How to Do the Dumbbell Shrug

The Dumbbell Shrug for Traps and Neck

The dumbbell shrug is an isolation exercise to develop the trapezius, the muscles that run across the top of the shoulders from the neck. It is considered to be a basic, beginners level exercise. You can do it with dumbbells, barbells, machines or with body movement only. In this example, dumbbells are used. The exercise is performed exactly as the name suggests -- by shrugging the shoulders -- in this case with dumbbells hanging at the sides.

Find out more about weight training terminology and exercise description if you need background information before you try this exercise. See more dumbbell exercises.

How to Do the Dumbbell Shrug

Dumbbell shrug exercise part 1
(c) Paul Rogers

Stand upright with dumbbells hanging at the sides, feet just wide enough so that the dumbbells hang comfortably. They can be heavier than you would use for an arm curl or front raise.

Shrug the shoulders upward just like you would if you were saying "I don't know" to someone in response to a question. Don't hunch over to the front; try to stay completely upright. If you find you are hunching over or bending backward, lighten the weights up a little.

The Shrug Movement

Dumbbell Shrugging!
Dumbbell Shrugging!. (c) Paul Rogers

The movement against the weight of the dumbbells makes your trapezius muscles work harder than usual. Shrug with one arm while you hold the muscle with the opposite hand. You will feel how it works. Find this muscle on either side of your neck running toward the point of the shoulder.

That's it, the shrug. Easy.

A common error you might make with the shrug is to roll your shoulders. This does not add to the exercise effectiveness.

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Shrug

 The dumbbell shrug is a pull isolation exercise primarily targeting the upper trapezius. The trapezius has its origin in the skull and the posterior neck ligaments. It inserts at the clavicle, connecting the head and neck to the lower back. It performs several functions - elevating the scapula (raising the shoulders), extending the cervical spine, and extending, flexing and rotating the neck.

Bodybuilders can develop the traps to the point it appears they have "muscles up to their ears."

The synergistic muscles worked in the shrug are the middle trapezius and the levator scapulae. The exercise is stabilized by the action of the erector spinae back muscles.

Flexibility and mobility of the head and neck depend on the trapezius muscles, often relieved with a shoulder massage.

Variations of the Dumbbell Shrug

 Incline Dumbbell Shrug: This is performed on an incline bench, chest down, raising the weights with arms hanging straight down. It also exercises the back muscles.

Overhead Dumbbell Shrug: While standing, you perform a shoulder shrug while holding the dumbbells overhead. This also exercises the deltoids.

More Exercises for the Trapezius

Best Trapezius Exercises:  Bodybuilding expert Richard Choueiri shows how to use six different exercises to work and build the trapezius muscles as part of a back or shoulder workout. Equipment used includes barbell, dumbbell, and Smith machine.

How to Train the Trapezius Muscle: Former IFBB Mr. Universe Lee Labrada discusses the exercises he prefers for building the trapezius. These include the shrug and the upright row.

10 Great Back and Shoulder Exercises for Strength and Conditioning: A variety of exercises for functional fitness.