Shrug is an exercise intended to work out the trapezius muscles and visually thicken the neck. Shrugs can be performed both with a barbell and with dumbbells, or with kettlebells. With the correct technique, the main load in this exercise falls on the trapezius muscles. If the technique is not correct, the load is stolen by the biceps of arms and other parts of the back muscles. Shrugs are performed after basic back exercises, such as deadlift, bent-over barbell row and pull-ups.
Varieties and technique of shrugs
Shrugs can be performed with dumbbells (kettlebells) or with a barbell. Moreover, the bar can be positioned both in front of you and behind the body.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the types and analyze the technique.
This is the most common way to do this exercise. The barbell is usually lifted off the floor (with a deadlift technique) or taken from the rack. The position of the legs is shoulder-width stance, the legs are slightly bent at the knees to relieve stress from the knee joints.
The bar is taken with a double overhand grip, the grip is shoulder-width or slightly wider. When you are standing on the floor and the arms holding the bar are straight, this is the starting position. Your back should be straight, slightly arched at the lower back. The body should be perpendicular to the floor, the arms remain straight throughout the exercise.
The essence of the exercise is to raise the shoulders as high as possible to the ears. Then smoothly (without jerking) lower your shoulders to the starting position. With this technique, maximum stress (at the top point) and stretching (at the bottom point) of the trapezius muscles is achieved.
Barbell shrugs can also be performed in the Smith machine. There is a benefit of performing barbell shrugs in the Smith machine. It is the absence of sway that is the most suitable for beginners.
Dumbbell (kettlebell) shrugs
There are absolutely no differences in technique. The only difference is that with dumbbells you can do a little more range of motion because your arms are on the sides of your body. And unlike the barbell, when raising and lowering, they do not touch anything (men will understand what I mean). Another difference is that dumbbell or kettlebell shrugs can be performed while sitting. Which is more convenient in my opinion. But, since bodybuilders love to perform shrugs with very heavy weight, you are unlikely to find 50+ kg dumbbells in the gym.
Barbell shrugs behind the back
This is absolutely the same shrugs with a barbell, only the bar is behind your back. I would not recommend doing this exercise because it is very traumatic compared to other variations. Firstly, when doing the exercise, your arms are pulled behind your back, which creates an unusual position for your shoulder joints. And since shrugs are often performed with large weights, a detrimental load is created on your shoulder joints. And this will inevitably lead to their injury.
Secondly, since the bar is behind your back, your buttocks will interfere with raising and lowering it. You will have to bend back a little, which will put additional stress on your lower back, which can also lead to injury. In general, when working out the trapezius muscles, you should focus on performing shrugs with a barbell in front of you or with dumbbells.
Dual Cable Shrugs
One more variety of this exercise is dual cable shrugs. As you might guess, it is performed in a cable crossover. The technique is completely the same as described above. But there are two benefits of this type of shrugs. Firstly, muscles of back work in another way in this exercise. They do not work in up direction but with an angle. As a result, the variety of load creates more preconditions for their growth.
Secondly, due to the tension of cables, your muscles will be under load during the whole set. They will not rest for a second and this is also a plus for them.
Tips on performing shrugs
1) Perform the exercise smoothly, concentrating on stretching and stressing the trapezius muscles.
2) Do not hold your breath while doing the exercise. Raise the barbell as you exhale, and lower it as you inhale.
3) During the exercise, keep your back straight and do not swing your body. Rounding the back is fraught with injury to the spine.
4) Don’t chase weights. You should not hang very heavy weights on the bar and raise it by 1-2 cm. Perform the exercise at full amplitude with an adequate weight that you can cope with. This will load the trapezius muscles as much as possible.
5) Use an athletic belt and lifting straps when doing the exercise. An athletic belt will support your torso and prevent an injury. And the lifting straps will help to strengthen the grip. You will only focus on raising and lowering the barbell, not holding the bar in your hands.
6) Do not roll your shoulders during the exercise. The shoulders should only walk up and down. Some bad people advise doing shrugs with shoulder pivots. That is, when lifting the bar, you rotate your shoulders either forward or back. Supposedly, this contributes to a better stress of the trapezius muscles. This is all complete nonsense. This only puts unwanted stress on the shoulder joints and leads to an injury. Therefore, do not listen to such advice, and do the exercise with the correct technique.