Creating an impressive and well-developed physique is not without hard work and dedication, we all know that.
Proper technique and concentration on all strength training exercises are required to ensure your best results.
One exercise that is frequently hit with less than ideal form (or not hit at all) are shoulder shrugs. The main muscle group targeted by this exercise are the trapezius, also known as the traps (those muscles that make bodybuilder’s necks looks almost nonexistent). These muscles are actually bigger than you might realize, as, in addition to extending out to the deltoids, the traps also attach to the lats almost halfway down your back.
In addition to giving you a much more commanding presence in any gym with well-developed traps, they are actually very important for protecting your neck from injury as well as helping in sports such as boxing, wrestling, rugby and others.
How to perform shoulder shrugs properly
This exercise has been laced with controversy for years as its execution seems to be constantly evolving. First, it began as a rolling movement in which the lifter would shrug their shoulders as far forward and up as possible, then quickly shifting them back as far as possible while in the shrugged position and then bringing the shoulders down to finish the repetition. I won’t say this twice, don’t do this! This form of a shoulder shrug is very outdated and will not only do a terrible job of recruiting your traps, it can also lead to a shoulder injury if done with enough weight.
Those who progressed beyond that form of the shrug resorted to quick, jerky reps of shrugging their shoulders up and down as fast as they can and occasionally recruiting their legs when they began to fatigue. Better, but not quite what you want to do for maximum trap recruitment and gains. The correct form of a dumbbell shrug begins with a weight you can hold for 30+ seconds, as well as complete 8-12 quality reps with, coming close to failure on the last rep.
Begin by holding the dumbbells by your side and with a stance about shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly and keep them this way to take the pressure off your joints. This is important because you will not be moving your legs for the duration of the exercise (in fact, no part of your body should move besides your arms and shoulders). In this stance, push your chest out and keep your traps depressed as far down as possible for a good stretch at the bottom of the movement. Next shrug your shoulders up as high as you can, slow and controlled (count to two on your way to the top of the rep), hold the weight at the peak contraction and feel the squeeze, and slowly bring the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
Also focus on not bending your arms, meaning your elbow should stay as motionless as possible. And that’s it. No need for fancy rolling or jerking heavyweight to feel this work your traps correctly. When done with a slow and controlled form with a pause at the top, this exercise is a great and safe way to build strong and huge traps. Of course, while dumbbell shrugs are a great trap builder, they aren’t the only option when it comes to growing this muscle. Using a barbell is a viable option with different stimuli as your arms are out in front of you instead of to your sides.
Another slight variation is simply using the smith machine instead (the bar that is attached on both sides and can be re-racked at different heights easily) of a barbell. The advantage of a smith machine is you won’t need to bend over to pick up the bar or step forward/back to begin the exercise like you would with a barbell or dumbbells. Being able to re-rack the weight without moving your foot placement or having to bring the bar all the way to the ground is also great for going all the way to failure without the danger of your grip giving out or mis-racking it.
Lastly, if you’ve tried shrugs and can’t/don’t want to perform them for any reason, fear not valued reader. There are many more exercises that can be done to build your traps including face pulls, upright rows, and even deadlifts are amazing for growing them tall and thick.
Take home message
When it comes to incorporating shrugs into your workout they can go almost anywhere actually. Of course, you should complete your compound movements first while you have your highest energy levels, but after those, you can do shrugs right after if you think you will need more energy to complete your sets or you can save them for last and finish with drop sets to end with a burnout.
However, if you choose to program shrugs and other trap building exercises into your routine, make sure to control your volume which in other words means you don’t want to train them too much or too little. Whether you decide to do them once a week on perhaps a shoulder day, or three times a week spread out over different days, it’s all about controlling volume.
If done once a week, make sure to do 8-10 sets from maybe two or three different variations on that day, or if done multiple times a week (two or three or even four days) then one exercise of a few sets for your traps a day should be enough. Now you are slightly smarter and I hope it will help you grow your monster traps safely and efficiently!