Barbell Shrug: How To Do and Muscles Worked

You know the most effective way to build up your traps is to do shoulder shrugs, or you can say barbell shrugs.

Barbell Shrugs, also known as barbell shoulder shrugs, are popular among bodybuilders and athletes for strengthening upper traps and neck muscles.

A study has shown that shrugging helps relieve shoulder and neck pain. Strengthening your traps helps provide better support to your head and neck by increasing the activation of your shoulder muscles. It helps to improve grip strength and forearm development.

Barbells work both sides of your body together to move the same load, allowing you to lift heavy weights.

Barbell Shrug Muscles Worked

The trapezius muscle is composed of three parts. Together, they help you move your head, stand straight, bend or twist your torso, and raise your arms. It plays a key role in shoulder movement and stability and in maintaining proper posture.

Muscles Worked During Barbell Shrug

How To Do Shoulder Barbell Shrug

The front barbell shrug is one of the best exercises for building bigger, stronger trapezius muscles. It is also one of the most simplistic and easy trap exercises to perform.

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed outward.
  2. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You can experiment with grip width to see what feels most comfortable.
  3. Let the barbell hang in front of your thighs at arm’s length.
  4. Keep your core braced and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. Look straight ahead and avoid rounding your back or shoulders.
  5. Keep your arms straight and shrug your shoulders straight up towards your ears as far as possible.
  6. Hold the contracted position for a brief pause, squeezing your traps maximally.
  7. Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position by depressing and relaxing your shoulders.
  8. Do 8–10 reps and 3–4 sets for muscle hypertrophy.
Barbell Shrug
Know More: 20 Best Trap Workout and Exercises for Mass and Strength

Barbell Shrug Form and Tips

  1. While shrugging, looking slightly up may enhance the contraction.
  2. The motion should be smooth and controlled, as a jerky motion could result in a neck injury.
  3. Don’t let the head move forward too much when squeezing the traps. This can hurt the neck.
  4. Go full range. Only move the shoulders and keep the rest of the body steady.
  5. A pause at the top of the movement can help strengthen the mind muscles.
  6. Try to raise the weight as high as possible without causing too much momentum or excessive jerking or bouncing of the weight.
  7. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  8. Please avoid attempting to lift the barbell with your biceps.
  9. The bar should move in a straight line upwards and downwards, so don’t roll your shoulders.
  10. The traps do well when you do high repetitions and do hard movements like snatch grip shrug. You could try your extra exercises around it.
  11. Go heavy, but use a weight that allows you to perform more than 12 reps per set.
  12. Because traps are a stubborn muscle group for many, they can be trained fairly frequently during the week.
Barbell Shrug

Reps, Sets, And Frequency For Barbell Shrug

The barbell shrug is good for both high and low repetitions.

  • For muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth): Aim for a rep range of 8–12 reps per set
  • For strength and power: Lower the rep range to around 4–6 reps per set.
  • For Endurance: Do 15–20 reps per set.

However, here are some general guidelines to help you get started:

Beginners8–10 reps2-31–2 times per week
Intermediate10–15 reps3-42–3 times per week
Advanced8–12 reps4-52–3 times per week

Barbell Shrug Variations

If you’re tired of doing front barbell shrugs, or you want to add some variety to your next upper body workout, you can do front barbell shoulder shrugs in many ways that each have their benefits.  

1. Snatch Grip Barbell Shrugs

Snatch grip barbell shrugs are a variation of the traditional barbell shrug exercise. In this exercise, the grip is widened to a snatch grip position. This means placing your hands much wider on the barbell than for a standard shrug.

It allows for a greater range of motion, leading to increased activation of the upper back muscles, including the traps and rhomboids.

Barbell Snatch Grip Shrugs

How to Do Barbell Snatch Grip Shrugs

  • Stand with your shoulders wide apart and your feet slightly outward.
  • Grasp the barbell with a wide snatch grip, where your hands are positioned significantly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your arms fully extended and maintain a neutral spine.
  • Lift the barbell by driving through your heels. Keep your back straight and shoulders pulled back.
  • Hold the barbell in the top position briefly before slowly lowering it back to the starting position.
Want to take your gains to the next level? Discover your daily calorie needs with our free TDEE calculator

2. Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

The barbell behind-the-back shoulder shrug is a variation of the front barbell shrug that mainly works the upper traps. Having the bar behind you helps keep your shoulders pulled up and back rather than rounded forward.

It is popular in strength and muscle-focused upper-body training and is often trained on a shoulder day.

The barbell behind-the-back is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 8–12 reps per set or more, as part of shoulder training or trap-focused training.

Behind the Back Barbell Shrug

How To Do Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing backward) and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, behind your body at hip level.
  3. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted.
  4. Keep your arms straight and shrug your shoulders as high as you can toward your ears.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second before depressing and relaxing your shoulders.
Know More: Shrug Exercise: Benefits, Variations, Muscles used, Tips

Warm-up Exercises Before Barbell Shrug

It is important to warm up properly before you start doing heavy barbell shrugs. Warming up can help boost blood flow to your muscles, make your joints more flexible, and lower the chance of getting hurt.

Here are some exercises to warm up before doing barbell shrugs:

1. Scapular Retraction

Scapular retraction is a great warm-up exercise for the trapezius muscles. To perform scapular retraction,

  • Stand with your arms at your sides, and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Pull your shoulder blades back and down, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat for 10–12 reps.

You can also try these warm-up exercises:

2. Shoulder Circles

Circular movements of the shoulders can boost blood flow to the shoulder joint and enhance flexibility.

  • Stand with your arms at your sides and your shoulders relaxed.
  • Slowly circle your shoulders forward, then backward. Repeat for 15–20 reps.

3. Arm Swings

Arm swings have the potential to stimulate the trapezius muscles and prepare them for heavier lifting.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
  • Swing your arms forward, then backward, keeping them straight. Repeat for 10–15 reps.

4. Neck Rotations

Neck rotations are a simple and effective warm-up exercise to loosen the neck muscles and increase mobility.

  • Gently rotate your neck in a circular motion, clockwise and counterclockwise.
  • Start with small circles and gradually increase the size. Perform 5–8 rotations in each direction.


Does barbell shrug work shoulders?

Barbell shrugs work the trapezius muscles and the shoulders are also involved to a pretty decent degree. 

Does barbell shrug work neck?

Yes, as the upper muscle fibers of the traps are responsible for upward rotation and extension of the neck. Hence, when you train the trap muscle, it also strengthens the neck muscles.


The barbell shrug proves that good things can come in small packages. Although the shrug is a humble movement, it can have remarkable consequences for the overall development of our upper bodies.

If you want to turbocharge your trap gains, implement barbell shoulder shrugs into your workouts, and you’ll have a stronger, bigger, and more resilient upper body. 


Leave a Comment