Your Guide to a Shoulder Shrugs Workout

A shoulder shrug is a simple yet technical exercise. The principle behind it is simple – a slight change in the form could lead to a significant change.

Skipping shoulder shrugs is just like skipping training hamstrings on a leg day.

And that’s why you shouldn’t do it. It helps manifold in developing a well-balanced aesthetic physique.  

Looking at all the advantages, let’s discuss the various muscle groups targeted in a shoulder shrug. We would also look at the right way to perform a shoulder shrug and learn about all the different effective variants of this exercise.

1. Muscles Targeted in a Shoulder Shrug

What Does Shoulder Shrugs Workout? topless man wearing black and white cap
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When you perform a shoulder shrug, you are training your traps. The specific muscle targeted in a shrug is the Trapezius muscle. These are the bulging muscles at the side of your neck. These muscles are the first to tense up after a long day sitting and working at a desk. They are also an important muscle in our upper body. Whenever you lift something off the floor, they are the muscles that provide a lever to your body

However, the shoulder shrug is done to train traps, they also involve several other muscles. The stabilizer muscle worked in the erector spine. It helps to provide stability to the body. You get tensed up too to stabilize your body. If performed correctly, shrugs can be a beneficial exercise for middle traps too. They are also primary muscles worked in a shrug. 

2. The Optimal Form 

a man holding a barbell in his hands
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Nothing can be perfect. Still, there’s always room for improvement. A shoulder shrug is no different. Despite being relatively easy, most people still perform it incorrectly. To rectify what’s wrong, let’s further discuss the right form of performing shrugs. 

2.1 The Set-up

Set-up is where it all goes wrong for the majority. They just stand upright and start performing shrugs. Instead, hinging forward a little bit and then placing the dumbbells in front of the body is the right way to set up.

This helps your middle trapezius muscle to get activated and be trained in the shoulder shrugs. Training middle traps can help your back get that thick look. It’s also a muscle that is often neglected. If your set-up is right, you are more often than not doing the exercise the right way. 

2.2 Range of Motion 

Training your muscles through a full range of motion is very important as well as beneficial. Quarter reps are not that effective if you are focusing on muscle hypertrophy. Many individuals in the gym often just bounce their weight up and down. That’s not the right way to perform a shrug.

After setting up properly, lift the weight in a rather swift motion.

  • Hold the shrug at the top for a second and then slowly lower the weight.
  • Try to fully stretch at the bottom of the movement. That’s what triggers the most growth.
  • Try to perform 10-12 reps of this exercise with the same technique and range of motion.

2.3 Selecting Appropriate Weight

Ego-lifting is very dangerous and leads to injury. Usually, it’s easy to progressively overload a shoulder shrug. But most people always lift a weight that is way beyond their capabilities. The result is they end up doing quarter-reps which is not beneficial for muscle hypertrophy. Either they do not bring up the weight to the neck or they just don’t fully stretch at the bottom.

Selecting an appropriate weight is crucial in performing shoulder shrugs. 

2.4 Some Useful Cues

A shrug is a common movement that we do every day. Yet we somehow manage to overcomplicate it when specifically incorporating it into our training. Visualize a shoulder shrug in such a way that you are pulling some load up from the floor. Just like you extend your hands and try to keep your back straight, perform the shoulder shrug exactly similar to that.

Another cue is to try keeping your neck forward and lifting the shoulder behind the neck. This helps in activating every part of your trap. Also, if grip is the limiting factor, try using lifting straps so that you can focus more on the movement. A thumbless grip is the best option if you are unable to feel your traps more.

3. Different Variants of Shoulder Shrug

There are many different variations of simple shoulder shrugs. The dumbbell shrugs are a very important movement in every sport. Weightlifters, powerlifters, athletes, bodybuilders, and every sportsperson perform this movement. However, weightlifters are the ones to train it to the full extent. Let’s look at some of the variants of a simple shrug.

3.1 Dumbbell Shrug

These are the most popular out there. Whenever someone starts training, they train these. Yet, it is an effective movement. It completely isolates the traps and the distribution of weight amongst both hands is equal. Try to keep the dumbbells in front of your body and close to your thighs. Fully hold the shrug at the top of the movement and contract the traps. 

3.2 Barbell Shrug

black barbell on tile flooring
By Victor Freitas/ Unsplash copyrights 2018

When weight becomes a limiting factor, shifting to the barbell is the sanest decision. Generally, you can go heavy on the barbell and challenge your traps more. After all, muscle growth is triggered the most by progressive overloading. Your set-up is usually by default correct as the barbell is in front of your body. You can perform this on a Smith machine tool for increased stability. A barbell shrug is beneficial as you can use some momentum from your legs to bring the weight up. 

3.3 Trap-bar Shrugs  

A necessary accessory to mix things up is the Trap Bar shrug. The extended position of the hands to the side of your body helps focus more on the traps hence the name “Trap Bar”. Hold the bar from the middle of the grip so that you don’t rock back and forward. Visualize it as grabbing a long box from its side and then shrugging it up. Squeeze your traps at the top of the shrug by bringing the shoulder blades toward each other. 

3.4 Incline Shrugs 

If you are the one who fails to train middle and lower traps, then this exercise is for you. Set a bench at an angle of about 45 degrees. Lay on it so that your face is towards the bench. Hang your arms in front of yourself and fully extend them down. Perform the shrug with a dumbbell. The leaning of the body forward in this exercise is the key to emphasizing the middle and lower traps more.

3.5 The Snatch Shrug

man lifting barbell
By Sam Sabourin/ Unsplash copyrights 2017

If you are tired of doing all those shrugs, here’s an explosive variant of shrug. You might have seen weightlifters performing a snatch in the Olympics weightlifting. The Olympic lifting is all about explosiveness. One of the accessories they perform is a snatch shrug. It’s an explosive movement. Hold the bar wider than your shoulders. Stand upright and make sure that the bar is at your knee level.

In one swift motion, shrug the bar up to your chin and down with the bar as close to your body as possible. Make sure that you don’t hinge at your hips and that you are standing upright. Naturally, your heels would be lifted to the floor to support the body. 

Perform this exercise only if you have experience in performing a snatch. If you are a beginner, you better stick to the basics.

4. Benefits of Performing Shrugs

There are many benefits of doing shrugs other than just for muscle building. They are just like the toppings on a cake. It elevates your physique and keeps you above each other. If you are a powerlifter, it helps you to lift weights easily off the floor in a deadlift. If you are a weightlifter, it helps you to perform the snatches with explosiveness. Let’s look at some of the benefits of incorporating shoulder shrugs into your training.

4.1 Improved Posture

Sitting and working at a desk for long hours can lead to poor posture. It can make your shoulder drop which doesn’t look good. Moreover, it leads to different kinds of pain. So, to cure that performing dumbbell shrugs is beneficial. It tightens up that neck and upper back region by pulling it back a bit. 

4.2 Aids in Daily Activities

Strong traps are not just for show. Strong traps help an individual to lift heavy things in their daily life. Whether it’s a heavy box or a heavy barbell in the gym, it aids you in everything. Moreover, if you have to lift something overhead, it helps with that too. That’s why having strong traps generally means a strong overhead press too. 

4.3 Shoulder Health

The trapezius muscles run from the side of your neck to the mid back. They work alongside the rotator cuff muscle, ensuring the smooth functioning of the shoulders. Building strong traps would keep you away from shoulder injuries. It would support the rotator cuff muscles and stabilize your shoulder blades. 

4.4 Enhanced Athletic Performance

woman doing weight lifting
By John Arano/ Unsplash copyrights 2018

Doing shrugs to have strong traps helps athletes to improve their performance. Whether you are a javelin thrower or a shot putter, you should have strong traps. Who knows, it might be the difference between a win or a loss. 

4.5 Gripping Strength

Shoulder shrugs are performed using dumbbells or barbells. As you have to hold them for long, you are training your grip strength simultaneously. As you progressively overload shoulder muscles, the weight that you handle will increase. As weight increases, so does your strength for gripping it. Therefore, you will notice a significant increase in your grip strength once you incorporate shoulder shrugs.

5. How to Incorporate Shrugs into the Training?

Now the question is, when and where do you fit shoulder shrugs into your training regime? Well, it depends on person to person but generally, shoulder shrugs are performed on a shoulder day. Traps can be trained on a back day too.

Most individuals perform this exercise at the end of their shoulder workout. Even if they are tired at the end of their workout, they can perform heavy shoulder shrugs. This is because it doesn’t involve a huge range of motion and is relatively simple to perform. Moreover, it is not that taxing for your body as compared to an overhead press. 

6. Doing things repetitively is the key to coming close to perfection.

Performing a shoulder shrug is no different. Training is incomplete without a proper diet. If you don’t fuel your body properly, it will burn out eventually. Make sure to eat a balanced diet with plenty of protein in it. It helps you to progress properly. Also, make sure to always learn the technique first and then load up the plates. Ego-lifting takes an individual nowhere. It just makes you prone to injuries in the long run.

I’m a Physics graduate with a keen interest towards fitness. I have a two year experience in the gym. Before that I used to jog and lost about 10 kgs just by optimising my diet. I have done my fare share of research on fitness and muscle building.

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