Nail the Dumbbell Shrug for Bigger, Broader, Boulder Shoulders

Nail the Dumbbell Shrug for Bigger, Broader, Boulder Shoulders

If your goals are to build bigger shoulders and a wider back, training your traps should be central to your workouts. The traps (trapezius muscles) run from the middle of your back and neck to your shoulders, and the best way to target them is to learn how to do dumbbell shrugs.

“A lot of the time guys talk about wanting bigger shoulders, and when we talk about that, we talk about working our delts. But it’s not the only part of your shoulders you want to exercise. If you want that good 3D look, you also need to spend time training your traps, according to Men’s Health US fitness director Ebenezer Samuel.

If you want to take Samuel’s advice and train your traps, lock shoulders at your next workout. But before you rush out to grab a set of dumbbells, allow us to guide you through how to do the dumbbell shrugs, as well as explain which muscles you’ll be working and how to progress from the basic shrug with variations.

Muscles worked in the shoulders

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Trapezius: The primary muscle worked by the dumbbell shoulders. Focus on pressing the traps up and back to ensure the shoulders don’t round.

Diamonds: As you pick up the traps, the diamonds are activated and support the shoulder blades to slide upwards.

Forearms and Grip: Your forearms and grip will work hard to hold the dumbbells for the entire set. If grip strength is your focus, shrugs are a good choice of exercise.

The benefits of Dumbbell Shrugs

Doing dumbbell shrugs and building stronger traps has a performance advantage and will improve your deadlifts, carries, overhead presses, rows and pull-ups to name a few. Evidence also suggests that dumbbell shrugs may be beneficial in relieving neck pain. The shrug is easy to do, so if you’re a beginner and have a set of dumbbells, you can even do it from the comfort of your home.

The barbell shrug requires good technique to get the most out of the exercise and also to protect your shoulders from injury.

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According to Samuel, ‘Bro science (or at least some of it) says you should look at the ground when you shrug. In theory, you are working the traps through a greater range of motion by doing this. Don’t fall for it though.’

Here’s the real way to do it, bro-science free.

shrug deltoid exercises

How to do the dumbbell shrugs

Starting with your feet under your hips, stand tall with the dumbbells at your sides and palms facing in (neutral grip).

Engage your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine.

Start the movement by pulling your shoulders up while keeping the chest open and chin in place. Avoid rounding the shoulders and sticking your chin forward.

Raise the shoulders to the end of your range of motion, this is very individual, so it’s important to work within your capabilities.

Press the traps at the top of the movement for a beat, then slowly reverse the movement. This ensures that the repetitions are controlled and maximizes on the eccentric (downward) portion of the rep.

How many reps and what weight is best?

Choose a rep range and weight to match your abilities. As a general rule, for hypertrophy (muscle building) four sets of 12-15 repetitions should be sufficient.

To choose an ideal weight, familiarize yourself with the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale. It’s a one-to-10 scale, 10 being maximum effort, one being minimum effort. For strength and muscle gain, by the end of your sets, ideally you want to be sitting at about an eight out of 10. This means that with a push you can complete two more repetitions at the end of the set with your weight of choice.

Shrug VariationsBarbell Shrugs

With the barbell shrug there is one main difference, your grip will be pronated (palms facing away from you) instead of neutral. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your chest open and complete the reps with good form. Begin by deadlifting the bar so that you are standing straight with the bar in front of you. Imagine breaking the barbell by retracting your shoulder blades before completing the rep. Raise your shoulders while keeping your head in line. Squeeze the traps and reverse the movement back down, slowly and under control to avoid thrusting.

trap bar deadlift

Trap-Bar shrugs

Trap bar shoulders are preferable to barbell shoulders because of the nature of the handles that are at your sides, lends itself to a neutral grip. It is also beneficial to be able to load the weight evenly around the body to encourage standing tall instead of leaning forward. Start by deadlifting the bar so you are standing tall. Raise the shoulders so that you engage your traps at the top of the movement. Hold for a beat and then return.

Single arm shrug

Very similar to the dumbbell shrug, the single arm shrug only works one side. This challenges your core a little more so you resist bending sideways. Start with the dumbbell at your side, keeping your core tight to avoid leaning to either side. Shrug one shoulder while keeping your entire torso still. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to your side.

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