The dumbbell shrug is an excellent mass and strength builder for the trapezius muscle. Now, many people (Mostly men) desire to have bigger traps because they make you look bigger, stronger, and more intimidating, but traps are also important for scapula (shoulder blade) functions and helps to protect against neck injury as well.
If you want your physique to stand out; this exercise is a must-have and almost anyone can do it safely and effectively.
Learn how to do this exercise with tips, variations, and how to include it in your training.
In This Exercise
- Target Muscle Group: Trapezius
- Type: Hypertrophy, strength
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Dumbbells
- Difficulty: Beginner
The dumbbell shrug works the traps which should be evident by now. But here’s a more detailed explanation of this important muscle group.
The trapezius or traps is a superficial muscle that spans the upper back. It’s a nteresting muscle that has three sections of fibers: upper, middle, and lower.
The upper fibers are responsible for elevating the scapula and extending the neck. The middle fibers retract (adduct) the scapula, the lower fibers depress the scapula and aid the upper fibers during upward rotation of the scapula.
These actions help to rotate the scapula against the levator scapulae and rhomboids.
The traps are also an important postural muscle group.
- Grab a pair of dumbells and stand up straight. Let the dumbbells hang by your sides.
- Hinge slightly forward at the hips then shrug your shoulders up and back while ideally pulling your elbows up (bend your elbows) for a bigger contraction of the trapezius muscles.
- Unshrug your shoulders until you feel a stretch in the traps and repeat.
Here’s a video example…
Dumbbell Shrug Tips
- We do not recommend using maximum poundages for this exercise. This can be dangerous for your shoulders and doesn’t necessarily allow you to build bigger traps compared to using a weight you can handle and really feeling the muscles being worked.
- Only shrug your shoulders up and slightly back during the positive portion of the exercise. Do not rotate your shoulders.
- Squeeze your traps for a second or two at the top to maximize muscle contraction.
- By bending your elbows and raising them during the shrug, you can further maximize the contraction of the shrugs. This is not required but can be beneficial.
Alright, so the dumbbell shrug is really as good as it gets. However, we recommend trying out these three variations/alternatives to potentially maximize your results.
Dumbbell seated shrug
The seated variation of the dumbbell shrug could potentially allow you to handle heavier weights. Some people may even find it to help them remain in a safe position and it also takes balance out of the equation.
That doesn’t mean you should overdo the poundages though but this is a good variation to incorporate into your shrug workouts.
The barbell shrug is the baddest of all because it allows you to lift the heaviest weights possible. Now, when we say barbell shrug, that also includes variations and alternatives that can really blow up your traps.
This category should definitely be included in your training if you’re serious about building mass and strength.
Cable side shrug
Why is the cable side shrug such an excellent alternative? Well, you have the ability to position your arms in a way that free weights won’t allow you to.
For example, dumbbell and barbell shrugs require your arms to remain by your sides. But with cables, you can use single-grip handles and step away from the cable machine, and therefore, your arms can be abducted (raised away from your body).
There are seriously a lot of different options using cables and you could also replicate the barbell shrug by doing the basic cable shrug.
Whether you use the gripless shrug machine, Smith machine, or any other machine in your local gym, we recommend taking advantage of these contraptions as it takes all the balancing and stabilizing out of the equation.
Not to mention, like with the gripless shrug, for example, you don’t have to worry about your grip giving out on your before your traps do.
You can use heavy weights with these exercises and really see the benefits.
How To Incorporate The Dumbbell Shrug Into Your Training Routine
Some people train traps with back and others alongside their shoulder training. Does it really matter? Not necessarily. But you should know that the traps are a back muscle and therefore, it often makes sense to train it on back day.
But… you could train the traps, like any muscle more than once or twice per week. Therefore, you could train it on an off day or paired with other muscles too.
Just be sure to keep your training volume in case (you know the drill).
3-4 sets is typically sufficient for shrugs. As for reps, well, you could vary your reps depending on how you feel. But again, we don’t recommend using max poundages that’ll only allow you to get 1-3 reps.
Try for at least 5 full reps at a minimum and some days go for 20+ reps to really make the muscle work. Take your sets to failure to really create the growth response.
Use some of these principles and methods to maximize your trap training.
The dumbbell shrug has its place in every workout regime seeking to beef up their traps. It’s simple to perform and has big payoff with consistency.
Not to mention, strong traps are important for upper body function and movement.
Many neglect training this muscle directly but that could be a big mistake. So, what are you waiting for? Start including it in your traps training regime.