Barbell Shrugs

It is all about the traps when it comes to barbell shrugs. If you have ever wanted to build definition on your shoulders and upper-middle back, shrugs might be what you are missing.

Best Way to to Barbell Shrugs

  1. 1
    The key to bigger traps is how you grip the barbell - standing up straight, with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. 2
    Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    Palms facing inwards towards you in an overhand pronated grip. 
  4. 4
    Straps can take the overload off of your forearms.
  5. 5
    Lift your barbell off the rack carefully. Step back and plant your feet into the ground.
  6. 6
    With knees slightly bent, engage your core.
  7. 7
    In a shrugging motion, bring your shoulders up as high as you can. Don't try to perform this as fast as possible. Take it slow and make sure your form is correct. You should feel the contraction of your traps.
  8. 8
    Keep your core engaged at all times.
  9. 9
    Slowly release the barbell down without releasing tension in the traps. Shrug up again, remember to squeeze those traps when at the top, and hold. 
  10. 10
    Repeat for 8 - 12 reps. Aim to complete 3 sets of 8 - 12 repetitions of barbell shrugs.

Muscles Targeted & Secondary Areas

The barbell shrug is an isolation exercise and it focuses on the trapezius and rhomboid muscles. These are the muscles responsible for pulling your shoulders back, stabilizing your upper back, and creating a beautiful posture. 

Shoulder barbell shrugs have a secondary target on the forearms, core and abdominals, creating strength and stabilization. The entire upper body benefits from barbell shrugs.

Barbell Shrugs

Superset It!

If your routine is not giving you massive traps or your gains have slowed down a little, try changing it up a little. Try working your traps first while you have energy - this allows you to focus on your traps and then go for the rest of your workout. Don't go too heavy - build weight up as you navigate through your sets. 

Supersets are a fantastic way to stimulate growth and trap definition. Add a set of narrow barbell upright rows between shrug sets. This will set your traps on fire and give you the best pump you could dream of.

Get a Grip

Your hands should not be too close to each other when working the traps - a narrow grip will only cause a target on the neck. All this does is take the isolation focus away from the key muscle - the trapezius. 

Straps are essential; they take the load off of all the right places. Your grip on the bar should be pronated, which is an inward-facing grip. Gripping a little wider than shoulder-width takes the load off your back; you will feel the squeeze in your traps and upper back for every rep.

Get a grip barbell shrug

The Benefits of barbell shrugs

Exercise for muscle growth has more than one benefit. If we all wanted to be big and bulky, there wouldn't be entire teams of people studying sports sciences - the benefits of an exercise reach beyond just big beautiful muscles.

Strength gains

Barbell shrugs

Working on and growing your traps is vital to improving upper body strength. It is almost like a domino effect - working in one area can help improve other areas. As your traps grow, your deadlifts and squats will improve.  

Broad shoulders and a well-defined back can help you create micro-definition, i.e., definition and gains between the bigger muscle groups. You no longer have to overwork the pecs and lats to get to a broader and bigger aesthetic.

Better posture

Back muscle

The upper back is responsible for better posture. The traps and rhomboids elevate your shoulders and keep them high. Your traps ensure you don't get the dreaded hunchback posture as you age. 

If you've struggled to maintain posture, well-developed traps create a strong band of muscle across your back. This holds your shoulders in place. Traps are responsible for maintaining strength and reducing stress on the neck area.

Trap isolation

This exercise was specifically made for the traps - as it works in isolation, it grows your trapezius muscles better than any compound exercise.

Troy Adashun working out

Variations & Alternatives for the barbell shrug

Supersets are quite popular in the fitness industry - they are excellent at building muscle. The switch between two workouts reduces the resting time between sets and effectively gets more into your training. 

Here are a few variations and alternative exercises if you don't have all the equipment, or add a few supersets variations.

Behind the back shrug

These are slightly different from traditional front shrugs - they focus on the mid-back portion of the traps. The two exercises complement each other and get a well-rounded focus on the traps.

Troy Adashun performing a shrug using a barbell
  1. 1
    Grip the barbell a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    Grip the barbell in an overhand grip with the barbell behind you. It can be a little awkward doing this the first time, so ask someone to spot you or help with it.
  3. 3
    Lift your barbell off the rack carefully. Step forward and plant your feet into the ground.
  4. 4
    With knees slightly bent, engage your core.
  5. 5
    In a shrugging motion, bring your shoulders up as high as you can.
  6. 6
    Keep your core engaged at all times
  7. 7
    Hold and squeeze your traps for a full count of 1 second.
  8. 8
    Slowly release the barbell down without releasing tension in the traps.
  9. 9
    Aim to complete 3 sets of 8 - 12 repetitions.
  10. 10
    Try not to over arch your back and stabilize your thighs - the power behind the upward movement shouldn't come from your thighs.

Superman raises

This flat-on-the-ground alternative is excellent for any beginners that would like to build strength without lifting weights. The superman raise is essential training for anyone with a tight back from desk work. 

The easy superman:

  1. 1
    Lie flat, face down, on an exercise mat.
  2. 2
    Straighten your legs out behind you, stretching your arms out in front of you.
  3. 3
    Engage your core and raise both your arms and legs up off of the floor.
  4. 4
    They should be about 10 - 15 cm off the ground.
  5. 5
    Slowly lower them back down, rest for 10 seconds and repeat the raise.
Superman raise

Upright rows

It might seem like such a simple exercise, but it targets the biceps, deltoids, and traps. This exercise can grow with you as you progress through different weight sets.

Upright Row
  1. 1
    Grip a barbell or dumbbells - if you are using a barbell, your grip should be at least shoulder-width apart with palms facing in.
  2. 2
    Inhale, engage the core and straighten up, lifting the barbell with you to a comfortable standing position.
  3. 3
    Inhale again, and raise the barbell or dumbbells towards your chin. Lead with your elbows as you exhale.
  4. 4
    Bring the weight up to your shoulders, pausing at the top while squeezing the muscles in.
  5. 5
    Slowly lower the weight down to starting position.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.

Dumbbell shrugs

If you are working out at home and don't have access to the gym's barbells, grab some dumbbells instead.

Dumbbells are also great for isolating and stabilizing any imbalance in your shoulders.

Dumbbell Shrugs

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