Dumbbell shrugs are an isolation exercise for the upper part of the trapezius, but doing them incorrectly can allow you to cheat and use heavier weights than necessary, which actually takes the focus off the intended area and can cause damage to the shoulders and rotator cuff muscles.
What Are Dumbbell Shrugs
Dumbbell shrugs really only work the upper part of the trapezius, which is the muscle that when developed gives the shoulders a more rounded appearance up to the neck. Its purpose is to shrug the shoulders, or to keep the shoulder joint in position when a weight is acting upon them. A good example of this is carrying suitcases. As a secondary muscle the forearms are also involved keeping hold of the dumbbells, plus the muscles of the upper back are required to keep the posture upright, which you might feel if you have tight shoulders.
There a few common errors I see in the gym with the dumbbell shrugs, a lot of which are to do with poor technique caused by using weights that too heavy for the lifter. The first is bending the arms while shrugging which allows the biceps to help out, but the arms should actually be kept straight at all times. Lock your elbows if that helps avoid it.
Another technique issue seen a lot is lowering the head and even the upper back while shrugging, the effect of which is to involve other muscles to assist. Instead keep a good upright posture, which keeping a tight core will ensure, and knees slightly bent.
Next is limited range of movement. The shoulders should be allowed to lower beyond their natural resting position and then raised as high as possible. This varies with the flexibility of the lifter but however high you can go with no weight should be where you aim to go with weight. If the difference is noticeable it’s too heavy.
The worst thing I see regarding this exercise however, is something I was told not to do by a top-ranking pro bodybuilder when I first started training. Rotating the shoulders forwards or backwards at the top of a dumbbell shrug might seem like a good idea, but it does nothing to increase the range of movement. What it does do is increase the potential for injury and over time, damage to the shoulder joint. Shrug straight up, lower the weight straight down. That’s it.
How To Do Dumbbell Shrugs
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft and a good upright position with a dumbbell in each hand.
2. Engage your core to stabilise your back and prevent you leaning forward when lifting.
3. Keep your arms by your sides and your arms straight as you shrug your shoulders as high as you can. You might find that with this exercise it is better to breath in with the effort.
4. With your shoulders high, hold this position for a second before lower the weights back down with control, allowing your shoulders to drop down below their normal resting position.
5. Repeat for desired number of reps
Notes For Dumbbell Shrugs
1. Do not bend your arms as you lift, instead keep them straight. Lock your elbows if this helps.
2. Keep your core engaged throughout each set to maintain a good posture and help prevent cheating.
3. Allow your shoulders to drop below their normal resting position and aim to shrug as high with the weights as you can without.
4. Do not rotate your shoulders backwards or forwards. The lift is a simple straight up, straight down movement.
5. Lift the dumbbells explosively, then lower them with control so you get an eccentric contraction that takes 3 – 7 seconds depending on your training goals.
As always, any questions or feedback leave a comment below.