Weightlifting Technique: How to Perform Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs are arguably the best exercise there is to build trapezius (trap) muscle mass and strength. Using the proper technique will allow you to work them most effectively into your strength training routine.

Muscles Exercised

Shoulder shrugs, despite the name, focus on your traps, not your delts.

Exercise Technique

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and knees bent slightly.
  • Grip the barbell with an alternating grip (one hand overhand, one hand underhand). This will allow you to maintain your grip when the weight on the bar gets heavier, since it prevents the barbell from rolling away from you.
  • Your grip should be shoulder width, with your hands just to the outside of your legs.
  • Keep your arms relaxed throughout the exercise, allowing them to hang straight down-avoid using your biceps to pull the weight.
  • Pull your shoulders straight up toward your ears. Squeeze your traps, pausing momentarily at the top.
  • Relax your traps, lowering the barbell in a smooth controlled fashion.
  • Do not use your legs to drive your upper body and the barbell up. This uses momentum to assist the traps, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise. Your upper body should remain motionless throughout the exercise. If you cannot raise the weight simply by contracting your traps, reduce the weight.
  • Shoulder shrugs should be performed with a relatively heavy weight, as long as you can control your repetitions without “cheating”. You may find you can shrug more weight than you are able to grip, even using an alternating grip. In this case, try using wrist straps to increase the weight you can shrug. Always perform as many sets with as heavy weight as you can complete with good form before adding wrist straps. This will improve your grip over time.


  • Since you may be shrugging relatively heavy weights, keep your abs tight and your back straight to reduce strain on your lower back.
  • Perform each repetition with smooth, controlled form. If the reps become jerky or less controlled, reduce the weight.


  • Dumbbells: Perform shrugs using dumbbells in each hand; allow your arms to hand down at your sides as you shrug the weight. Gripping dumbbells will be more difficult, and you may not be able to shrug as much weight.

Building Balanced Strength: As with any muscle group, you need to train with balance. An effective shoulder training program will complement your trap workout. Consider the shoulder exercises below as you develop your training plan.

Author’s Opinion: If you’re new to lifting weights, keep your exercise routines simple. You don’t need complex routines and exercises to build significant strength and size. Your basic compound lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press will give you a great foundation to build on. Follow my basic rules on strength training:

  1. Work on perfecting your technique – strive for ‘perfect’ form with every repetition

  2. Set up a balanced training program centered on your big compound lifts (and your individual training goals)

  3. Establish a good diet with plenty of protein and sufficient calories

  4. Expect steady progression – lift what your body’s ready for

For more information about my strength training background and an index of other related articles I’ve written, you can visit the following link.

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