If you’ve walked into an old school gym, you’ve probably bumped into an iron age strength sage who tried convincing you that there’s only one way to build a set of big traps: Shrugs. Lots of shrugs.
He was wrong. Not only is this trademark trapezius muscle exercise overrated, but when it comes to a productive shoulder workout, shrugs are more underwhelming than effective. What the shrug may be good for, according to Mathew Forzaglia, NFPT-CPT, founder of Forzag Fitness and Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is giving you an ego boost each time you slap on a few extra 45s on each side of the bar. That’s not quite the blueprint plan for developing a successful shoulder and upper back workout.
Both trainers suggest that you leave shrugs to the old school workout warriors and instead get a better return on your trap investment with more effective exercises.
Why You Should Stop Doing Shrugs
First, here’s why you should stop doing shrugs.
The Shrug Hurts Your Posture
Most people often find themselves in a bad position all day, with squeezed and hunched over shoulders and tech neck. Instead, you should be aiming to squeeze and drop our shoulders—called scapular depression. The continuous upward driving and squeezing motion of the shrug is the opposite. Not only can that lead to shoulder issues, it also adds a lot of unnecessary tension in your neck. The minimal gains are just not worth the risks.
The Shrug Allows You to Slip Into Dangerous Positions
Shrugging heavy weights usually forces us into an uncomfortable forward (or anterior) position. Your focus should instead be retracting your shoulder blades in order to elevate the shoulders. Spinal flexion becomes more of a concern than it should be as we may not be able to stabilize the spine correctly.
You Target Your Traps Enough Already
Not only are shrugs overrated, it become trap overkill when you’re already working the muscle each time you do sets of military presses, lateral raises, and especially deadlifts. That’s more than enough heavy work your traps are receiving. It’s time to skip the shrug.
3 Alternatives to the Shrug to Train Your Traps
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
This chest-supported row variation allows for greater scapular retraction while hitting the lower traps at a different angle than you would from a standing shrug. Also, by changing your elbow angles, you can change the target areas of your upper back and traps as well. Don’t forget, the key function of your traps is to stabilize your scapula, not just shrug up and down, and the incline row addresses this with great success.
3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
There are many ways to perform face pulls, and each one is great for challenging scapular stability. Because the movement can be great for reinforcing scapular retraction, the face pull can also help improve posture.
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Finally, an exercise that allows you move heavy weight—and for a much more effective stimulus than shrugs. You can set the pins at several different levels, above or below the knee, and with this deadlift variation, you’re going to hit more than just your traps, but your entire posterior chain, from your hips to your entire back.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
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