficial to your training? We’d love to hear your feedback, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Until next time, we wish you the best in your fitness journey. Remember, your progress is our passion. Stay strong and keep pushing!

Beginners Upper Body Kettlebell Workout


Founder – Sport CBDs

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