STOP Rolling Your Shoulders During Barbell & Dumbbell Shrugs!

Hey, do you want to know a fantastic way to instantly spot a person in your gym who doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing?

It’s simple. Just find anyone who is rolling their shoulders forwards or backwards during their sets of barbell or dumbbell shrugs.

It’s a dead giveaway that they don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing.

And it’s more than just failing to understand how to use proper form during shrugs. It’s failing to understand how gravity works. Allow me to explain…

How To Properly Do Shrugs

There are few exercises that are as simple to perform as the basic shrug. It trains the upper portion of the trapezius muscle (aka your upper traps, which is that muscle between your neck and shoulders).

Here’s how to do it properly:

  1. Grab a barbell with a shoulder width or slightly wider overhand grip and let it hang down in front of you so that it’s touching your thighs. If you’re using dumbbells, grab 2 dumbbells and let them hang down at your sides.
  2. Without bending your elbows, shrug your shoulders straight up as high as you can as though you’re trying to touch your ears.
  3. Squeeze for a second.
  4. Lower straight back down under control to that original starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Got all of that? The movement is as simple as straight up and straight down. That’s all shrugs are. There is nothing else that should ever be taking place during this exercise. Up and down, up and down.

How NOT To Do Shrugs

Despite how simple barbell and dumbbell shrugs seem to be, all it takes is a few visits to any typical gym to see at least a couple of people doing their shrugs differently than I just explained it.

I’m of course referring to people who roll their shoulders forwards or backwards at the top of every rep.

Instead of going straight up and straight down, they take what can best be described as a rolling detour through idiot-ville.

Some people roll their shoulders forwards, some roll their shoulders backwards. Some even alternate which direction they roll from rep to rep.

In all cases however, the fact remains the same: it’s completely and utterly wrong, stupid, pointless and potentially dangerous.

And, like I mentioned before, it also proves that you don’t understand how gravity works.

Rolling Your Shoulders Like An Idiot… And Gravity

You see, due to gravity, the barbell or dumbbells you’re holding during shrugs are providing downward resistance in the vertical plane.

What that means is, the only way to get any actual use out of the weight you’re holding is by moving it UP against the downward resistance being provided.

That’s just how gravity works, folks.

The second you start rolling your shoulders forwards or backwards, you leave the vertical plane (where the resistance is) and end up in the horizontal plane (where there is absolutely no resistance at all) therefore accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Stupid people tend to make this rolling motion in an attempt to train their middle and lower traps along with their upper traps. Unfortunately, gravity prevents this from happening.

In order to actually provide resistance for the mid/lower traps, you’d need to do an exercise that provides horizontal resistance. You know, like a bent over barbell/dumbbell row, seated cable row, or any type of horizontal pulling exercise.

Shrugs do not fit that description at all.

And that means that pointlessly rolling your shoulders while holding a barbell or dumbbells is exactly like pointlessly rolling your shoulders without any weight in your hands at all. The only real difference is that the addition of the weight you’re holding greatly increases your risk of injury.

Wow… how awesome! Just as pointless but with the added bonus of getting injured! Sweet!

Stop Rolling Your Shoulders During Shrugs

So, in summary, barbell and dumbbell shrugs are meant to be done by elevating your shoulders straight up and then coming straight back down. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rolling your shoulders at any point during this exercise is completely pointless, accomplishes nothing, goes against NO resistance, shows the world that you don’t understand gravity, and puts you in a terrific position to hurt yourself.

Don’t do it… ever.

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30 Comments

  1. Samuel says

    Dude you awsome and share a great passion in working out as i do but one thin iam kind of confused on is should i add shrugs to my chest,shoulders, triceps routine or to my Back And Biceps routine thank you.

    • says

      Some people do shrugs with shoulders, some people do them with back, and some people just throw them in anywhere they happen to have the best spot to fit… like at the end of leg workout for example.

      And honestly, shrugs are one of those exercises that can usually work just fine in any of those scenarios. My first preference and recommendation though is to do them with back after the more important exercises like rows and pull ups.

  2. Jaime says

    Hi man, I have one question here… I’ve NEVER done any shrugs and I have pretty decent traps… do you think I should include them in my workouts? I think (and feel) they are secondary trained with several exercises aimed directly to other muscles but I might be wrong. What do you think? are they a “MUST-DO” exercise?

    Thanks again for your awesome website!

    • says

      No such thing as a “must do” exercise for most people (unless you’re planning on competing at something that requires doing a specific exercise… like powerlifting).

      And even if you look at the exercises that come the closest to being “must do” (like bench, squat, deadlift, row, pull-up, overhead press, etc.), shrugs definitely aren’t on that list.

      They are an isolation exercise that can sometimes serve a useful secondary purpose in certain routines. Nothing more, nothing less.

      And you’re right, exercises like rows and deadlifts do hit your traps. For some people, that’s all they need. For others, shrugs can be beneficial if they fit in with your goals and the rest of your routine.

      • Jaime says

        Thanks man! I’ll keep ignoring them, it looks like the thing I’ve been doing until now are hitting my traps enough :)

  3. Marty says

    Hey Dude,

    Logic and physics rock. I’m assuming when you say shrugs can’t work the mid/lower back that you’re only talking about standard shrugs. If you use one of the various Kelso shrugs you can hit back (or anterior delts for that matter if I remember correctly).

    • says

      Correct, this whole article is about the conventional shrug only. Other forms of “shrug backs” can definitely hit other parts of the back and/or rear delts (posterior, not anterior). Kelso shrugs are one such example.

  4. Rod says

    i find that adding shrugs to deadlifts works well i get two excersises in done in one, traps are may favourite muscle group, do you think it would be wise it at just a set of shrugs to the “muscle building routine” that i am using to upper A day? i dont want to add anything to it like you said and screw it up thats why i ask

    • says

      I wouldn’t recommend doing a deadlift/shrug combo, as that will only have a negative effect on your deadlifts.

      But if you want to add shrugs separately, it’s one of the very few additions I’m okay with. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps of shrugs at the end of either Upper A, Upper B, or Lower A (so it’s done the same day as RDLs, just not literally during RDLs).

  5. steve says

    hi
    im going to start incorporating shrugs into my workouts. my question is if i add it with shoulders is it one i add after shoulder presses or before
    and if i add it to my back days do i add it after my rows and pulls or before
    i sense it would be suitable after as a finishing one. secondly is barbell shrugs a compound one and db shrugs an isolation one?
    id prefer to keep it simple and do barbells but i like a suitable result

    cheers

    • says

      Shrugs can be done with back or shoulders, so it’s mostly just about putting them on the day that makes the most sense in your specific routine. Whichever day it is, they almost always should go at the end of the workout after rows/pullups or shoulder presses.

      As for barbell vs dumbbell, they’re both essentially the exact same thing. Choose one, not both.

  6. clark says

    Which part of the delts do shoulder shrugs work? i believe it is the rear delts, but i’m not sure. if it is i would like to add into my new split that includes a back,lat,trap, and rear delt workout.

  7. Oly says

    Useful information but I resent being called an idiot. I started doing the shoulder rolling because of all the other more experienced ‘idiots’ at the gym telling me it was good form to do so.

    So I went and searched around a bit more and found this, slightly more technical, version of ‘idiot':

    “Rolling the shoulders does hit the mid traps more, but it does also place a sheering stress on the rotator cuffs. Since it’s very hard to recover completely from a rotator cuff injury, i think it’s better to stick to the up-down shrugs and then do cleans or high pulls for the mid and lower traps.”

    • says

      Don’t take it personally, Oly. I’ve done plenty of equally (if not more so) stupid things in regards to how I’ve worked out and dieted in the past and frequently refer to myself as being an idiot for doing those things. It’s meant lovingly. ;)

      And yes, clearly rolling the shoulders will hit the mid traps more than not rolling the shoulders. The issue however is that, due to gravity, there is no resistance against the rolling motion and thus no real training stimulus being provided for those mid traps. You can just stand with no weight in your hands and roll your shoulders to accomplish the same thing, which is virtually nothing.

      Only difference is, doing this pointless rolling motion when you ARE holding weight (often lots of it) in your hands is not exactly shoulder friendly… which makes it not only useless, but dangerous as well.

      • idiothere says

        So, I’m the idiot that got busted in the gym rolling her shoulders, but rather than coming up to me and saying something they guy decided to tell everyone around me “shrugs are good but don’t roll your shoulders,”. I’ve always heard you should work in the full range of motion, I’m guessing that isn’t the case with regard to shoulder rolling during shrugs… It was a nice stretch feeling though, with a low weight is it still pointless, even just being used as a stretch?

  8. mak.capri says

    I am not agree here. I saw movie in which jay cuttler was doing shrugs having forward and backward direction (rolling).

  9. swirv says

    theres lots of things pro bodybuilders can probally do that would work for them and not so much for u cause they take massive amounts of steroids. all about good form

  10. David says

    Jay, what is your opinion of the Silverback shrug ?
    I ask because i can’t chin neither pull up and all i have found in order to hit my mid traps was exactly Silverback shrug.
    Thanks.

  11. says

    I appreciate the advice and information on this -food for thought and research. I definitely disagree on the point of view that all people doing this are newbies or idiots: rightly or, as you state, wrongly the end of movement rotation is in well established training guides E.g. Delavier’s Strength Training Anatomy.
    Not to disagree or agree but this does also come from pro advice.

    • says

      Just because something is “pro advice” doesn’t mean it’s actually good advice. In fact, the vast majority of the “pro advice” I’ve seen and heard over the last 15 years has been total horseshit.

      • Nick says

        Very true. Generally though, Delavier is very accurate with very detailed info so I am surprised. There is a possibility that he has updated or expanded on his views as I know several new editions have been published since my blue cover copy.

  12. Sean says

    All your articles about stupid things not to do basically fall into one of two categories:

    -things I did way back when I was an idiot noob, but got wise years ago, or
    -things I did way back before I started reading the post, but will never do again.

    I’m still waiting for a post that allows me to feel completely smug and self-satisfied. Although maybe the face workout one …

  13. Wez says

    Ha ha someone at work kept telling me and my mate that rolling your shoulders is the best way to do shrugs! This is further evidence to prove that what we both believed is true!… That he is an idiot! Nice one!

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