If they align with your training goals, isolation exercises can be good. Find out how to do shoulder shrugs and whether they are worth it.
Shoulder shrugs are an exercise where you raise your shoulders towards your ears. Typically with some form of resistance in your hands.
By doing this exercise you work the upper part of your trapezius muscle aka the muscles between your shoulders and neck.
As you can expect, shoulder shrugs are mainly good for growing, strengthening, and improving endurance in your upper trapezius.
If you have other fitness goals and/or want to train more muscles in one movement, other exercises will likely be better.
How to do a shoulder shrug correctly
Take the following steps to do a shoulder shrug:
- Stand upright with your arms slightly less than stretched by your sides. Let your shoulders hang down and keep your wrists at angles that are comfortable for you.
- Slowly raise your shoulders straight up towards your ears. Keep the rest of your body in the same position.
- Lower your shoulders back down to the starting position in a controlled motion.
Since the main point of shoulder shrugs is working your upper trapezius muscles you really want to keep any body parts besides your shoulders in the same position.
Muscles worked with shoulder shrugs
Shoulder shrugs mainly work the upper part of your trapezius muscles, also known as traps. These run along your upper back and neck.
If you do the exercise while holding heavy weights, the muscles in your forearms responsible for grip have to work a good amount too.
One thing to keep in mind is that weighted shrugs may fatigue your forearm grip muscles before your traps had a good workout.
To avoid this, you can use lifting straps. These are straps you wrap around your wrist and the weight so your grip muscles don’t have to work as much.
This will likely be necessary since bodyweight shrugs are often too easy to see results.
Dumbbells are a popular choice for weighted shrugs because they are so common.
However, you may also prefer doing weighted shrugs with specialty barbells like hex bars or other fitness equipment options like a cable machine.
Generally, the closer you get to working your upper trapezius muscles in line with the muscle fibers (sideways inward) the better. This means a double-cable machine shrug would be ideal.
Shoulder shrug benefits
Similar to other forms of resistance training, doing shrugs can offer nice benefits. Some of the more specific ones include:
- Bigger and stronger traps: Doing shrugs with enough weight and repetitions can grow and strengthen your trapezius muscles.
- May reduce or prevent neck pain: Trapezius strengthening exercises like shoulder shrugs can reduce or prevent neck pain (1, 2). You do want to be careful with shrugs if you already have issues in this area.
- Can help weight loss: The combination of burning more calories than usual and building muscle mass makes it so shrugs can help weight loss to at least some extent. Keep in mind that you may need to make other changes to see this benefit.
Depending on what you want to get out of your workouts, these benefits of shoulder shrugs could convince you to implement this exercise.
Shoulder shrug alternatives
It is worth mentioning that there are other ways to work your trapezius muscles too. These shoulder shrug alternatives may not be as isolated but can be great too:
- Upright rows
- Bent-over rows
- Farmer’s carry
- Face pulls
- Overhead carry
How you want to work your trapezius and what other muscles you want to engage will influence what shrug alternatives you prefer.
Are shoulder shrugs a good exercise?
Shoulders shrugs can be a good exercise for growing, strengthening, and improving endurance in the upper part of your trapezius muscles.
Keep in mind that you will likely need to use extra resistance to make these goals happen.
Preferably something like a cable machine or trap bar to pull in line with the trapezius muscle fibers.
Additionally, you likely need something like lifting straps to make sure your forearm grip muscles don’t fatigue before your trapezius had a good workout.
If you want to work different muscles or more muscles at the same time, you will want to choose certain alternatives over shoulder shrugs.
What are shoulder shrugs good for?
Shoulder shrugs are mainly good for working the upper part of your trapezius muscle. In combination with enough resistance and repetitions, shoulder shrugs can improve size, strength, and/or endurance in this area.
Are shoulder shrugs worth it?
Shoulder shrugs can be worth it if you want to isolate the upper part of your trapezius muscles for reasons like aesthetics, resolving muscle imbalances, or improving performance in specific movements. If these things don’t apply to you, doing other exercises instead of shoulder shrugs is likely better.