Barbell Shrugs vs Trap Bar Shrugs (Which is Best?)


Barbell Shrugs and Trap Bar Shrugs are two popular exercises used to target the muscles in the upper back, specifically the trapezius. Both are effective exercises but they do have their differences, most notably in the equipment used for each.

The question is, is one variation better than the other?

In this article, I’ll dive into how each exercise is executed along with its benefits. Then, I’ll compare both shrugs side-by-side so you can get an idea of which may be better for your training goals.


Barbell Shrugs


Barbell Shrug Muscles Worked
Barbell Shrugs work the upper trapezius. (Photo Credit: Makatserchyk / shutterstock.com)

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates (either Bumper Plates or Steel Plates will work fine)
  • Lifting Straps (optional)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set up a barbell on either J-Hooks, or preferably, on the squat rack’s safety bars (if your rack has them)
  • Use an alternated grip, one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand), about shoulder-width apart
  • Place feet hip-width apart, brace the core and stand tall with the bar
  • Now shrug up, visualizing touching your traps to your ears.
  • Do NOT ‘roll’ the shoulders. Shrug straight up and down.
  • Control the weight back down to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Shrugs already have a short range of motion. Don’t shorten the range of motion even further by adding more weight than you can properly lift. (A mistake I see quite often)

An alternated grip, one overhand and one underhand, will dramatically increase your grip strength on the bar. This is due to the fact that a barbell has a natural tendency to want to roll out of your hands. By alternating your grip, you are basically counterbalancing that rolling tendency.

The height you place the bar in the rack is probably more important than it gets credit for. Place it too low and it adds a partial deadlift to the exercise but place it too high and you’ll hit the bar off the rack while doing reps.

PRO TIP: If you find (after loading up the bar) that the bar has been placed a little too high, slide some plates underneath the bar to stand on.

Related –> 10 Barbell Shrug alternatives to grow your traps

Should I Use Lifting Straps When I Shrug?

We generally had a rule in the weight rooms that I’ve worked in that you were allowed to use straps once you had 405 pounds on the bar. Anything less than that and you had to rely on your grip.

I’m still a big fan of this rule because it still allows the lifter to work on grip strength for lighter sets and still be able to lock into heavier weight to focus on the traps. Keep in mind though, that this is dealing with collegiate football players. I would suggest adjusting the weight standard for straps based on your situation.

If you’re new to using straps and wouldn’t mind a quick tutorial, I created a ‘How To Use Straps‘ you can check out.


Trap Bar Shrugs


Trap Bar Shrug

Equipment Needed

  • Trap Bar (or Hex Bar as they’re also known)
  • Weight Plates (either Bumper Plates or Steel Plates will work fine)
  • Lifting Straps (optional)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Place feet hip-width apart, brace the core and stand tall with the bar
  • Now shrug up, visualizing touching your traps to your ears.
  • Do NOT ‘roll’ the shoulders. Shrug straight up and down.
  • Control the weight back down to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Trap Bar Shrugs already have a short range of motion. Don’t shorten the range of motion even further by adding more weight than you can properly lift. (A mistake I see quite often)

Elevating a trap bar up onto lifting blocks, or on the rack if your trap bar is capable, will make the lift much easier to get set up for. Otherwise you’ll need to pick the bar up off the floor for each set which can start to be a challenge with heavier weight.

PRO TIP: Hex Bars can vary a good bit in weight, keep this in mind if you’re loading a hex bar that you don’t normally work with.

Barbell Shrugs vs Trap Bar Shrugs: Is One Better?

Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at both exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for a few common lifting goals.

Better For Developing Size and Strength: Toss Up

The bottom line is both shrug variations are great for improving strength and building muscle mass and there is no real difference between them in that regard.

Whichever you choose to use is going to come down to equipment availability and personal preferences.

Ultimately my suggestion would be to find a way to incorporate both in your training.

Better For Beginners: Toss Up

I believe this one is a toss-up as well. I think both shrugs variations are pretty beginner-friendly.

Once you’ve learned how to properly brace your core, both Barbell and Trap Bar Shrugs are pretty simple exercises to learn and execute.

Maybe you could make the argument that it’s easier to stay balanced with a trap bar, but personally, I think that would be a reach.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Shrugs vs Trap Bar Shrugs. The truth is, there is no reason (assuming you have the available equipment) you shouldn’t have both exercises in your training program.

Both are great exercises for developing upper body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Shrugs and Trap Bar Shrugs in your training plan.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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