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How to Do Barbell Shrugs: Muscles Worked, Benefits & Common Mistakes

Want to tone your shoulders, back, and upper chest to perfection? Barbell shrugs are the best choice for you. Click to read all you need to know about this move!

James Cambell
How to Do Barbell Shrugs: Muscles Worked, Benefits & Common Mistakes
Table Of Contents

Barbell shrugs can be an integral part of any strength-building regime, as they can help you to achieve the strength, power, and toning benefits you're seeking. The movement is a common weightlifting exercise used to target the trapezius, a muscle group located in the neck and shoulder area.

It also targets your upper back, and a strong upper back isn't just crucial for supporting your weightlifting—it's essential. If you are into weightlifting, add this move to your routine workout plans.

Additionally, barbell shrugs do not only work the muscles in the upper back, but they've also been shown to increase muscular endurance and reduce the risk of injury, making them a great addition to your workout routine.

Technically speaking, barbell shrugs are part of a pull-or-back movement category, so those looking for an alternative to cable shrugs can certainly consider barbell variations as an option.

Barbell movements have also been seen as a reliable way to boost the general physique, so if you're looking for bigger traps and shoulders, shredding through reps of the barbell, shrugs may be just what your routine needs. Here is all you need to know about the exercise before you add it to your workout routine.

How to Perform Barbell Shrugs

Barbell shrugs are an excellent exercise for toning the upper back and shoulders. The fact that they can be done with weights ranging from light to heavy makes them an excellent choice for any fitness level. Here’s how to do them:

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip. Make sure to keep your back straight and avoid hunching over.
  • Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears while keeping the barbell close to your body at all times.
  • Your chest should be lifted, not hunched forward. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Slowly lower the barbell back to starting position and repeat for the desired reps.

Variations of Barbell Shrugs

To maximize results, you can do a few variations of the exercise according to your fitness level and goals:

Single Arm Shrugs

Hold one end of the barbell in one hand and perform the same movement as above with just that arm. Once done, repeat the movement with your other arm to balance out the workout effect.

Seated Barbell Shrugs

Sit on a bench or box with your feet firmly planted and perform the exercise while seated. This is an excellent way to isolate just the upper back and shoulders without using other muscles for assistance.

Upright Rows

Instead of shrugging straight up, pull the barbell up to your chin while keeping your elbows higher than the bar. This variation will work the upper arms as well.

Benefits of Barbell Shrugs

Barbell shrugs offer numerous advantages if performed regularly. Some of the benefits that one may get with barbell shrugs include the following:

Improved Posture

Barbell shrugs are one of the best exercises for strengthening your upper back and helping to improve posture. This exercise targets the trapezius muscles and reinforces good postural habits, which can help reduce neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Increased Strength

Barbell shrugs are an ideal exercise for increasing your upper body strength. You can lift heavier weights and do more reps by performing this exercise regularly. This can help you build muscle mass and improve overall physical performance.

Improved Mobility

Barbell shrugs are also beneficial for improving shoulders, neck, and upper back mobility. This can reduce the risk of injury and allow you to move more freely.

Improved Athletic Performance

Barbell shrugs can also be used to improve athletic performance by helping to strengthen the muscles in your upper body. This exercise is beneficial for sports that require a lot of overhead movements, such as baseball or tennis. It can also help with activities like running, swimming, and cycling.

Improved Mental Health

Barbell shrugs can be beneficial for mental health as well. By strengthening the muscles in your upper body and improving your posture, you may experience increased confidence which can lead to a more positive outlook on life. Additionally, regular exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Muscles Worked During Barbell Shrugs

The barbell shrug is an excellent exercise for targeting the trapezius muscles located in the upper back region. The primary muscle groups used during this exercise are the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles, which are responsible for elevating the shoulders and scapulae.

The main focus of the exercise should be on the trapezius muscles, as they are responsible for many shoulder and neck movements.

The benefits of having stronger trapezius muscles are numerous. A strong trapezius helps to provide good posture, reduce the risk of injury, improve balance, and promote good overall health.

Stronger trapezius muscles also help alleviate neck and shoulder pain by providing better support for the head, shoulders, and arms.

Additionally, a stronger trapezius helps improve your overall strength and endurance, making it possible for you to perform more physical activities. Lastly, stronger trapezius muscles can give you a more sculpted and attractive appearance. All in all, having stronger trapezius muscles benefits many aspects of health and fitness.

Other muscles may include anterior deltoids, biceps brachii, and serratus anterior. The core are also activated to maintain balance during exercise.

Common Mistakes While Performing Barbell Shrugs List Detail

Though it may seem that the barbell shrug is a simple exercise, trainees commonly make a few mistakes while performing this movement. It is essential to avoid these mistakes to perfect the technique and reap the gains that the move promises. With the right approach, you can build powerful shoulders that will serve you for years.

Not Having Proper Form

The barbell shrug should be performed with the correct form and posture to reap the most benefits. Your back must remain straight, your shoulders must be drawn back and down, and your arms should be kept straight throughout the exercise. If you fail to keep this position, you risk injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

Not Performing the Exercise At Full Range of Motion

To ensure that the barbell shrug is performed correctly, it is important to fully extend and contract your shoulder joint throughout its range of motion. Shrugging your shoulders too high or too low will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise and may also put stress on other parts of your body.

Not Increasing the Weight Gradually

As with any exercise, when performing barbell shrugs, it is important to increase the weight gradually as you become stronger. Doing so will ensure that you can perform the exercise correctly and efficiently without risk of injury due to overtraining or incorrect form.

Not Engaging the Core Muscles

Engaging your core muscles while performing barbell shrugs is important to maintain proper form and posture and stabilize your body during the exercise.

Not Maintaining Neutral Spine Alignment

To protect the spine and reduce the risk of injury, it is essential to maintain neutral alignment throughout barbell shrugs. This means that your chest should remain lifted, your shoulders back and down, and your head in a neutral position during the exercise. Additionally, you can also use a weightlifting belt for additional support.

Not Breathing Properly

It is important to breathe properly while performing barbell shrugs to ensure that your body has sufficient oxygen supply and that you can engage your core muscles and maintain proper form throughout the exercise. When shrugging, exhale as you lift your shoulders and inhale as you lower them back down.

Not Controlling the Weight

Using too much weight cannot only lead to poor form and potential injury, but it can also make it difficult for you to control the barbell shrug exercise. You must use the appropriate amount of weight so that you can maintain proper form throughout the exercise without sacrificing control.


Overall, barbell shrugs are an excellent exercise for improving posture, increasing strength, and enhancing mobility. They can also benefit athletes, helping to improve performance in sports and other activities. By taking the time to perform barbell shrugs properly and safely, you will reap all of their benefits and avoid any potential injuries. Furthermore, regular exercise can lead to improved mental health, which is essential for overall well-being. So don’t forget to add barbell shrugs into your workout routine!

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James Cambell

James Cambell is an editor at DMoose, where he loves to write about fitness, nutrition, and health tips. He has received a degree in Nutrition Sciences and is a certified dietitian.

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