Dumbbell Shrugs and Dumbbell Upright Rows are two popular exercises used to target the upper trapezius muscles of the back and shoulders. While they both will help develop the traps, there are differences between the two exercises in both form and function.
Dumbbell Shrugs primarily target the upper trapezius and can be performed with heavy weights to build strength and size.
Upright Rows, on the other hand, target not only the upper trapezius but also the lateral deltoids and biceps. However, due to the potential for shoulder impingement, some people may find upright rows uncomfortable or even painful.
In this article, I’ll explain in detail how to properly execute both exercises along with their benefits and key coaching points. Then, I’ll compare the exercises side-by-side so you can have a better idea of how to best include each one in your workouts.
- Lifting Straps (optional)
- Levator Scapulae
- 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.
Dumbbell 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.
Dumbbell Upright Rows
Dumbbell Upright Rows work the entire Trapezius as well as the Deltoideus and Brachialis. In plain English – the upper back, shoulders and biceps.
- Grab two dumbbells and start with them at arm’s length in front of the thighs, palms toward the body.
- Flex knees slightly and stand upright with good posture.
- Pull the dumbbells upward along the abdomen and chest toward the chin.
- At the top, the elbow should be higher than the wrist, and above the shoulders.
- Lower the bar dumbbells and under control to the front of the thighs.
- Do not ‘jerk’ or ‘rock’ the weight up and keep the dumbbells close to the torso thoughout.
The biggest mistake I see, by far, with Dumbbell Upright Rows is swinging way too much to lift the weight.
A little swing is okay if you’re trying to grind out the last rep or two of a set, however, if you’re having to rock your torso for every rep then the weight is too heavy. Grab some lighter dumbbells and use proper form.
Upright Rows, whether they’re with dumbbells or a barbell, can bother some lifters’ shoulders or even wrists. If this is you, you may want to check out my favorite Upright Row alternatives.
This exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and arms, and it also has several other potential benefits.
Some of the potential benefits of the Dumbbell Upright Row include increased upper body strength, improved posture, and increased hypertrophy.
Additionally, because the dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that involves multiple joints and muscle groups, it can also help to improve overall coordination and balance.
Dumbbell Shrugs vs Upright Rows
Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength: Toss Up
This is a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison as one exercise isn’t necessarily better than the other – they’re just different.
Dumbbell Shrugs is going to focus on the upper traps like a heat-seeking missile. They basically have one job and that job is to grow small mountains that sit on top of your shoulders.
On the other hand, while Dumbbell Upright Rows will also work the upper traps, they also help to develop the shoulders and even the biceps.
It really just depends on what you want your focus to be. There is also no need to choose either. Both exercises complement each other well and both can have a place in your strength training program.
Better For Beginners: Toss Up
When I’m programming exercises for beginners I like to look at three things – is the exercise safe, is it easy to learn and is easy for a beginner to execute. I believe that Dumbbell Shrugs and Dumbbell Upright Rows check all three boxes.
I think a beginner can quickly learn and safely perform either exercise almost immediately.
Just remember that whichever exercise you choose to do, start with light weight and focus on technique first. Once your technique is sound, then you can begin to gradually increase in weight.
I just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Dumbbell Shrugs or Upright Rows. The truth is, there is no reason to not have both exercises in your training plan.
Both movements do a great job up developing the upper back and including both in your workouts will add variety and help keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of figuring out which one you should be doing, try to find a way to include both Dumbbell Shrugs and Dumbbell Upright Rows into your workouts.
More Links and Info
Check out how Dumbbell Shrugs compares against other popular trap exercises