Barbell Shrug: Benefits, Form & Alternate

You know that the best way to increase your traps is through a consistent regimen of barbell shoulder shrugs in your workout.

Barbell Shrugs, also known as barbell shoulder shrugs, are a popular choice of exercise for strengthening your Trapezius, upper back, shoulder muscles, neck, and upper arms too. It also helps to improve posture.

Shrugging weight is a great way to develop your traps and give you a healthier upper back overall. The barbell is especially beneficial for this goal because you can load up a lot of weight onto your traps.

Since both sides of your body are working together to move the same load, you will be able to move much more. We all know that the more weight we move, the more gains we get. The barbell shoulder shrug is a good lift to do if you want to build up your upper back.

Because traps are a stubborn muscle group for many, they can be trained with a fairly high frequency during the week.

Barbell Shrug Benefits

Building strong shoulders is proper shoulder strength is crucial for a stronger and healthier upper body, and the shoulder shrug can produce benefits that translate to your overall gym performance and your everyday life. 

Here are the benefits of a barbell shoulder shrug exercises :

  • Barbell shrugs are one of the most effective ways to increase hypertrophy in the upper back and shoulders when practiced consistently.
  • The shoulder shrug with barbell is good for strength in the posterior chain. The posterior chain includes the muscles of the rear from top to bottom.
  • The shoulder shrug activates all major areas of the shoulders, making it an excellent exercise for upper body stability and conditioning.
  • Building traps is a challenging task. There are only a few exercises that mainly work your traps, barbell shrug is one of them.
  • With proper form, a shoulder shrug helps build strength in your upper body stabilizer muscle groups, helping you stand up tall and keep your back straight.
  • Strengthening your traps helps provide better support to your head and neck by increasing the activation of your shoulder muscles.

Muscles Worked During Barbell Shrug

Healthcare providers divide the trapezius into three areas. Each area helps you with a specific kind of movement. Together, the three parts of the trapezius help you move your head, stand up straight, bend or twist your torso and raise your arms.

As mentioned above, the trapezius muscle is divided into 3 areas:

You obviously want to know which muscle groups are worked by the barbell shrug, which will determine which day it fits into your routine. Here are the muscles it works!

  • The main muscle worked during the barbell shrug are upper traps.
  • The secondary muscle (synergist Muscles) worked during barbel shrug is a middle trap.
  • Likewise, shrugs train the levator scapulae, a muscle that you can feel if you put your hand right on the side of your neck.
  • The stabilizer muscles worked during shrug are core and erector spinae.
Barbell Shrug

How to Do Shrug With Barbell

Front barbell shrug is one of the best exercises to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles. This exercise can be done extremely heavily to thicken the traps that really help you in doing back poses. Barbell shrug is one of the best isolation exercises for trapezius muscle.

The front barbell shoulder shrug exercise is one of the most simplistic and easy trap exercises to perform.

  1. Stand with feet placed shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and core stable.
  2. Grip the barbell with your hands facing downwards in a pronated grip.
  3. Raise your shoulders without bending the elbows as far as possible, getting them closer to your ears.
  4. Hold the contraction and squeeze for a brief second. In a controlled and stable manner, lower the weight back down to the starting position.

Training Volume (Reps And Sets)

The barbell shrug is good for both high and low repetitions.

If you are focusing on strength, then you should perform 5-8 rep sets. However, if your main goal is muscle growth, then reps of 8-12 are likely optimal because they allow you to accumulate training volume faster.

Barbell Shrug Form and Tips

  1. While shrugging, looking slightly up may enhance the contraction.
  2. The motion should be smooth and controlled, as a jerky motion could result in a neck injury.
  3. Don’t let the head move forward too much when you’re squeezing the traps. This can hurt the neck.
  4. Go full range. Only move the shoulders and keep the rest of the body steady.
  5. Adding a pause at the top of the movement can help to strengthen the mind muscles.
  6. Try to raise the weight as high as possible without causing too much momentum or excessive jerking or bouncing of the weight.
  7. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  8. Please avoid attempting to lift the barbell with your biceps.
  9. The bar should move in a straight line upwards and downwards, so don’t roll your shoulders.
  10. Go heavy, but use a weight that allows you to perform more than 12 reps per set.

Barbell Shrug Variations

If you’re tired of doing front barbell shrugs, or you want to add some variety to your next upper body workout, you can do front barbell shoulder shrugs in many ways that each have their benefits.  

Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

The barbell behind-the-back shoulder shrug is a variation of the front barbell shrug that mainly works the upper traps. Having the bar behind you helps in keeping your shoulders pulled up and back rather than rounded forward.

It is popular in strength and muscle-focused upper-body training and is often trained on a shoulder day.

It is usually performed for moderate to high reps, such as 8-12 reps per set or more, as part of shoulder or trap-focused training.

Behind the Back Barbell Shrug

Muscles Worked

Primary: Upper Trapezius.

Secondary: Middle Trapezius, Levator Scapulae

How To Do Behind-the-Back Barbell Shrug

  1. Stand while holding a barbell with an overhand grip behind your thighs. Both your hands and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your shoulders toward your ears as high as possible while keeping your arms straight.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering the bar back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

What Are The Best Barbell Shrug Alternative

Before we deep dive into the best barbell shrug alternatives. We must remember, a good front barbell shrug alternative will be able to satisfy the following criteria:

1. Activate the trapezius muscle groups, which is trained in the shrug

2. Isolate the muscle groups during execution

3. Train the trapezius muscle through a longer range of motion

1. Dumbbell Shrug

The dumbbell shrug is a variation and one of the best exercises to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles.

Dumbbell shoulder shrug exercise can be done extremely heavily to thicken the traps that really help you in doing back poses. This is one of the best isolation exercises for trapezius muscle.

Traps, being a stubborn muscle group for many, can be trained with a fairly high frequency during the week.

Dumbbell Shrugs

2. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright Row is an excellent exercise to build huge Trapezius muscles. Upright rows along with shrugs build massive traps. You can use either a smith machine, free weights, or cable to perform upright rows.

Barbell upright rows can be done with both narrow grips and wider ones. The narrow grip focuses on the trapezius, and the wider focuses on the entire shoulder girdle.

Moreover, the wider grip allows some cheating movement, thereby allowing you to lift more weight.

Barbell Upright Row

3. Dumbbell Upright Row

The dumbbell upright row is the best alternate of barbell shrug to develop the middle and the upper traps.

Using dumbbells in the upright row can help to increase unilateral muscle development and address any asymmetries and movement imbalances as well.

Upright Row

4. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is a movement that targets many of the large muscles in the upper back and shoulders, which is key for many movements (see below) in strength, power, and fitness sports.

Upright rows are an exercise that nearly everyone can do using a wide variety of grip widths.

Cable machines keep tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, ultimately increasing muscle activation and hypertrophy.

Frequently Asked Question

1. Do barbell shrug work shoulders?

Barbell shrugs work the trapezius muscles, and the shoulders are also involved to a pretty decent degree. 

2. Do barbell shrug work neck

Yes, as the upper muscle fibers of the traps are responsible for upward rotation and extension of the neck. Hence, when you train the trap muscle, it also strength the neck muscles.

3. Barbell shrug reps and sets.

4-5 sets of 8-12 reps each, 60 seconds rest


The barbell shrug proves that good things can come in small packages. Although the shrug is a humble movement, it can have remarkable consequences for the overall development of our upper bodies.

If you’re looking to turbocharge your trap gains, implement barbell shoulder shrugs into your workouts, and you’ll have a stronger, bigger, and more resilient upper body. 

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