Rear Shrug Exercise Instructions


Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug (Rear Shrug)

Performing the shrug exercise with the barbell behind your hips (rear shrug) causes scapular retraction, pulling the shoulders backwards to emphasize the middle fibers of the trapezius. Also, performing barbell shrug with the bar behind you helps keep your shoulders back and your chest out.

How to Perform Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug?

STARTING POSITION: Stand up straight while holding a barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing back) behind your thighs. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Tip: Your hands should be a little wider than shoulder width apart.

Behind the Back Barbell Shrug

Behind the Back Barbell Shrug

ACTION: Lift your shoulders up toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight. Hold the contraction for second before lowering the bar back to the starting position. Refrain from trying to lift the barbell by using your biceps. The arms should remain stretched out at all times.

Muscles Involved in Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

  • Main muscles: trapezius (middle fibers), levator scapulae
  • Secondary muscles: rhomboids, trapezius (upper fibers), deltoid, supraspinatus
  • Antagonists: pectoralis minor, trapezius (lower), pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi

Additional Notes For Rear Shrug

  • 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. Refrain from trying to lift the barbell by using your biceps.
  • 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.

Exercise Variations: Smith-machine rear shrug

  • Smith-machine rear shrug. Many bodybuilders find the Smith machine is more comfortable. Instead of taking the bar from the floor, you can have it set at any desired height, making it easier on your lower back. Furthermore, the range of motion of the Smith machine assists beginners with learning the movement pattern.

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Stand in a Smith machine holding the unlatched bar with an overhand grip in back of your thighs. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder- width apart.

Smith-machine rear shrug (Smith-machine behind the back shrug)

Smith-machine rear shrug (Smith-machine behind the back shrug)

MOVEMENT (ACTION): Shrug your shoulders straight up toward the ceiling, keeping your arms extended throughout. The bar should travel straight up the backs of your thighs and glutes. Squeeze your traps for a count at the top, then slowly lower back to the start position.

Rear 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. Below are some good trapezius exercises.

Closing Thoughts About Rear Shrug

There are basically two ways to do the barbell shrug, from the front, and behind the back (rear shrug). For balanced traps developed from all angles (hitting different muscle fibers), include both versions in your trap-training program.

During the standard shrug (with the barbell in front of your body) your shoulders naturally round forward slightly. Because of that rounding action, you use more of the upper traps, as well as the serratus anterior.

Performing the rear shrug (with the barbell behind the back) automatically causes you to lift your shoulders up and back right from the start, hitting the upper traps in addition to the uncatchable middle traps. This form is awkward, so it limits the amount of weight you can lift.

Our advice is to perform both versions within a single routine – do your front shrugs first when you’re muscles are the freshest (using maximum weight) and then turn around and do the behind-the-back variety as you begin to fatigue (decrease the amount of weight).

Performing this exercise on a machine (stand facing away from the weight stack) affords a choice of grips—pronated (thumbs pointing in) or neutral (thumbs pointing forward). A neutral grip emphasizes the upper trapezius in the neck, whereas a pronated grip targets the middle trapezius in the back.

Make rear shrugs 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.


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