The Dumbbell Shrug: A Complete Guide | Form, Benefits & Variations!

The Dumbbell Shrug

Located in the upper back, the traps play an important role in supporting your posture and upper body training. The dumbbell shrug is one of the best exercises to build bigger, stronger trapezius muscles.

Let’s take a deeper look at this simple yet effective trap exercise.

Muscles Worked By The Dumbbell Shrug

Primary Muscle Groups:

The trapezius and rhomboids are primarily worked by the dumbbell shrug. Located in the upper back, these muscles work together to stabilize and pull back your shoulders. 

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell shrug secondarily engages your forearms and your core abdominal muscles. The brachioradialis muscle in your forearm activates to secure the dumbbells, thus improving your forearm strength. While lifting the weights, your core also activates to stabilize your upper body. 

Dumbbell Shrug Benefits

1. Strength And Size Gains

The dumbbell shrug is an essential exercise to develop strength and size in the traps, as it fully activates the muscle fibers of the upper back. Not only will developed traps give you a broader physical appearance, but strength in this area will help you with other compound exercises such as the squat and deadlift. 

Often times, weightlifters and bodybuilders alike tend to neglect the traps in favor of larger muscles such as the lats or pecs. The dumbbell shrug can help you build stronger traps and achieve a balanced upper body appearance.

2. Better Posture  

Do you often catch yourself in the classic “hunchback” position with your shoulders rounded and your head slouched? This position commonly occurs when we sit in a chair for long periods of time. To prevent long term issues with posture, it is important to maintain a strong upper back. 

When you do the dumbbell shrug, you create a thicker band of muscles in your upper back, which allows you to work less in order to maintain proper posture. This exercise can be extremely useful for correcting and maintaining proper posture in the long-run.

3. Isolation Of The Traps

The dumbbell shrug is one of the best trapezius strengthening exercises because it is an isolation exercise. This means that it specifically targets one muscle group. Compound exercises can activate the traps, but not to the extent of an isolation exercise like the dumbbell shrug.

How To Do The Dumbbell Shrug


To perform the dumbbell shrug, you will need a pair of dumbbells. 


a) Assume a standing position with dumbbells on either side of your body. 

b) Hinge at the waist, engage your core, and grab each dumbbell with your palms facing each other.

c) Assume a standing position with your back straight and your core engaged.


a) Contract your traps to bring your shoulders up and slightly back at the same time.

b) Squeeze your traps hard at the top, pause for a moment, then slowly bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.

c) Repeat this motion until you complete your desired number of repetitions.


There is no need to grab the heaviest dumbbells you can find. Instead, choose a lighter weight and do 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions. 

Dumbbell Shrug Mistakes

1. Using Too Much Weight

If you choose excessively heavy dumbbells for the dumbbell shrug, you will be forced to use momentum to shrug the weight upwards. As a result, you will fail to achieve the maximum range of motion.

This also greatly increases your risk of injury. 

Using too much weight can cause you to “bounce” at the top of each rep, which places too much stress on your tendons and joints. Instead, focus on feeling the full contraction of your traps with a lighter weight load!

2. Shrugging Straight Up And Down

Many people tend to shrug on a completely vertical plane. While this motion does not risk injury, it also does not optimize the contraction of your traps and upper back. When you shrug straight up and down, you are actually engaging the levator scapulae more than the traps.

The levator scapulae is a smaller muscle attached to the neck that is responsible for lifting the shoulders upwards. 

Although training the levator scapulae may be important, training the traps is the goal of the dumbbell shrug.

When you shrug, try to bring your shoulders up and slightly back at the same time. You will feel a greater contraction in your traps.

Dumbbell Shrug Variations

1. Behind The Back Dumbbell Shrugs

The behind the back shrug activates the middle-back portion of the traps. This variation may be a bit awkward at first, but it is certainly effective. Simply grab the dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them behind your back.

Then, use the same form as the neutral grip dumbbell shrug. Repeat!

2. Speed Front Shrugs 

The traps also respond well to quick, explosive movements. With your palms facing your body and the dumbbells together, shrug up and down at a fast pace. Repeat!


3. Side Shrug

You can also train your traps unilaterally with the side shrug. This variation can be a useful exercise to correct muscle imbalances in your traps. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell (as pictured below) and shrug upwards to one side. Repeat!


Dumbbell Shrug Alternatives

If you enjoyed the dumbbell shrug, check out these other trapezius exercises to improve your upper back training:

1. Close Grip Upright Rows

Grab a resistance band (or a pair of dumbbells) with your palms facing your body. Activate your traps to raise your hands upwards. Keep your elbows above your wrists. Repeat!

2. Lying Superman Raises

With your forehead on the ground, activate your traps to raise your upper body off the ground. Keep your abs tight during this exercise. Repeat!

3. Bent Over Face Pull

Hinge at the waist and bend over so that your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Retract your rear delts as you drive your elbows up and slightly back, bringing the kettlebell right beneath your face.

Make sure to keep your elbows above your wrists and you should feel a pinch in your shoulder blades at the top of each rep! Repeat! 

Looking For An Intense Trap Workout?

For even more trap exercises with a dumbbell, check out this intense 5-minute dumbbell trap workout:


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.mike kenlerExercises & fitness tips