Shrugs How to do them right

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Shrugs train your trapezius muscle (or trapezius muscle, a reference to the muscle’s typical diamond shape) — at least the top part of it.


Your traps, as the name of the muscle is often abbreviated, is a special muscle that consists of three characteristic parts. The muscle fibers of the upper, middle and lower part are oriented in a different direction and have three different functions in black and white. These are successively pulling the shoulder blade upwards (elevation), backwards (retraction) and downwards (depression).

trapezius anatomy

Provided you do the exercises right, you may already be training the middle and bottom fibers of your traps sufficiently with general back exercises and exercises for your latissimus dorsi muscle, such as rows and lat pulldowns. But unless you’re a weightlifter and do a lot of cleans, your upper traps might need some extra attention.

Traps are not only desirable from an aesthetic point of view. Your traps in general help you with the bench press and the top part plays an important role in the lockout of your deadlift.


The only isolation exercise for your upper traps is the shrug. And the most popular shrug variant is the barbell shrug, equipped with a barbell bar.

A seemingly simple exercise, things can go wrong with barbell shrugs and shrugs in general.


1. Preferably do the exercise in a power rack, so that you can lift the barbell from an elevation and therefore do not have to deadlift from the floor.

2. Grab the barbell at about 1.5 times shoulder width, so that your arms form an angle of about 30 degrees with the barbell. By using this slightly wider than shoulder-wide grip, a better contraction of the muscle fibers is created, which are not vertical, but oblique in the upper stages. Use an overhand grip (palms facing you).

3. Bend slightly forward (maximum 10 degrees), with a small bend in your knees. Your feet are slightly wider than shoulder width and point slightly out.

4. Now shrug your shoulders as high as you can, moving both up and in, as if you were trying to bring your shoulders up to your ears. Only in this way can you let the upper muscle fibers of your trapezius contract optimally.

You may be able to do this better by thinking that you are moving your arms slightly outward as you lift, as if you were doing a side raise:

5. Lower the weight again in a controlled manner.

6. Repeat for desired number of repetitions.


  • Don’t sacrifice range of motion (ROM) in favor of weight. If you can only move the weight a few centimeters, you have overloaded the bar.
  • Shrugs with squinted shoulder blades, as you sometimes see, is not in our opinion the way the exercise is intended.
  • Also don’t roll with your shoulders.
  • little bit of bend in your arms is okay and even necessary. However, do not overdo this and prevent your biceps from helping.
  • Do not lower the weight too quickly. Provide a controlled eccentric phase of 1 to 3 seconds. Keep a steady pace. The eccentric phase is especially important in shrugs, because the main function of the upper traps is to lower the shoulders.
  • Use wrist straps or versa gripps if your grip strength is getting in the way of a maximum number of reps, but also work on your grip if you are experiencing issues in this area.
  • You can also perform barbell shrugs with the bar behind your back, but this is of no benefit.


There are various variants of the barbell shrug, which in fact are not inferior to the variant discussed above. Power shrugs, for example. The power shrug is in fact nothing more than a conventional shrug, but performed explosively, with a relatively heavy weight and limited number of repetitions:

Another variation, and a surprisingly effective one, is the overhead shrug, which you rarely see performed. The start position is like the end position of an overhead press, but with a slightly wider grip:

Other shrug varieties you should try:

  • Trap bar shrugs – A trap bar, also called hex bar, is – of course – ideal for training your traps and allows a neutral grip, while your arms are in their natural position: along your body. Our favorite shrug variety. One problem: you probably don’t have a trap bar at home or in the gym.
  • Dumbbell Shrugs – Dumbbells offer basically the same benefit as a kick bar and allow for a neutral grip. The only drawback is that the dumbbells in most gyms go up to ‘only’ 40 kg.
  • Machine shrugs – It looks a bit like a wheelbarrow: the device that goes by the name lever(age) shrug machine. A great device to train your upper traps. Unfortunately, also a device that is often defective in your gym due to abuse and overload.
  • Smith shrugs – The Smith machine makes it easier to perform shrugs behind your back. And if you stand perpendicular to the device, you can also perform shrugs with one arm (unilateral).
  • Standing Kettlebell Shrug – Unilateral shrugs for when you have a weak side (video).


The upper traps are an eye-catching muscle – even with clothes on. That’s why you may want to train them often and a lot.

However, keep in mind that your upper traps are already involved in many exercises, for example also as an auxiliary muscle in lateral raises, upright rows, reverse flyes, deadlifts and in most rowing exercises for the back.

As a novice and early-intermediate bodybuilder, you don’t actually have to do any direct exercises. Although that is also a matter of genetic predisposition.


Intermediate and advanced bodybuilders who go for the ‘yoke look’ program some direct exercises for the upper traps. Aim for 5-10 sets per week initially and build up as needed.

You’re not just dependent on the somewhat boring shrug. Also, farmer’s walks (loaded carries) and rack pulls above the knee let you burn stage. Limit yourself to one targeted traps exercise per training, especially if you also do indirect exercises.

If you’re lacking thickness in your upper back (which is usually mostly a genetic issue), do targeted exercises for your middle and lower traps as well.


Shrugs are best done with a weight in the range of 8 to 15 reps. This is wherein you create the best mind-muscle connection.


In your sets, stay one or two reps away from muscle failure (using 1-2 Reps In Reserve).


Be critical of your range of motion. The fact is that when it comes to shrugs, most people sacrifice ROM more easily than with other exercises, often doing the majority of a set of partials, or partial reps. Not infrequently because they use too high a weight. Realize that partial reps are only partially effective. Two halves don’t always make one whole.

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