By Myprotein Writer
Jamie Wykes Hobday
The barbell shrug is one of the most commonly applied exercises when looking to target the trapezius.
What is the trapezius?
The trapezius muscle is a flat, wide muscle that dominates the upper back and part of the neck. Comprising of the upper, mid and lower traps; the traps are a muscle that cannot be ignored.
The primary function of the trapezius is to move or stabilise the scapula and is applied in movements such as the shrugging of the shoulders, elevating the arms overhead and retracting the scapula to pull the shoulders back.
Unfortunately, the trapezius is one of three commonly weak muscles within the body – therefore, we should look to use exercises to strengthen the muscle.
How Can The Barbell Shrug Benefit Me?
Stronger Traps! Having weak trapezius muscles can lead to the following risks;
✗ Poor Shoulder and Arm Mobility
The traps playing a role in shoulder retraction and arm elevation. Shoulder retraction is applied whenever performing row movements and arm elevation can be applied to movements such as lateral raises or front raises.
If the traps are weak, these movements will be insufficient and less effective.
✗ Back Pain
Weak traps can lead to serious and discomforting back pain. The traps and back are interlinked and usually work synergistically, however, if there is a weak link then there will be less effective functionality together.
A lack of muscular support from the traps to the back can eventually continue to a discomfort that will lead from the traps all the way down the spine causing lower back pain or alternatively up the neck.
✗ Poor Posture
If the traps are tight or weak, this can prevent the shoulders from being in the natural position and instead they will hinge forwards and not be retracted back to the standard position of hanging below the ears.
Poor posture can have a negative effect on the Central Nervous System, cause back curvature and doesn’t look great either!
✗ Poor Compound Movements
Many large muscle building compound exercises such as the deadlift, bench press, power clean, high pulls and more will involve your traps one way or another. Having weak trapezius muscles will hinder the progress of these exercises. Conversely, developing the traps will lead to increases in strength within the foregone mentioned exercises. Compound exercises work in a synergistic manner; if one muscle is weak, the whole exercise will be affected to an extent. Make sure all the muscles are firing adequately!
Barbell Shrug Technique
As stated earlier in the passage, the barbell shrug is one of the most commonly used exercises when people are looking to build the trapezius; whether it be from an aesthetic approach or from a functional strength approach.
Being an isolation exercise, the shrug applies only the trapezius muscle and therefore is an extremely efficient exercise when looking to target just the trapezius. Using almost any equipment in the gym (Barbell, Dumbbell, Cable, Kettlebell, Weight Plate); the shrug is one of the most simplistic and easy exercises to perform.
1) Stand with feet placed shoulder width apart and inhale your breath for this part of the movement.
2) Grip the barbell with your hands facing downwards; in a pronated grip. Opposing to the deadlift, an ‘over-over’ grip is best applied for the shrug as using an ‘over-under’ grip could result in severe imbalances where one trapezius muscle is greater developed than another.
3) Lifting with your legs and not your back, lift the barbell from the floor as if performing a barbell deadlift. Once your legs are fully extended and your spine is fully erected, you should be standing in a completely upright position with the barbell in front of you at about knee level. TIP: Make sure your elbows are not flexed in the slightest, they should be completely extended; no tension or pressure should be on your arms.
4) As you exhale your breath, raise your shoulders as high as possible. Essentially, you should be aiming for your shoulders to touch your ears. Whilst this is almost impossible, it is something worthwhile to aim for throughout the movement.
5) Once your shoulders are as high as they can possibly go, hold the contraction and squeeze for a brief second. Once again, your arms should not be involved at all and should be completely extended.
6) In a controlled and stable manner, lower the weight back down to the starting position.
7) Throughout the exercise, keep your back straight and aim to target solely the trapezius, nothing else.
Try some of these barbell shrug alternatives to change it up whilst equally stimulating your traps;
Cable shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, seated dumbbell shrugs, kettlebell shrugs as well as completely different exercises such as upright rows, high pulls and behind the body shrugs!
The Barbell Shrug Exercise |
✗ Poor Head and Neck Positioning
Having your head and neck in the wrong position when performing shrugs can provoke alignment problems and general discomfort. Having your head either too far forward or backwards may cause the neck muscles to perform under the majority of the muscular tension and stimulus; not the traps.
In order to prevent this and minimise the risk of serious pain; select a weight you can perform properly and only increase it when you genuinely feel capable of doing so.
✗ Back Swinging
Often, due to having too much weight on the barbell; there can be an undesirable swinging motion throughout the shrug in order to perform the movement. This will result in lower and upper back pain as well as insufficient trap connection.
In order to prevent this; lower the weight or perform the exercise seated with dumbbells either side. The back pad provided will prevent any momentum swinging like motions from occurring as well as providing a better mind to muscle connection.
✗ Rolling The Shoulders
No doubt when you have been in the gym before, you have seen one of two shrug variations. The two variations are; the vertical shrug and the rolling shrug.
The primary role of the traps is to elevate and lower vertically in a controlled motion, rolling the traps in a circular motion serves little to no constructive purpose physically. Whilst it is almost totally ineffective in terms of muscular contraction, it also places considerable undesired stress and harm on the neck and rotator cuff muscles.
The Importance of Technique
Performing shrugs incorrectly can lead to various injuries that can prove career threatening. Injuries such as rotator cuff tears, back and neck strains as well as muscle tears have all proved highly risky when performing shrugs incorrectly.
To prevent this; ensure that your form and technique is adequate, apply injury prevention exercises to your program and that you are correctly warming up and cooling down before and after exercise!