Barbell Shrug Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures

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By Alex
Last updated on
Exercise NameBarbell Shrug
Also CalledShoulder Shrug
Primary MusclesTrapezius
Secondary MusclesNone
FunctionStrength, Hypertrophy
Required EquipmentBarbell, Power Rack
Optional EquipmentChalk, Lifting Straps
Rep Range6-15
VariationsBehind the Back Shrugs, Power Shrugs, Dumbbell Shrugs, Trap Bar Shrug, Snatch Shrug, Clean Shrug
AlternativesDeadlifts, High Pull, Power High Pull, Upright Row, Hang Clean, Hang Power Clean

Barbell Shrug Instructions

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Use an overhand grip, slightly outside shoulder width.
  • Hang arms down in front of you, with elbows extended.
  • Stand in a shoulder width stance with barbell at thighs.
  • Bring shoulders back so the upper traps bear the tension.
  • Achieve a neutral spine, and maintain it for the entire set.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Elevate scapulae (i.e. raise shoulders) as high as they’ll go.

3. Midpoint

  • Pause and squeeze your traps emphatically, to maximize their stimulation.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Depress scapulae (i.e. lower shoulders) and return to the starting point.
  • Pause and relax traps under the tension; embrace a moderate stretch.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the shrugging motion until your set is complete.
  • I’ve found that 6-15 reps is the optimal rep range for the barbell shrug.

Common Barbell Shrug Errors to Avoid

Too much weightMost people shrug way more heavier than they should. Keep it light enough where you’re able to raise your shoulders to at least chin level (without tucking your chin down, of course).
Using bicepsKeep your arms as straight as possible. It may not be practical to lock your elbows completely, but any bend in your elbow should be minimal.
“Bouncing reps”This means relying on elastic recoil from the traps to “bounce” out of the bottom of the motion, into the concentric rep. The fix? Slow down as you approach the bottom of the rep. Stop at the bottom for ½ second, feel the stretch, then shrug up by contracting the traps.
Extending back/hipsStay upright. Focus on keeping your neutral spine. Locked knees facilitate back and hip extension. So, keep your knees slightly bent.
Using leg driveAs said above, bending your knees slightly helps prevent back/hip extension. However, it also makes it easy to cheat by simply extend your legs to get a little momentum. There’s no trick to prevent this, other than to be mindful of it.
Rotating shouldersJust go straight up and straight down. There’s no need to rotate. It accomplishes nothing positive, but opens your shoulders up to injury.
Shoulders forwardPull your shoulders back. Stay upright, look straight ahead and tighten your core muscles.

Barbell Shrug Tips

  1. Below are some tricks for better grip if your grip fails before your traps.
    • Use an alternated grip (one hand overhand, the other hand underhand).
    • Use chalk to eliminate moisture from your palms and prevent slippage.
    • Use wrist straps to reduce the grip strength required to hold the bar.
    • Do grip strength training exercises to develop a stronger grip.
  2. Use a wide grip to increase middle trapezius involvement and reduce upper trapezius involvement.
  3. You should shrug as high as possible. However, realize that the shrug height varies on the load. Heavier loads
  4. Tighten abs to fortify your upright position and prevent your torso from hunching over of bending forward.
  5. Tuck hips under torso to assume a neutral hip alignment. Keeping the glutes flexed helps to maintain this position.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The barbell shrug has limited use for beginners: It can help those struggling with deadlifts due to inadequate grip, forearm and trapezius strength.

For experienced lifters, the barbell shrug is best used to build bigger traps. However, the power shrug is superior if you want to build stronger traps.

Consider avoiding the barbell shrug if you have shoulder, scapular or neck problems that you could potentially aggravate by doing this movement.

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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