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How to Build Huge, Strong Traps with the Barbell Shrug (Benefits, Technique and Muscles Worked)

Bulletproof your upper body.

Learn how to add the Barbell Shrug into your training.

What is the Barbell Shrug?

The Barbell Shrug is a mass building compound barbell exercise that packs on serious muscle mass and strength for the traps.

There are many different variations, however when it comes to gains and results, the barbell variation is hard to beat.

What Muscles Do Barbell Shrugs Work?

The primary muscle group that the exercise works is the trapezius.

This muscle group, located at the top of the back and the base of the neck, is named after its trapezoid form.

Traps on athlete barbell shrugSource: Edgar Chaparro

It is broad and flat and starts from where the occipital bone protrudes, attaching down to the lower thoracic vertebrae and laterally to the spine of the scapula.

  • Support posture and the spine
  • Enable movement of the head (side to side)
  • Retraction, elevation and depression of the shoulders and scapula
  • Internal rotation of the arms

Barbell Shrug Benefits

There are many benefits to performing the Barbell Shrug.

Build Strength and Muscle

The exercise can be loaded heavy and work as an excellent way to stimulate hypertrophy and develop strength.

Better Shoulder and Arm Mobility and Health

The traps playing an important role in shoulder retraction and arm elevation. Having stronger, more resilient shoulders and arms will help to protect your body against injury

Reduce the Risk of Back Pain

Weak traps can often lead to back pain. The traps and back are inextricably connected so you don’t want your traps to become the weak link.

Improve Posture

Strong traps created by shrugs will help to improve posture.

Augmented Grip Strength

Ditch the straps and perform the exercise with your bare hands if you really want to develop a vice like grip.

The double handed pronated grip will further the difficulty level, allowing you to level up your grip.

How To Do Barbell Shrugs

Use the following instructions to perform the Barbell Shrug exercise properly.

  • Set the bar on a rack above knee height. Load the weight
  • Stand against the barbell and grip it with a double overhand grip, wider than shoulder width apart
  • Inhale and brace the core, glutes, shoulder and grip. Ensure that the back is straight and tight
  • Deadlift the bar up from the resting position
  • Hinge forwards at the hips slightly
  • Shrug your shoulders up and in to lift the weight
  • At the top, squeeze your lats as tightly as you can and hold for a second
  • Lower the bar (not onto the rack) and exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps
  • Lower the bar onto the rack

Training tips

Leaning forwards will allow you to feel the movement in the traps more.

Control the eccentric (decent) part of the lift slowly and carefully to avoid injury and maximise time under tension for muscle growth.

Shrug as high as you can to optimise the muscle contraction

Barbell Shrug Variations

If you want to mix things up, add these variations into your training.

  • Dumbbell shrug
  • Single Grip Cable Shrug
  • Trap Bar Shrug
  • Smith Machine Shrug
  • Behind-the-Back Shrug

Barbell Shrug Alternatives

Here is a selection of exercise you can do instead if you don’t want to include shrugs in your session.

Barbell Shrug Mistakes

Make sure you aren’t slowing down your progress by making any of these mistakes.

Rolling The Shoulders

You want to keep the movement on a vertical, up down plane of movement.

This will keep the movement safe and effective. Rolling the shoulders places unnecessary stress on the neck and rotator cuffs.

Swinging the Back

This is a common mistake when the weight is too heavy for the lifter. It results in lower trap contraction and enhances the risk of injury.

The solution is simple, reduce the load and concentrate on great form.

Bad Head and Neck Positioning

Don’t place the head and neck too far forwards or backwards.

This will cause discomfort and place your torso in an awkward position for lifting.

Once again, drop the weight and focus on excellent form if you feel this happening to you.

Learn More

Add these Standing Ab Exercises and Z Press into your training.

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