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Dumbbell Shrugs – Benefits & How to Perform

Trying to achieve a perfect V-shaped body? Don’t forget the importance of your traps.

While it’s undeniable that a wide back and shoulders are the primary focus, a set of well-developed traps will enhance the look and give the impression of a more defined “V”.

Here we’ve explained everything you need to know about performing the perfect dumbbell shrug.

Dumbbell shrug benefits

The dumbbell shrug is an easy way to isolate the trapezius muscle (more commonly known as the traps).

It’s a simple exercise to perform and can be done with little or no weightlifting equipment.

How to do the dumbbell shrug

The Set-Up

  1. Take a set of dumbbells, selecting a weight whereby you can perform 15 reps or so with good form.
  2. With your palms facing inwards (neutral grip), keep your arms by your side, with feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Grip the dumbbells tightly with both hands.
  4. Lean forward a little (while keeping a neutral spine). This will allow you to shrug the weight up and back a little to better activate the traps.

Performing the dumbbell shrug

  1. Draw your shoulders up and back (this is made easier when leaning forward a little, as explained in the set-up), breathing out as you do so.
  2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the move and hold for a second or so.
  3. Slowly return your arms to their starting position, taking a breath in on the way. You should perform this part of the move (the negative or “eccentric” portion) in a controlled manner, not allowing the weight to simply drop back down.
  4. Repeat for 12 – 15 reps.

Common Mistakes

Standing too tall

When standing tall, your shoulders will be further forward. This makes it difficult to get a good shoulder blade squeeze.

By leaning forward a little bit, you can bring your shoulders back. This technique also helps with the mind-muscle connection.

Lifting too heavy

Isolation exercises such as the dumbbell shrug benefit from strict form, higher volume, with lower loads.

No one will ask you how much you shrug, so concentrate on the mind-muscle connection and getting a good squeeze at the top and avoid using momentum.

When you go too heavy, the range of motion shortens and the exercise becomes less effective.

Lifting too light

Muscle hypertrophy only happens when muscles are stressed enough to respond. Studies have shown that going to failure is not ideal, however, most people underestimate the volume they need to reach failure and end up being lazy with their sets.

It is better to hit failure than to fall way short. If you’re not sure how many reps you can manage, use a session to see how many you can do before you reach “true failure”.

Lifting with lower weights can also lead to rushed reps.

Flexing the neck forwards

You want to ensure that you keep facing straight ahead, or a little bit up while doing the dumbbell shrug.

If you tuck your chin in, you’ll flex your neck forwards which can lead to neck strain and injuries.

Programming

  • Include shrugs at the end of your workout. They are a great finishing exercise once all your compound work is out of the way.
  • If you have massively underdeveloped traps, you can hit them several times per week and see how they respond – we’re all different, and this is something worth trying.
  • Superset with other exercises such as farmers walks to stress them to the max.

How many dumbbell shrugs to build mass?

  • Aim for higher reps with fewer sets – 12 – 15 reps for two or three sets and short rest periods of 30 – 45 seconds.
  • Mix it up with some heavier barbell shrugs to build strength. By doing this, you will be able to lift heavier on your high-volume workouts.

Back Workouts & Exercises

Dumbbell shrug muscles worked

The dumbbell shrug is an isolation move which targets the trapezius muscle in the upper back (traps). These muscles are responsible for controlling the movement of your upper back, neck, and shoulder blades.

The erector spinae (the muscle on either side of your spine which stretches from your tailbone to your neck) will also get in on the action, acting as a stabilisation muscle – an important factor in developing a well-balanced back – both in terms of strength and mass.

Equipment required

  • Dumbbells
  • Lifting straps (if you’re going heavier and need to take the stress away from your grip)

Dumbbell shrug variations and alternatives

  • Hold for longer at the top – this modification adds an extra difficulty level.
  • Superset with farmer’s walks. By super-setting with farmer’s walks, you’ll get a trap pump like no other!
  • Use a barbell for heavier load – the dumbbell shrug might get too tricky at heavier loads – if this is the case, then try using a barbell.
  • Weight plate shrugs are also a great modification. They are awesome because they allow you to keep your arms closer to your body.
  • Trap bar shrugs are another great alternative. The bar is designed to force a degree of abduction which is thought to be optimal for greater trap activation.

Robin is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy. As a freelance writer he has written for publications such as Muscle & Strength, Sparkpeople, Inquisitr and many more. If he's not collating product reviews or working directly on improving the website, he is creating innovative content for the website's blog and Fitness Savvy YouTube channel

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