DB Shrugs (How To, Muscles Worked, Variations)


DB Shrugs

Shrugs are one of my all-time favorite lifts, whether it’s Dumbbell Shrugs or Barbell Shrugs. This is partly due to the fact that I was always good at them and partly because I always wanted big traps.

However, as a coach looking to reduce the risk of injury for athletes, I value shrugs even more as they are one of the best exercises we have for helping to prevent concussions.

In this guide, I will teach you how to properly do Barbell Shrugs, explain what muscles they work and give you a few variations.


How To Do DB Shrugs


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a pair of dumbells, one in each hand
  • Place feet hip-width apart, brace the core and stand tall
  • Now shrug up, visualizing touching your traps to your ears.
  • Do NOT ‘roll’ the shoulders. Shrug straight up and straight down.
  • Keep good posture. Do not let the shoulders slouch forward during the set.
  • 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 grabbing more weight than you can properly lift. (A mistake I see quite often)

When using heavy weight, I highly suggest using a hook grip on the dumbbells to help maintain grip.

Finding a box or bench to rest the dumbbells on in between sets can be a gamechanger as opposed to lifting them off the ground each set.

Should I Use Lifting Straps When I Shrug?

You should try to abstain from using straps until absolutely necessary. If your grip is becoming the limiting factor in a set, then using lifting straps can be very beneficial. However, don’t become overly reliant on them. Build your grip strength by only using straps on sets where you absolutely need them.

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.


Muscles Worked


Shrugs primarily work the upper trapezius muscle.


DB Shrug Variations


Looking to add some variety to your training or need an alternative because of lack of equipment. You may be able to give these exercises a try:

Barbell Shrugs

The most common variation of Dumbbell Shrugs is Barbell Shrugs. This works great if you don’t have dumbbells or just to add variation to your training program. The movement itself stays exactly the same.

Kettlebells can be used as well if you have access to kettlebells.

Snatch Grip Shrugs

Snatch Grip Shrugs is a little-used variation except for possibly Olympic weightlifters. These are also done with a bar, but instead of the typical shoulder-width grip, take a snatch grip. A snatch grip is wide, typically outside of the snatch rings on a barbell.


More Links and Info


For more lifts focused on the chest, shoulders and back check out the Upper Body Lifts section of the Exercise Library.

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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