Anyone else who can’t feel traps when doing shrugs?
Traps have often been described as the new abs.
Basically, nothing screams power, strength, and athleticism more than a muscular set of traps.
Shrugs are typically seen as the “go-to” exercise when it comes to training traps.
However, there’s nothing more annoying than not being able to feel your traps during shrugs.
Here’s how you can fix this and finally build awesome looking traps.
Can’t Feel Traps When Doing Shrugs
The main reason you can’t feel your traps when doing shrugs is because you’re using too much weight. There is a tendency to go as heavy as possible when doing shrugs, but this typically brings other muscles into play. If you reduce the weight and really concentrate on contracting the traps they will get activated much more.
1. Reduce the Weight For Shrugs
As with most exercises, there is a tendency to try to lift too much weight in order to stimulate growth.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against lifting as heavy as possible, but not if it impacts on form.
Personally, I find that the traps are far better activated when I go much lighter on the bar.
This allows me to perform shrugs at a slow and controlled pace and really contract the muscles at the top.
In fact, I have often found that performing 15-20 reps of lighter shrugs does far more to stimulate growth than 5=6 reps with a really heavy weight.
I’m an advocate of performing every exercise in the gym with perfect form, even if this means having to reduce the weight substantially.
Once you start putting your muscles through their full range of motion great things start to happen.
So, this could simply be a case of putting your ego in check, and shrugging a much lighter weight.
2. Try Barbell Shrug Variations
The main way to perform a barbell shrug is to pick a loaded barbell up off the floor and then simply shrug away.
However, in truth, I have found that certain variations of barbell shrugs tend to stimulate the traps much better.
My preferred method would be to hoist the barbell overhead with my arms straight.
So, basically hold the barbell in the top position of a shoulder press.
Then from this position perform a set of shrugs.
You’ll find that the traps, and the shoulders in general, are fully activated throughout the movement.
Basically, more time-under-tension.
Plus, holding the weight overhead works the traps to a far greater degree.
So, win-win really.
You’ll need to reduce the weight that you usually use with barbell shrugs, which ties in nicely with what I’ve just said above.
However, you’ll notice after just a few sets of overhead shrugs that you “feel” the target muscles working much better.
Another version of barbell shrugs is to have the barbell behind you.
If I’m completely honest, I prefer to do this on the Smith machine.
There’s only so much weight you can deadlift safely while the barbell is behind you.
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I really feel the burn in my traps when the bar is behind me.
I think this is because you really use your traps and won’t bend at the elbows, which can often happen when the bar’s in front of you.
Try these two barbell shrug variations and see what you think.
Overhead Barbell Shrugs
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3. Try Dumbbell Shrugs Instead
Sticking with the theme of trying an alternative type of shrug, go with dumbbells.
Plus, go much lighter than you would generally want to.
The change in hand position makes a huge difference to trap activation and stimulation.
In fact, if you think about it, the neutral grip is the same as you would use in the trap bar deadlift.
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And let’s face facts, it’s called a “trap bar” for a specific reason.
Anyway, back to dumbbells.
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I just find that dumbbell shrugs tend to work the traps much better.
Once again, I go fairly light, and I aim for extremely slow and controlled reps.
I will typically perform high volume dumbbell shrugs, somewhere in the 15-20 rep range.
Plus, I look to really squeeze the traps and hold for a count of three at the top of movement.
4. Use Different Exercises to Stimulate the Traps
I’m still not convinced that shrugs are the best trap-building exercise.
And yet it’s the exercise that the vast majority of people turn to.
However, I have found that a variety of upward pulling and Olympic lifting exercises seem to work the traps to far greater effect.
Some of my favoured “trap exercises” include:
- Wide-grip upright rows
- High pulls
- Heavy static holds
- Hang Cleans
For me, I find that all the exercises activate the traps much better, and a lot of the time you don’t even realise you’re working the traps at all.
In fact, I have often performed high-rep cleans and snatches with a reduced weight.
Not only do I end up getting a great power and conditioning workout, I typically find that I can feel my traps burning well into the next day.
I’d also like to throw heavy farmer’s walks into the mix.
Farmer’s walks once again have it all as far as I’m concerned.
You can build muscle and strength, burn fat, dramatically improve your grip, and build great traps.
What’s not to like?
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Dmitry Klokov Training Snatches For Traps
5. Stop Using Your Arms and Momentum
Something else that tends to happen when you use too much weight on shrugs is the use of other muscles.
How often do you bend at the elbows when you perform shrugs?
If so, your arms are coming much more into play.
So, basically the tension is being taken away from the traps.
I will also say that many people seem to use momentum when performing shrugs.
The weight is literally going up-and-down with no real focus on the traps at all.
This is why I like to use lighter weights during shrugs.
This allows me to slow the movement right down and really get a tight squeeze and hold (in the traps) at the top.
You’ll immediately start using the traps to far greater effect by doing this.
I guess it’s the same as any other exercise – when you start to use other muscles or momentum, you’re no longer working the target muscles.
So, make sure that you use the traps to shrug, and the traps alone.
6. Focus on the Mind-Muscle Connection
I think I’ve just about covered this point about, but there’s no harm in reiterating it.
I’m a massive fan of focusing on the mind-muscle connection.
In fact, I’m not adverse to visualizing the muscle being worked prior to a lift.
And then when I do pick up the weight I’ll often have my eyes closed (depending on how safe this is with a particular exercise) and really focus on squeezing the target muscle.
I’ve mentioned enough times about trying not to lift too much weight and really focusing on the working muscles.
Plus, also taking the muscle through the full range of motion.
So, prior to shrugs I will typically just shrug my traps up weight-free a few times.
Then I’ll pick up the weight, close my eyes, and begin.
The aim here is to slowly use my traps to lift the weight.
At the top of the movement I’ll give the traps a really good squeeze and hold the shrug for a count of three.
I’ll then lower the weight using my traps once more.
For every single rep during a set my mind will be completely absorbed on working the traps.
This should be your sole focus during shrugs.
If you use the mind-muscle connection your traps will thank you for it.
4 Tips For Mind-Muscle Connection
I hope this has helped you to understand why you can’t feel traps when doing shrugs.
For me, the number one reason will be because you’re using too much weight.
Plus, I think it’s also a great idea to play around with various shrug techniques, whether that involves holding the barbell in a different starting position or simply using dumbbells.
Then again, don’t forget there are just so many other fantastic exercises that stimulate the traps to great effect.
If you want to take your traps to a whole new level then I’ve got just the thing.
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Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.