Shrug Exercise: Benefits, Variations, Muscles used, Tips

If you’re looking to build a stronger, more defined upper body, then shrug exercises are a great way to start.

If you neglect your traps and fail to strengthen them alongside the other muscles in your back, it can lead to poor posture, decreased performance, and even injury down the line.

Shrug workouts are a popular way to work the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and trap. The practice of shoulder shrugs can improve your posture and enable you to lift heavier weights.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to get the most out of this powerful exercise

  • What is a shoulder shrug
  • Benefits of shrug exercises
  • Benefits of shrugging exercise
  • Best shoulder shrug exercises and How to do them correctly

Anatomy of the Shoulders and Upper Back

Before we dive into the benefits of shoulder shrugs, it’s important to understand the anatomy of the shoulders and upper back.

The trapezius muscle is a large, triangular muscle that spans the upper back and shoulders. It plays a key role in shoulder movement and stability, as well as in maintaining proper posture.

The trapezius muscle can be divided into three parts:

1. Upper Trapezius

The upper trapezius runs from the base of the skull to the top of the shoulder blades and is primarily responsible for elevating the shoulders.

2. Middle Trapezius,

The middle trapezius runs from the top of the shoulder blades to the spine and helps retract the shoulder blades.

3. Lower Trapezius

Finally, the lower trapezius runs from the bottom of the shoulder blades to the spine and helps depress the shoulder blades.

trapezius muscle

What Are Shoulder Shrugs?

Shrugs, also known as shoulder shrugs, are an isolation exercise that target trapezius muscles.

If you have a desk job, you likely spend a long part of your day with your neck leaned forward, your shoulders depreciated, and your eyes focused on a screen in front of you.

Over time, this posture can take quite a toll on your neck and shoulder muscles.

Shoulder shrugging is an effective and easy-to-perform exercise that will improve your posture by strengthening your trapezius. Many physiotherapists also recommend this exercise when someone is experiencing neck or shoulder pain.

To achieve it, keep your arms straight as you lift your shoulders toward your ears. Pause for a moment before lowering your shoulders back to the starting position. Repeat.

Shoulder Shrug Benefits

There are benefits to properly done shoulder shrugging.

  • It helps you to improve your posture.
  • Increase the stability of the neck muscles.
  • Helps to boost the strength of your shoulder
  • Increased upper back muscle strength.
  • Improved sports performance
  • A study has shown that shrugging helps relieve shoulder and neck pain.
  • The chronic neck and shoulder pain has been reduced.
  • Strong grips are essential for shrug exercises, which can help improve grip strength.
  • Shoulder shrugs are also be a great stress-reliever.
  • Shrugs help stabilize the trap muscles, which are responsible for shoulder elevation and retraction.

Benefits of the stronger Trapezius & Upper Back Muscles

The trapezius muscle is a large muscle at the top of your back and neck that supports the scapula and your arms. It is a muscle that is used continuously, daily.

Traps muscles have an essential role in supporting shoulder and neck movement.

The upper portion of the trapezius influences the overall roundness of a physique’s frame, while the middle and lower portions contribute to back thickness.

The primary function of the traps is to move or stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blades). It means they’re engaged most fully during shrugging movements, elevating the arms overhead, and pulling the shoulders back.

Muscles Used During Shoulder Shrug Exercises

Shrug exercise strengthens the upper back, part of the trapezius and neck region, and also helps to improve posture.

Shoulder shrugs are a popular choice of exercise for strengthening your upper back, shoulder muscles, neck, and upper arms too.

Muscles Used During Shoulder Shrug Exercises

How to do shoulder shrugs

Shoulder shrugs can be performed with or without weights. Shoulder shrugs with weights greatly increase the strengthening potential of this exercise.

If you are a beginner, you should start with bodyweight shoulder shrugs and then gradually increase the weight.

shoulder shrugs

To perform this exercise safely and in proper form, follow these steps.

  • Stand with your feet flat on the ground and your shoulders and hips in a straight line.
  • Your arms are by your sides, if you’re using weight for this movement, then hold it in your hands. Turn your palms to face each other.
  • Keep your chin up, your neck should be straight, and your gaze should be straight ahead.
  • When you bring your shoulder as high up towards your ear as you can.
  • Slow down the movement so that you feel some resistance to your muscles.
  • Hold at the top for a moment, and then return to the starting position.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.
  • When your shoulders are strengthened, you can increase your reps and use weight.

How to perform shoulder shrugs correctly:

Shoulder shrugs do not involve a long range of movement, and hence can be performed with heavier weights as compared to the kind of weights one would lift while performing other isolated exercises such as dumbbell curls or tricep workouts.

There aren’t many steps or instructions to follow. But you should be aware of some safety protocol when you try this exercise.

  • Never roll your shoulders when you’re doing a shrugging.
  • Do not move your shoulders too quickly when you shrug.
  • Avoid arching the lower back during the exercise.
  • Make sure you carefully lift your shoulders up before dropping them back down in the same vertical direction.
  • Remember to warm up before exercise and stretch afterward to avoid any workout injuries.
  • It is recommended that you allow at least 36 to 48 hours of rest before training the same muscle groups, to allow for sufficient recovery. Your results will ultimately be based on your ability to adequately recover from your workouts.

Now, let’s get into the best shoulder shrug exercises for strength and hypertrophy of the traps, using various types of fitness equipment.

Shoulder Shrug Variations and Modifications

Once you’ve mastered the basic shoulder shrug, you can start to incorporate variations and modifications into your routine

The shrug is one of the most simplistic and easy trap exercises to perform. This exercise can also be done with heavy weights to increase trap thickness.

Here are the best shoulder shrug exercises that you can do with a dumbbell, barbell, cable, and smith machine to develop the massive traps.

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1. Dumbbell Shrug Exercise

The dumbbell shrug is a variation and one of the best exercises to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles.

Dumbbell shoulder shrug exercise can be done extremely heavily to thicken the traps that really help you in doing back poses. This is one of the best isolation exercises for the trapezius muscle.

Traps, being a stubborn muscle group for many, can be trained with a fairly high frequency during the week.

Dumbbell Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand upright, keeping arms at sides and with a heavy dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Try not to move anything but your shoulders.
  3. Raise your shoulders as high as you can, as if trying to touch them to your ears.
  4. Hold at the top for a moment, and then return to the starting position.

Tips

  • Inhale when you lower the weight and exhale when you lift.
  • Adding a pause at the top of the movement can help to enhance the mind-muscle connection.
  • Limit momentum and excessive jerking or bouncing of the weight.

2. Incline Dumbbell Shrug

Incline dumbbell shrug is a variation of dumbbell shrug exercises that strengthen the upper back, part of the trapezius, and neck region, and it also helps to improve posture.

This shrugging variation will shift emphasis to the upper traps as well as the upper portion of the middle traps.

The fact is that your chest is pressed on the bench will make it difficult to use momentum to drive the weight up.

Incline Dumbbell Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and straddle an adjustable-incline bench with your feet flat on the floor, or position them on the bench frame to support your body.
  2. Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip at your sides and lie chest-down on an incline bench.
  3. Slowly shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. At the top, pause for a moment and contract hard through your traps and rhomboids.
  4. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.

Tips

  • Keep your arms straight throughout the entire movement.
  • Avoid using extremely heavyweights.
  • Move the dumbbells in a smooth and even manner, without jerking them at all.

3. Barbell Shrug

The Barbell Shrug is one of the best exercises to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles. This exercise can be done extremely heavily to thicken the traps that really help you in doing back poses.

Traps, being a stubborn muscle group for many, can be trained with a fairly high frequency during the week.

Barbell Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand with feet placed shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and core stable.
  2. Grip the barbell with your hands facing downwards in a pronated grip.
  3. Raise your shoulders without bending the elbows as far as possible, getting them closer to your ears.
  4. Hold the contraction and squeeze for a brief second. In a controlled and stable manner, lower the weight back down to the starting position.

Tips

  • Go as high as possible, but limit momentum and excessive jerking or bouncing of the weight.
  • Go full range. Move only the shoulders and keep the rest of the body steady.

4. Smith Machine Shrug

The barbell shrug is probably the best movement to use to tone or build up the trapezius muscle. There are several variations of the barbell shrug, one of which is done on the smith machine.

The Smith machine shrug is an upper-body exercise, targeting the traps (trapezius muscles). It is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 8-12 reps per set or more, as part of shoulder or trap-focused training.

Smith Machine Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand in a Smith machine holding the unlatched bar with an overhand grip in front of your thighs.
  2. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift your shoulders toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Focus on lifting the weight with your traps, not by your biceps.
  • Pausing at the top of the barbell shrug makes the exercise more challenging and you’ll get more out of it.
  • Do not roll your shoulders, as this can lead to a shoulder injury.

5. Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

The barbell behind-the-back shoulder shrug is one of the variations of shrugging exercise to target the upper traps.

Having the bar behind you helps keep your shoulders pulled up and back instead of rounded forward.

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

Behind-the-Back-Barbell-Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand while holding a barbell with an overhand grip behind your thighs. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your shoulders toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Focus on lifting the weight with your traps and not with your biceps.
  • Pausing at the top of the barbell shrug makes the exercise more challenging, and you’ll get more out of it.
  • Do not roll your shoulders, as this can lead to a shoulder injury.

6. Smith Machine Behind-the-Back Shrug

Smith Machine Behind-the-Back Shrug is the variation of the smith machine shrug.

It is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 8-12 reps per set or more, as part of shoulder or trap-focused training.

Smith Machine Behind the Back Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Stand in a Smith machine holding the unlatched bar with an overhand grip on the back of your thighs.
  2. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift your shoulders toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Focus on lifting the weight with your traps and not by your biceps.
  • Pausing at the top of the barbell shrug makes the exercise more challenging, and you’ll get more out of it.

7. Calf raise machine shrug (Gripless Shrug)

The gripless shrug is the best shrugging exercise variation because in this, you’re holding the weight in your hands, and you don’t have to depend on your grip strength to effectively work the traps.

The gripless shrug or calf raise machine shrug is a very effective isolation exercise for the trapezius muscles. Because typically, a standard shrug would require you to hold the weight with both hands, but the gripless shrug eliminates the need for grip strength.

Many people actually find their grip to give up before the traps are exhausted, and this is very frustrating.

Calf raise machine shrug (Gripless Shrug)

How To Do It

  1. Stand inside the standing calf raise machine with your shoulders under the pads.
  2. Grab the handles for stability, although this isn’t necessary. Exhale as you slowly raise your shoulders as high as you can.
  3. Hold for a count of two. Inhale as you slowly lower your shoulders to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips

  • Keep your back straight and core tight.
  • Avoid using a weight that is too heavy because it will limit your range of motion.

8. Cable Shrug

The cable shrug is a variation of the shoulder shrug that is utilized to build the trapezius muscle of the upper back.

It is one of the best exercises for isolating the traps, and it offers versatility to further improve development.

Cable Shrug

How To Do It

  1. Grab a cable bar attachment that is attached to a low pulley.
  2. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider if you wish. Your hands should be facing down.
  3. Stand close to the pulley and extend your arms in front of you while holding the bar.
  4. Raise your shoulders, lift the bar as high as you possibly can. Exhale while performing this movement.
  5. Hold the contraction at the top for a second.
  6. Slowly lower the bar to its starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips

  • Prevent from rolling your shoulders, as this is incorrect form and can result in injury.

How To Incorporate Shoulder Shrug Exercises Into Your Workout Routine

Here are some tips for adding this exercise to your workouts:

1. Add Optimum No Of Sets And Reps:

A good starting point is to perform 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps.

However, you can adjust the number of sets and reps according to your fitness level and goals.

2. During Workout Splits

You can perform shrug exercises as part of an upper body or during Push Pull Leg workout Split.

3. During Your Shoulder And Upper Body Workout

Shrugs can be included in your shoulder workout routine alongside other exercises such as overhead press, lateral raise, and front raise.

4. Frequency

You can do trap exercises once or twice a week.

However, it is important to allow your muscles to recover between workouts in order to maximize results.

I. During Shoulder Workout

S.NOExerciseSetsReps
1Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-48-12
2Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raise3-410-15
3Dumbbell Shrug310-12
4Front Plate Raise312-15
5Upright Row310-12

II. During Pull Workout Split

S.NOExerciseSetsReps
1Pull-Ups3-48-10
2Bent Over Barbell Rows3-48-10
3Barbell Shrug310-12
4Bicep Curls (with dumbbells or barbell)312-15
5Hammer Curls310-12
6Dumbbell Shrug312-15

III. During Upper Body Workout

S.NOExerciseSetsReps
1Bench Press (with barbell or dumbbells)3-48-10
2Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press3-48-12
3Cable Shrug3-410-12
4Lat Pulldowns (with machine or bar)3-410-12
5Cable Tricep Pushdowns312-15
6Bicep Curls (with dumbbells or barbell)312-15

Frequently Asked Question

How many sets and reps of shrugs

Try to do 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps of shrugs with a weight that challenges your muscles.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with lighter weights and fewer sets/reps, and then increase your weights as you get stronger and more fit.

What muscles does a shrug work?

The main muscles that shoulder shrugs target are the trapezius muscles. These muscles are located on either side of your neck and upper back.

They control the movement of your shoulder blades as well as your upper back and neck.

Are shrugs actually effective?

Yes, shoulder shrugs are an excellent way to strengthen the shoulders and upper trapezius muscles. It helps you maintain good posture, upper body strength, and grip strength.

Are shrugs a shoulder or back exercise?

Shrugs are exercises for both the back and shoulder. The shrug exercise works both the shoulder and upper back muscles. You can add the shrug either during your shoulder workout or during your back workout routine.

Is shrugs push or pull?

The shrug is considered a pulling motion, as the weight is lifted toward the center of the body during the concentric phase of the workout.

Should I do shrugs on push or pull day

Shrugs can be done on either push or pull day, as they primarily target the trapezius muscles. Shrugs may fit in well if you focus on shoulder and upper back exercises on pull day.

Do shrugs build your neck?

Shrugs work the muscles in the neck, but they mostly work the trap. They can help build neck muscle mass and strength, but they aren’t made specifically for this purpose.

To specifically target the neck, other exercises may be more effective.

  1. Neck bridges
  2. Neck extensions
  3. Neck curls
  4. Neck rotations

Takeaway

Shoulder shrugs are very good for building and strengthening the shoulder muscles, as well as the muscles behind the neck that help keep the head stable and move the arms from the shoulders.

But like any other exercise, this too must be practiced with caution, correct technique.

Adding variations and modifications to your workout routine can transform your shoulder shrug game and transform your upper body.

So what are you waiting for? Grab some weights and start shrugging!

Reference

  1. 1Xiaofeng Jia Jong-Hun Ji, Steve A Petersen, Jennifer Keefer, Edward G McFarland: Clinical Evaluation of the Shoulder Shrug Sign Strength and Conditioning Journal: Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: November 2008 – Volume 466 – Issue 11 – p 2813-2819
  2. Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS, RCEP: Exercise Modifications and Strategies to Enhance Shoulder Function. Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2005 – Volume 27 – Issue 4 – p 36-45
  3. McAllister M, Schilling B, Hammond K, Weiss L, Farney T. Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright rowJ Strength Cond PMID: 22362088 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f23ad
  4. Cools AM, Witvrouw EE, Declercq GA, Danneels LA, Cambier DC. Scapular muscle recruitment patterns: Trapezius muscle latency with and without impingement symptoms. Am J Sports Med 31: 542–549, 2003.
  5. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Trapezius muscle timing during selected shoulder rehabilitation exercises. 2021 Jun 14;18(12):6444. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126444.PMID: 34198674
  6. Lorenzetti S, Dayer R, Pluss M, List R. Pulling exercises for strength training and rehabilitation: movements and loading conditionsJ Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2017;2(3):33. doi:10.3390/jfmk2030033
  7.  Shrug exercises combined with shoulder abduction improve scapular upward rotator activity and scapular alignment in subjects with scapular downward rotation impairment

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