Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Grasp the dumbbells with a closed grip.
  3. Keep the elbows fully extended (with a slight bend in them) and allow the arms to hang at your sides.
  4. Stand with torso erect, keep a slight bend in the knees, and look straight ahead.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

  1. Shrug your shoulders, lifting the dumbbells as high as possible while keeping your arms extended.
  2. Maintain the torso straight up and keep looking straight ahead.

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

    1. In a controlled fashion, slowly lower shoulders to bring the dumbbells back to starting position.
Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric/phase phase and inhale during the eccentric/lowering phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Trapezius (upper fibers)
  • Synergists: Levator scapulae
  • Stabilizers: Deltoid, rhomboids, rotator cuff muscles, triceps brachii, biceps brachii, wrist flexors
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance
  • Mechanics: Scapular elevation
  • Equipment: Two dumbbells
  • Lever: 1st class lever
  • Level: Beginner to advanced

    What Is A Dumbbell Shrug?

    A dumbbell shrug is a resistance exercise, which targets the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle. This exercise is performed with two dumbbells.

    The concentric portion of the lift is scapular elevation. The eccentric portion is scapular depression as the dumbbells are lowered.

    The purpose of the dumbbell shrug is to strengthen and develop the upper fibers of the trapezius.

    Why Do A Dumbbell Shrug?

    Dumbbell shrugs are a staple exercise to strengthen and develop the upper trapezius. Developing the upper fibers of the trapezius complements the aesthetics of the upper back as the upper fibers of the trapezius can be seen from the front, side and back of the body.

    Dumbbell shrugs allow the lifter to shrug with fists in a neutral position with arms at your sides. This may be a more comfortable shrugging position for lifters who may have a history of shoulder injury. Performing shrugs with dumbbells also allows the lifter to isolate the contraction of both sides of the upper trapezius and may help detect any weaknesses, if present.

    In addition to serving as an exercise that enhances the aesthetics of the upper back, shrugs also complement weightlifting and sport performance.

    Anatomy Of A Dumbbell Shrug

    A flat and triangular muscle, the trapezius is the most superficial muscle of the posterior thorax. The superior (upper) fibers run downward to the scapula. The middle fibers run horizontally to the scapula. Its origin is located at the occipital bone, ligamentum nuchae, and spines of C7 and all thoracic vertebrae. Its insertion is located along the acromion and spine of the scapula and lateral region of the clavicle. The upper fibers elevate the scapula as in shrugging the shoulders. As a superficial muscle, developing the upper trapezius contributes to the overall aesthetics of the upper back.

    The levator scapulae is located underneath the trapezius at the back and side of the neck. Its origin is located at the transverse process of C1-C4 and inserts into the medial border of the scapula. The levator scapulae assists the upper fibers of the trapezius with scapular elevation.

    The deltoid, rhomboids, triceps brachii and biceps brachii stabilize the shoulder girdle as the arms are fully extended holding the dumbbells. The rotator cuff muscles, particularly the supraspinatus, help to hold the humerus in place as the scapula elevates and depresses throughout the shrugging motion. The wrist flexors maintain the wrists rigid and stabilized throughout the exercise.

    Variations Of A Dumbbell Shrug

    Behind-the-back dumbbell shrug, barbell shrug, hex bar shrug, Smith machine shrug, one-arm Smith machine shrug, cable shrug.

    How To Improve Your Dumbbell Shrugs

    Strategically varying your dumbbell positioning (to the side of the body, behind-the-back) can optimize the muscle fiber recruitment of the upper trapezius. Performing shrugs with barbells and hex bars are additional variations to optimize muscle fiber recruitment of the upper trapezius muscle. Over time, this will enhance the strength and hypertrophy of the trapezius muscle.

    Focus on the concentric portion of the contraction, concentrating on “squeezing” as the shoulders shrug (imagine wanting to touch your ears with your shoulders).

    Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the eccentric portion of the contraction, may also be incorporated in a training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue.

    It’s important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). It is also important to allow adequate recovery days in between back and shoulder training days to allow muscles to repair.

    Common Mistakes When Doing Dumbbell Shrugs

    Using momentum to lift the dumbbells (e.g. jerking the torso, elbows, or shoulders for assistance) minimizes the potential of force production of the involved muscles and can increase the risk for injury. It is important that both the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise are controlled.

    Bending the elbows during the exercise minimizes the activation of the trapezius and places greater emphasis on the biceps muscle group. Keep arms fully extending with just a slight bend in the elbow to ensure maximal activation of the trapezius.

    Tucking the chin into the chest during this exercise can increase the risk of neck injury. It is important to keep the neck in a neutral position, looking straight ahead, to ensure proper and safe technique.

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding Dumbbell Shrugs

    If the lifter has a compromised range of motion with the shoulder joint and/or performs this exercise incorrectly, this exercise can increase the risk of injury and/or exacerbate a previous injury.

    If proper technique and recovery are not adhered to rotator cuff injuries and/or lower back injuries may occur.