Shrugs are exceptional for building up the muscles in your shoulders and upper back and are also relatively safe compared to other back exercises.

They can be done either with no weight, or with dumbbells, barbells, or plates. They can help build up your neck in a way that can both be good for bulking and for balancing the muscles on your posterior side.

Shrug It Off

The shrug is a relatively simple motion. First, start off by standing straight up and getting into an athletic stance. Your knees should be slightly bent, your feet hip-length apart. To start, grab either a dumbbell or a plate in each hand. Start lower to learn the form and the feel of the muscles you are using. Your palms should be facing your body with your arms hanging naturally down. Draw down your shoulders to their lowest possible point. Then, raise your shoulder slowly and in a controlled fashion to toward your ears, until you hit the highest position. Then, hold for a moment and slowly lower the dumbbells or plates down. This is one rep.

During this exercise, make sure that you are not using jerky motions or unnecessarily moving or swinging the dumbbells. It is necessary to concentrate on the muscles you are working to make sure that you are targeting the correct muscles.  Be aware of your body the entire time ; you are utilizing a smaller muscle group, so staying in tune is critical.

The beauty of the shrug is that it is useful for both beginners and more advanced trainers alike. It can be done with a low amount of weight just to start to build up muscle in that area. It can also be done by those in physical therapy who are looking to improve their posture or recover from a back injury. Those who do weight training or are bodybuilders also utilize the shrug with weight to build up and maximize their strength.

The Shrug and It’s Variations

There are a few popular shrug variations that can help you build muscle faster and target different muscle groups. The seated dumbbell shrug, for instance, utilizes the same motion except you begin by sitting on a bench.  This will help you prevent hip movement and keep your posture by eliminating the lower body from the equation.

Another variation of the shrug was brought to light by Lee Haney, who was a Mr. Olympia winner. The Haney Barbell shrug is a little more complicated and for more advanced trainers and is meant to focus more on your traps. You should start with the barbell at thigh level on the rack. You can either use a shoulder-width grip, snatch grip, or close grip to vary the areas that this exercise hits. Do the same motion, except taking into consideration the bar that starts off lower on the squat rack.

Warming up for this exercise is imperative, especially when lifting more weight. Shoulder and arm circles are a good way to prepare your shoulders to handle a little more weight. It is also an excellent option to start out with cardio to warm up your entire body, and even do shrugs without any weight to get the muscles as engaged as possible before beginning to build up weight.


The shrug gets its fame from the fact that it is an extremely versatile exercise and one that can be done in just about every setting. It is suitable for those who are seriously training, athletes, and even those just looking to improve their posture. Its many variations provide the opportunity to modify it in a way that fits perfectly with your workout routine.

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