All You Need to Know About Barbell Shrugs

farmers walk


A man standing next to a tree

The barbell shrug is an exercise that is used to target the traps. The exercise can be done with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. A barbell will let you handle the heavier weight and is considered safer, while dumbbells can be used to target each side of the traps individually for added intensity.

Setup for Barbell Shrugs:

A group of people standing next to a tree

To perform a shrug, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs at arm’s length. Keep your knees slightly bent and bend forward from your hips while keeping your back flat (similar to performing a deadlift). Your shoulders should remain shrugged towards the ceiling as you hinge on the hips. At this point, adjust your grip if needed so that when you hang from the bar it is at arm’s length and there is tension on the traps. If using dumbbells instead, simply grab them firmly so they hang by your side.

Movement of Barbell Shrugs:

Once you are set up correctly, simply shrug your shoulders straight up towards the ceiling while keeping your arms extended. Do not roll your shoulders at any point during this movement. Avoid any forward or backward lean from the waist throughout the exercise and keep a forward gaze when looking up at the ceiling. The barbell shrug is much like a deadlift in that it engages similar muscles to perform a powerful pull upwards. In fact, since the weight being lifted is so much smaller than in a deadlifting motion, you will find that you can move much more weight in a properly executed barbell shrug compared to a deadlift. This means that if strength training is your goal then it would be wise to add some barbell shrugs into your routine. Once you reach the top of the movement with fully shrugged shoulders, slowly lower the weight back down under control while maintaining tension on the traps.

An alternative method of Barbell Shrugs:

An alternative method for this exercise is to make sure that when you shrug your shoulders upwards at the full range of motion, you pause for a second or two before lowering them back down again. This technique will make sure that you try and squeeze out every single rep possible without letting momentum take over (which would decrease the amount of work done by your traps). This rep scheme is likely best suited for 4-6 reps per set due to its high-intensity level; if using lighter weights then this technique can also be used with 2-3 reps, however.

Progression for Barbell Shrugs:

If attempting to increase the overall size of your traps, adding in some exercises like barbell shrugs is vital. As I mentioned earlier, heavier weights will allow you to move more weight and therefore allow you to overload the muscles involved in the exercise much better for greater strength gains over time. Increasing either the volume or intensity (i.e. using more weight or trying to get extra reps per set) of this exercise is recommended over time if looking for muscle growth.

A common progression to use when attempting to build up your trap muscles would be one where increasing weight was used each week on this exercise while also dropping down sets from 3×8-10 to 3×6-8 repetitions per set given that higher fatigue levels are being targeted with this approach. For example, if you start your barbell shrug training with 3 sets of 8-10 reps per set using 100 lbs on the bar, after 1 week you should aim to use 110 lbs for 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions. After another 4 weeks have passed and a weight increase is needed again to continue making progress, go up to 115 lbs in the barbell shrug. This is a rather conservative progression that will ensure that your muscles can adapt to the increased weight being used over time instead of plateauing too early.

Mistake and precautions of Barbell Shrugs:

Common mistake trainees make when doing barbell shrugs is not maintaining tension throughout reps and even sometimes not locking out at the top contraction of each properly. When barbell shrugs are performed with lighter weights it is common to see the barbell move up and down throughout each rep as momentum takes over due to fatigue.

To make sure that you keep tension on your upper traps throughout this movement, think about making an effort to “pull up” through your traps for an enhanced contraction at the top of every barbell shrug repetition. This will ensure that you do not reduce tension on your traps too much between reps which can lead to early muscular failure. As well, by trying to pull upwards it may be possible for some people to take some pressure off their lower back making them able to perform more reps per set before getting fatigued enough where form starts to suffer or they have reached a point where it is not possible to keep barbell shrugs pain free.

If barbell shrugs are performed in this fashion for the last 2-3 reps per set, then they will also feel more comfortable on your upper back and traps due to less pressure being applied during them compared to earlier reps in a set where more momentum takes over between barbell shrug repetitions.


The barbell shrug is one of the most common exercises used by anyone who wants to get bigger traps or work their upper back muscles, but you must know how best to perform barbell shrugs.

Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter
Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter