Barbell Shrug Exercise Guide
In this post you will learn how to perform barbell shrug safely and effectively to achieve maximum results from this great isolation exercise for the trapezius muscle.
The principles and movements are the same as in the basic exercise (dumbbell shrug) and the main reason to change is to break up your routine and add a little variety. At the same time, you will benefit from certain minor differences in the angles of the workout. However, dumbbells are the best fit for a natural grip.
This highly specific trapezius exercise uses limited motion to your trapezius, which lies at the back of your neck. A strong trapezius will help protect your neck and spine – making it useful for all contact sports.
It’s long been an issue of whether to train the traps (which is big upper back muscle) with the back or with the shoulders, since both recruit the traps to a point. You could try both ways. We think it’s good idea to train them after training deltoids.
How To Do Barbell Shrugs?
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Stand upright while holding a barbell in front of your thighs in a shoulder-width overhand grip. You can also use reverse grip if the weight is heavy (perform one set with the right hand overhand and the left hand underhand, switch on the following set). Bend your knees slightly.
EXECUTION (ACTION): While keeping your arms extended, back straight, and abdominal muscles contracted, elevate (shrug) your shoulders straight up (don’t roll them back – lift the bar straight up and down) as high as possible. Hold the bar up for 1-2 seconds at the highest point before lowering them to the start position under control, following the same line of movement in which they are raised. The higher the bar is raised, the harder the trapezius works.
Muscles Involved in Barbell Shrug
Barbell shrugs works the deltoid and trapezius muscles. More specifically, it strengthens your trapezius, levator scapulae (beneath the trapezius), and rhomboid muscles.
- Main muscles: trapezius (upper), levator scapulae
- Secondary muscles: rhomboids, trapezius (middle), deltoid, supraspinatus
- Antagonists: pectoralis minor, trapezius (lower), pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi
Additional Tips For Barbell Shrugs
- Avoid tilting your head in any direction, bending your elbows, or jutting your chin forwards.
- Look for the movement up an in from your shoulder joints.
- Do not roll or rotate the shoulders – lift the bar straight up and down.
- Stabilise by keeping your head up and your chest high, keeping your spine in a neutral position and your hips and knees slightly bent.
- Your arms do no more than hold the weights, although the resistance is constant.
- We don’t want you to use heavy weights that allow you to move the bar only a half-inch; we want you to use your full range of motion throughout every rep in every set.
- Some people find this exercise more comfortable and effective with dumbbells because they allow you to have a longer range of motion.
- Common mistakes: rotating the shoulders in heavy sets; using too much or too little weight; incomplete movement; short or few sets; and flexing the shoulders to help you lift.
Barbell Shrug Variations
Those exercise variations are recommended for advanced exercisers only.
- Wide-grip barbell shrug. Grab the bar with your hands outside the rings. This changes the action of your traps, since they have to elevate your shoulder blades while the bones are rotated toward each other on top, rather than at their normal distance from each other.
- Behind-the-back barbell shrug. Perform this exercise while holding a barbell behind you. This helps keep your shoulders back and your chest out.
- Reverse grip barbell shrug. Grab a bar underhand, with your hands just outside your thighs. This separates your scapulae a bit more, changing the angle from which your traps pull the weight.
- Explosive, from hang above knees barbell shrug. Start with your torso bent forward, the bar just above your knees, your back flat, and your shoulders over or a bit in front of a bar. Starting the movement slowly, and building up speed, straighten your torso, than rise up your toes and shrug your shoulders. At the end of the movement, your body should be aligned in such a way that you could draw a straight line through your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
- Jump, from hang above knees. This variation is the same as the previous except you use a lighter weight and pull so hard that your feet come up off the floor. Bend your knees to absorb the force af landing, then settle and reset your body before the next repetition.
Barbell Shrug Replacement Exercises
If you find yourself unable to do a certain exercise but are able to complete other similar moves, substitution is a fine option.
To add variety to your trapezius workout, replace the barbell shrug with a different exercise that works the same muscles (trapezius, levator scapulae). Use dumbbells, cables, or even a gym machine to perform the shrugging motion without the barbell.
- Dumbbell shrug
- Smith machine shrug
- Cable shrug
- Retracting shrug
- Behind-the-back barbell shrug (rear shrug)
- Prone incline dumbbell shrug
- Barbell upright row
- Cable upright row
- Smith-machine upright row
Barbell shrug is an exercise where you can really pile on the weight for maximum gains. This exercise works the trapezius muscles directly. The only interference might be from your hands if you have trouble keeping your grip during a very heavy set. Using straps will completely resolve this issue.
The key is to use a full range of motion by trying to touch your shoulders to your ears with each concentric squeeze up with the bar. Although the pull upward with your traps should be fast, the eccentric lowering movement of the bar back to the starting position should be slow and controlled. Regardless of which shrug you use for your upper back musculature, do not use a circular action.
Make them a regular part of your training and you will have traps that give the Incredible Hulk pause. Besides traps, your forearms, hamstrings, lower back and rear delts will be indirectly stimulated.