Last updated on November 5th, 2022 at 01:54 pm
It’s an extremely commonly asked question, “Are Shrugs Worth Doing?”
When it comes to shrugs there are two very clear camps.
Those who swear by doing shrugs for trap development and those who claim they have absolutely no effect.
Look, we all want a great set of looking traps.
In fact, I’ve often heard traps described as being the “new abs”.
However, are shrugs the best way to achieve this or are there better options?
Allow me to reveal all.
Are Shrugs Worth Doing?
Shrugs aren’t worth doing unless you’re training purely for aesthetic purposes, and even then there are far better options. Shrugs only target the upper traps, which is just a tiny fraction of the overall trapezius muscle. Most trainees use far too much weight for shrugs, which usually means that they’re not actually stimulating the traps at all. Furthermore, there is a tendency to roll the shoulder blades back, which places a lot of stress on the shoulders and the rotator cuff, and this can lead to injury.
1. There’s More to Life Than the Upper Traps
I’m going to come right out and say it – I think shrugs are pretty pointless and most of us should NOT be doing them.
Okay, perhaps a little harsh.
Shrugs do have their place in a training program, although only for purely aesthetic purposes.
So, as a pro-bodybuilder you may incorporate shrugs into your routine.
But, in truth there are far better options for overall trap development, and I’ll get to these in a moment.
Realistically, shrugs only target the upper traps.
Plus, they do so with a limited range of motion and by using partial reps.
Yes, I agree that there is a place for partial reps in a training program.
However, not for every single rep of every single set of an exercise.
The trapezius muscle is far bigger than just the upper traps.
The traps run from the base of your skull, across the back of both shoulders, and all the way down the upper and mid-back region.
So, by performing shrugs you’re probably targeting less than 15% of the entire muscle group.
For me, this is very much like setting yourself up to perform seated incline dumbbell bicep curls, and then simply holding the dumbbells in the bottom position.
Yes, your biceps will get a great stretch, but you never actually contract the muscle.
Okay, I’ll admit that your upper traps can literally blow up by performing shrugs regularly.
However, this is simply because the upper traps don’t get much stimulation in everyday life.
But still, this isn’t the ideal way to train such a large muscle.
Think back to simply holding those dumbbells in the stretch position in order to train your biceps.
You’re missing out on a vast array of muscle development, potential strength gains, and this could be a precursor for injury.
There’s so much more to traps than shrugs.
2. Are You Shrugging Wrong?
I think the worst thing about shrugs is that most people completely massacre the exercise.
Firstly, pretty much everyone uses far too much weight.
Yes, I’ll agree that certain muscle groups respond extremely well to very heavy, low-rep training.
But, I wouldn’t class the traps as one of these.
Actually, I should rephrase that to, “I wouldn’t class the upper traps as one of these” (because that’s all you’re training with shrugs).
Personally, I believe the upper traps will respond better to higher reps, whereby your time-under-tension is at least 45-60 seconds.
Additionally, when trying to perform shrugs with so much weight you’re actually taking the focus away from the target muscle.
Watch anyone in the gym performing very heavy shrugs.
I can guarantee that they’re bending at the knees, using vast amounts of momentum, and simply just jerking about.
Realistically, they may as well just stand still holding a heavy barbell in their hands and do nothing.
I will also say that whoever came up with the “roll your shoulders back during shrugs” has a lot of explaining to do.
What an absolutely terrible suggestion, and yet most people still do this.
All you’re doing with a shoulder roll is putting your shoulders and rotator cuff under extreme, unnecessary stress.
In fact, if you’re looking for a rotator cuff injury, which will pretty much impact every upper body exercise you do, then continue rolling your shoulders while holding a heavy weight.
However, if you want to shrug and protect your shoulder health then simply up and down please.
3. You’re Working Your Traps Anyway
Did you know that you’re getting a great deal of trap stimulation in the gym anyway?
In fact, if you’re a complete novice or very new to weight-training then I see absolutely no reason for you to do any direct trap work.
Nothing pains me more than seeing someone who’s clearly very new to training performing 10 sets of (badly executed) shrugs.
Plus, when I talk of trap stimulation here, I mean the entire muscle, including the middle and lower traps, and not the “just for show” part (upper traps).
Oh and by the way, I mentioned earlier about training shrugs purely for aesthetic purposes, well most bodybuilders try to avoid too much direct trap training.
Their reasoning is that a set of overdeveloped traps would actually make the shoulders look narrower.
So, if you’re aiming for that V-taper physique then don’t overdo the upper trap training.
Anyway, back to the point, you’re already hitting your traps.
If you’re performing many of the standard compound exercises then your traps are getting a great workout.
I’m talking about heavy deadlifts, pull ups and pull downs, overhead presses, and rows.
In fact, some lifters will swear by performing extremely heavy deadlifts on a regular basis and literally seeing their (upper) traps blow up.
And of course, let’s not forget that there is a deadlift variation that actually includes the word “trap”, i.e. trap-bar deadlifts.
So realistically, you’re probably targeting the traps quite well anyway.
Plus, most of these exercises target the entire trapezius muscle and not just the upper traps.
So, this is definitely better for strength, muscular development, and overall shoulder health.
4. There Are Far Better Exercises Than Shrugs
If you really want to work the traps there are so many better exercises than shrugs.
Furthermore, most of these exercises will target the upper, mid, and lower traps as a whole.
Some of my personal favourites include:
- Hang Clean
- Farmer’s Walks
- Snatch-Grip High Pull
- Snatch-Grip Deadlift
- Battle Ropes
Plus, the beauty of all these exercises is that they work far more muscles than the traps alone.
In fact, any one of these exercises will have you breathing heavily and feeling as though you’ve hit a huge number of major muscle groups.
Can you really say the same for shrugs?
I’ll also say once more that row variations are great for the middle and lower traps.
In fact, pretty much any exercise where your hands are held out in front of you and then pulled towards the body will stimulate these often-ignored areas of the traps.
So, this could include face pulls, seated rows, chest-supported rows, etc.
Plus, I would much rather perform scapular retraction pull ups than shrugs.
Yes, this does involve rolling the shoulders back (and towards each other), but it is very different from doing it with a heavy barbell in your hands.
Most Efficient Workout For Your Traps
From a personal perspective, NO, shrugs are not worth doing.
Shrugs only target the upper traps, which is just a fraction of the entire trapezius muscle.
Plus, most people perform shrugs with too much weight and terrible form.
So, in reality, you’re missing out on muscle and strength gains, as well increasing the likelihood of injury.
The traps get a great workout from various pulling and pushing compound exercises anyway.
Additionally, there are a wide variety of exercises that are far better for overall trap development than shrugs.
If you choose to continue using shrugs, I have also written about an issue that many of us suffer with, namely not feeling shrugs in your traps.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.