Dumbbell Shrug Exercise Guide
Dumbbell shrug represents a highly specific exercise that 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. The shoulder shrug is definitely the most popular and easy to execute trapezius exercise. This trapezius exercise (upper back exercise) is also very simple and suitable for all levels. Beginners will notice rapid progress in the amount of weight they can lift.
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 Dumbbell Shrugs?
STARTING POSITION: Stand upright with the dumbbells hanging by your sides. Your palms should face your body. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Keep your abs tight and your chest up. Keep your head straight or just slightly forward, with your chin tucked.
EXECUTION (ACTION): Holding the dumbbells in an overhand grip, with your thumbs wrapped around each bar, shrug the weights upwards by drawing your shoulders vertically up toward your ears (shrug your shoulders upward as high as possible). Hold the weights 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 weight is raised, the harder the trapezius works. The farther the dumbbells are lowered, the greater the stretch at bottom.
Muscles Involved in Dumbbell Shrug
- 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 Dumbbell 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.
- Stop rolling your shoulders during shrugs. In other words, raise your shoulders straight up towards your ears (don’t roll them back or forward), keeping your arms straight. Rotating your shoulders backwards at the top of the movement increases the risk of injury to the shoulder and places no further work on the trapezius.
- Always raise your shoulders as high as possible, as if you were trying to touch your trapezius muscles to your ears. The stretch should be at its maximum without causing any cracking noises in your neck (these noises happen when the cervical vertebrae move slightly).
- As you lower the dumbbells, allow your shoulders to drop down (to sink) as far as possible – this stretches the trapezius and increases the ROM (range of motion).
- 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. Performing the dumbbell shrug while standing vertically upright hits the trapezius centrally. Tilting the torso slightly back at the waist targets the upper trapezius in the neck, whereas leaning slightly forward targets the midsection of the muscle behind the shoulders.
- 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.
Dumbbell Shrug Variations
- Behind body dumbbell shrug. Hold the dumbbells behind your butt, palms facing backwards (palms facing away from your body). This unusual angle forces your traps to work with the bottoms of your scapulae rotated toward each other.
- Dumbbell shrug to front. Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing your body. At this angle, your scapulae are rotated away from each other, giving your traps another unusual angle of pull.
- Seated dumbbell shrug. Take hold of a pair of dumbbells and sit down on a fl at bench. Keeping your arms extended and your palms facing toward each other, slowly shrug your shoulders up as lightly as you can. Pause briefly at the top (in a fully contracted position) and then slowly lower your arms back down to where they were.
Dumbbell Shrug Replacement Exercises – Substitutes
The most common substitution is barbell shrug. You can perform the shrug with a barbell held in an overhand grip across the front of your thighs or behind your butt. The movement pathway is vertical, as with the dumbbell variant.
To add variety to your trapezius workout, replace the dumbbell shrug with a different exercise that works the same muscles (trapezius, levator scapulae). Use the barbell, cables, or even a gym machine to perform the shrugging motion without the dumbbells.
- Barbell shrug
- Hex bar shrugs (hexagonal bar shrugs)
- 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
Closing Thoughts About Dumbbell Shrug
Dumbbell shrug is one the best exercise to develop your trapezius muscles. Shrugs build the trapezius muscles in the space between your neck and shoulder. The traps also pass down behind your neck, forming the central portion of your upper back.
Dumbbells provide more variety in hand positioning (see dumbbell shrug variations) so you can easily change the angle of attack on the trapezius muscles. Dumbbell shrug strengthens your trapezius, levator scapulae (beneath the trapezius), and rhomboid (upper back) muscles. To ensure you don’t use your legs to help get the weight up, perform dumbbell shrugs while seated on a bench or seat.
Overly developed upper traps (trapezius muscles) are not aesthetically pleasing on women. Therefore, women are counseled to avoid exercises such as shrugs, which directly stimulate the upper part of the trapezius. Indirect work provided by shoulder exercises such as lateral raises and upright rows are more than enough to tone the upper traps on women.