Dumbbell Shrugs Exercise Guide

Dumbbell shrugs are a popular exercise that primarily strengthens and builds the trapezius muscles with just a pair of dumbbells and small, simple movements. The trapezius is an essential upper back muscle that supports your posture and is responsible for the movements of the head.

By including dumbbell shrugs in your strength training and bodybuilding program, you'll not only improve your muscle strength but also increase your stability, range of motion, and flexibility.

In this article, we will discuss how you can do this fantastic exercise properly and provide tips so you can get the most out of it.


How To Do Dumbbell Shrugs

Setting Up

The starting position of the dumbbell shrug is important. The correct stance will ensure that your muscles are working effectively, and you don't strain your back.

To get into the right position, start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing your torso and arms extended to the side. Pull your shoulders back and engage your core. This is your starting position.


Lift the dumbbells by shrugging your shoulders to your ears. Make sure to contract your traps as you do so and squeeze them as you reach the top of the movement. This will help build muscle strength in the upper back region and neck muscles too.

Pause in this position for a second, and slowly move the dumbbell back down to the starting position. Repeat this until you reach your desired number of repetitions.


  • Dumbbell shrugs are an isolation exercise for your traps so make sure that you let your traps do the work instead of your shoulders.
  • Avoid using momentum as this will reduce the range of motion. This can be avoided by not lifting too heavy.
  • Lift your shoulders as high as you can but do not extend them unnaturally high or low.
  • Use controlled movements. Make sure your movements are done at a steady and consistent pace. This will help you get the best out of this exercise.
  • Pull your shoulders back and engage your core to keep your spine neutral.


  • Helps you achieve a wider appearance as it activates and builds muscles in the traps
  • Strengthens your back muscles which results in improved performance in other compound exercises such as deadlifts and squatting
  • Protects your shoulders and neck from unwanted injuries
  • Improves your posture

Illustrated Guide

How To Do Dumbbell Shrugs

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids

Secondary Muscles

  • Forearms
  • Abdominals

Dumbbell Shrugs Variations

Dumbbell shrugs can be done in a variety of ways to make them more comfortable and challenging, depending on your fitness goals. Check our list below and find the one that's the most suitable for your body type and training goals.

Barbell Shrugs

If you are looking for faster progress and more room for muscle growth, using barbells instead of dumbbells is the better choice for you. Start light and increase gradually once you get stronger and perfect the form.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Shrugs

This straightforward variation of the dumbbell shrugs helps prevent muscle imbalances as your work one side at a time.

Kneeling or seating Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell shrugs are commonly performed standing but can also be done while seated on a bench or chair or while kneeling. This change in position provides you with more stability.

Overhead Dumbbell Shrugs

Overhead dumbbell shrugs provide more challenge in your shrugs while also offering more benefits. While normally done using a barbell, dumbbells place less strain on the shoulders joint and improve balance throughout the exercise.

This variation not only helps isolate the trapezius but also increases stability and balance in the shoulders and strength in the upper back.

Speed Front Shrugs

While dumbbell shrugs require slow and controlled movements, speed front shrugs allow for quick explosive moments which work the traps just as well. With arms in front, dumbbells together and palms facing towards your body, shrug your shoulders at a fast pace and repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Dumbbell Shrugs Alternatives

Farmer's Walks

Farmer's Walk, as simple as it looks, is a challenging move that works the entire body. It involves holding a weight, usually a dumbbell or kettlebell, in each hand while walking for a certain distance or time. This exercise effectively targets the trapezoids, making it a great alternative to dumbbell shrugs.

With a heavy set of weights in each of your hands, your chest out, and your shoulders retracted, start walking forward.

Depending on your preference, you can then either walk for a certain amount of time or cover a certain distance. We recommend walking for around 30 seconds and extending this period after due practice. 

Dumbbell Upright Row

Dumbbell upright row is a compound exercise that targets several upper body muscles, including the traps, rhomboids, and delts. Although notorious for being hard on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, upright rows provide tons of benefits when done correctly.

To perform an upright row, assume a standing position. Take up the dumbbells, one in each hand, using an overhand grip and keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Stand up straight and let the weights hang in front of your thighs.

Next, engage your core and biceps to draw your elbows up and back. Move the dumbbells up your body until it reaches your collarbone, then start lowering them down again to the initial position.

One rep is complete when the dumbbells rest in front of your thighs again.

Lying Superman Raises

Lying Superman raises are a simple but effective exercise for people who do not have access to proper gym facilities. They require little to no equipment but work just as great in targeting the back as well as the hamstrings and glutes.

Lie face down on the floor or on an exercise mat, with your legs and arms outstretched. From this position, lift your arms and legs off the floor at the same time, taking the shape of a banana. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

We recommend starting off with 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions each then gradually increasing the number over time for better results.

Face Pulls

Face Pull is a great upper-body exercise that works muscles throughout your back, shoulders and arms. While normally done using a cable pulley machine, this can also be performed using a resistance band which is more easily accessible than a machine. This exercise will also help prevent muscular imbalance and increase overall shoulder strength.

To do a face pull, hold onto the rope with a neutral grip with both of your palms facing towards you. Use your core to pull the rope towards your face until they become parallel with your ears.

Avoid moving your torso as you pull. Hold for a second and squeeze your shoulder blades together hard, and then slowly return to the initial position. Repeat this for the desired number of reps.

Back Exercises Guide

Kevin Harris