Trap Pain From Squats? Here Is What You Need To Do
April 17th 2019
It is your first time squatting and you are feeling pain in your traps.
Is this a normal thing?
Should lifters be concerned?
Lifters need to understand that going to the gym is not all fun and games.
It is a serious endeavor that requires your absolute mental focus, strength, and clarity.
The sport is not meant to be done by everyone.
Though lifting weights has a low barrier of entry, very few people progress to god-like strength.
Are you one of them?
Squats hurt my traps
Squats should never be painful to any part of your body, especially your traps. You may be experiencing pain due to one or a combination of the following reasons:
- Lack of trap tightness
- New to squatting
- Longer time under tension
- Actual injury (rare)
Lack of trap tightness
So, you are not a beginner lifter.
You have been squatting for a while, pain-free.
Then, you suddenly feel that squats have been hurting your traps.
You never felt this pain before and you are using a moderate amount of weight.
Is there anything wrong with you?
You are not squeezing your traps tight enough.
If your muscles are relaxed, the barbell weight will be resting on somewhat soft muscle.
If you do not have a huge upper back, you can potentially be resting it on your spine indirectly.
This is not good for your overall spine health and your squat PR.
You will feel that something is off.
So, in whatever back squat variation you decide to do, this suggestion still applies to you.
Make sure to squeeze your body inward.
You will try to form a square with your body by packing yourself towards the center of your body.
As a result, you will want to squeeze your upper back and traps, creating a bookshelf for the barbell.
This is the ideal place for the bar if you are doing a high bar squat.
New to squatting
If you are a beginner lifter, everything may be foreign to you, including pain.
One of the most common area to feel pain is your traps if you are new to squatting.
From my research, I have found that newer lifters are more sensitive to pressure from the barbell.
They may attribute this pressure to pain because it feels uncomfortable.
Continue following your program as instructed and make sure to always keep your traps and upper back tight.
This trap “pain” should go away in a few weeks, with the pain subsiding away slowly.
It is just your way of allowing your body to recover and handle heavier resistance.
Longer time under tension
Another reason why you are feeling pain in your traps from squatting is because you are doing long squats sets, which force you to be under a longer time under tension.
In daily life, you will normally not need to squeeze your traps for a long period of time.
If you are doing as many reps as possible (AMRAP) sets or doing sets of 10+, you can experience some degree of trap fatigue.
In some cases, this can develop into trap pain that is not wanted.
In almost all cases, this is a normal reaction to lifting more reps during a certain set.
Your body is not used to that amount of volume and may cause you some discomfort.
This is only temporary and pain symptoms should clear away.
During my research, I have found that some lifters also experience their traps cramping during their squats.
This can be due to many different reasons, such as being dehydrated, loss of minerals, etc.
I have discussed these details in-depth on my article about neck pain during squats.
Similar to time under tension, cramps are a result of your muscles contracting too much.
In normal muscle pathology, the muscle will relax when your nervous system sends the correct signals to it.
During cramps, these signals are short-circuited, causing involuntary muscle contractions.
This can occur when you are squeezing your traps during the high bar squat, but it is unlikely that you will continue cramping once you finished squatting and begin to relax the muscles in the surrounding area.
Actual injury (rare)
Hundreds of thousands of lifters squat every year.
Everyone goes through the same learning process of understanding what is pain and what is not.
Lifters understand what is good muscle pain and what is bad muscle pain.
However, everyone has a keen sense of whether or not they are injured.
There are a few lifters who are injured from doing high bar squats.
Though it is highly unlikely to get injured during your first squat sessions, cumulative stress can build up.
For instance, one lifter said that he had been squatting high bar and have been placing the bar at the same place for years.
At first, while he was a beginner, his traps were hurting him after the first couple sessions of squatting.
Naturally, you would try to fix your form and get tighter.
After implementing a few technique tweaks, everything should be fine, right?
The pain gradually went away, but this lifter developed a structural bump on his vertebra.
He has gone to doctors but they only recommended that he should use padding to soothe this ailment.
The moral of the story is to be cautious but be aware of what you are doing.
Obviously, lifting weights has more benefits than cons.
But you should understand what you are doing and how to perform exercises correctly so that you can gain the most benefit.
Should I try front squats if high bar back squats hurt my traps?
I would say that, no you should not stop doing a lift because you are feeling discomfort in your traps.
You must be able to train all functional movements to become the best athlete you can be.
The only way you can achieve that is by correctly any postural or muscular weaknesses that are preventing you from doing high bar back squats.
If your program calls to do high bar back squats, do high bar back squats.
Do not manipulate your lifting program unless you have finished it.
Unless you went to the beach and sunburnt your traps, then maybe you can do front squats as a substitute (this happened to me once. I still did back squats with my traps and neck peeling).
You will get more value in figuring out what you did wrong so that you can perform back squats properly next time.
Break down the high bar squat and see why it is hurting your traps.
Does it hurt when you contract your traps?
Does it hurt what you contract your back?
Does it hurt only when you place weight on your traps?
Do some troubleshooting and figure out what is wrong and how you can avoid feeling pain on your traps.
In addition, you will also gain more iron cred if you figure out how to adapt to workouts if you are an experienced lifter.
Using a towel if squats hurt my traps?
A towel will only be a bandaid to the solution.
If you are doing everything right (tight traps, tight upper back, gripping the bar tightly, barbell resting on your traps, etc), you can wear a hoodie like your squat temporarily.
In addition to squat, focus on building your upper back and traps in order to create a bigger and stronger shelf to support the barbell.
This is applicable for a lot of smaller lifters as they have not packed on as much muscle as some 180lbs+ lifters.
Have squats ever hurt my traps? Yes, but I could tell it was from a muscular soreness.
Since I have been training high bar squats for the past year now, muscle soreness comes and goes.
I always make sure to try to squeeze my back and traps together and create a nice bookshelf for the barbell not to roll down my back from.