All You Need To Know About Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

You’ve probably seen plenty of guys in the gym, working their traps to make them bulge, whether they’re standing on either side of the Smith machine or doing shrugs while holding dumbbells.

You might have wondered, Which is better?

Barbell shrugs or dumbbell shrugs?

And what’s the difference?

Here’s your chance to find out!

Barbell shrugs and dumbbell shrugs are both effective ways to increase your upper-body strength, but barbell shrugs tend to be more popular and effective than dumbbell shrugs.

Even though you might have been doing dumbbell shrugs for years, it’s always good to know about the other options that exist out there, especially when one of those options can help you reach your strength goals more easily and effectively.

Read on to learn all about the similarities and differences between barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs so you can choose the right option for your workouts and individual fitness goals.

What Are The Benefits Of Shoulder Shrugs?

If you’re looking for one of the best exercises for building muscle and strength in your shoulders, then barbell shrugs may be what you’re looking for.

If your goal is size and strength, then heavy barbell shrugs are a great choice.

However, if you have low back pain or problems with your lower spine, it’s best not to do them.

Another way that you can use shoulder shrugs is by using dumbbells.

This lets you take advantage of lighter weights while still getting all of the benefits of heavier weights (both in regard to weight lifting and strength training).

They aren’t without their own risks though; if done incorrectly they can lead to injuries because there isn’t much stabilization involved.

Muscles Worked By Shrugs

Comparing barbell shrugs with dumbbell shrugs is not a simple matter of which muscles are targeted.

The truth is that both movements work for multiple muscle groups.

A typical dumbbell shrug exercise will include elements of an upright row, although a more significant focus on trapezius muscles can be achieved by using a barbell.

If you want to take it up another notch and really hit your traps, do them in tandem with a chin-up or pull-up movement.

Do one set of each back exercise before moving on to your shoulders exercises (or vice versa).

The back muscles and traps will have no choice but to grow if you put them through their paces.

Related Post: Barbell Curl Vs Dumbbell Curl – Which Is Best. Plus 14 Best Bicep Exercises

How To Do Shrugs Safely

barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs - a-woman-holding-barbell

There are different forms of shrugs.

They can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell, or machine.

However, all variations of shrugs require that you focus on your traps and make sure not to bring your shoulders forward.

If you perform shrugs incorrectly, you will pull forward at your shoulder joints, which can put a lot of strain on them and cause serious injury.

Therefore it is important that when performing shrugs that they are done in a safe way with proper form.

Before we discuss technique details, let’s go over some tips on how to do shrug exercises properly.

First, keep your back straight and lift from your traps, not from your shoulders.

Second, use lighter weights until you get used to doing shrugs.

Third, don’t rush through repetitions; take at least two seconds per repetition to avoid injuring yourself by rushing through reps too quickly.

Finally, if you use heavy weights then rest for one minute between sets to avoid muscle fatigue. 

Now that you know how to do shrugs, let’s talk about how they differ from other types of weightlifting. 

How To Perform Shrugs

First, grab a dumbbell or barbell with an overhand grip.

Stand tall and bring your shoulders back slightly.

Without moving your upper arms, shrug up as high as you can.

Pause for a second at peak contraction then slowly lower down to starting position.

If you are working toward building bigger traps, make sure you do both kinds of shrugs.

Doing only one type of shrug won’t fully exhaust your traps and can even lead to overtraining them.

If you want to take it easy on your shoulders, try a machine variation that mimics barbell shrugs but does not require pressing a weight overhead.

Related Post: Pendlay Row Vs Bent Over Row – Which Is Better For You?

Barbell Shrugs

barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs - man-with-barbell-in-a-gym

The barbell shrug, also known as a trap bar shrug, is an exercise that targets your traps.

The movement involves holding a weighted bar (typically filled with plates) with both hands and raising it toward your shoulders by shrugging your shoulders.

The movement is done slowly and can help tone your traps and build strength in them over time.

It’s recommended that you perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps at a weight level you can handle comfortably.

You may also opt for doing 1 or 2 warm-up sets of 15-20 reps before going into your working sets; check with your doctor first if you’re unsure whether or not you should be warming up.

Barbell Shrug Pros

In addition to building brute strength, barbell shrugs train your shoulders for stability and support.

In particular, they hit your traps (the large muscles on either side of your neck) hard.

They are relatively easy to load up with heavy weights if you’re comfortable picking them up off a rack—unlike dumbbell shrugs—making them great for advanced lifters.

If you’re more concerned about speed than weight, however, you might be disappointed by how long it takes to get a substantial amount of reps in with heavy loads on barbell shrugs.

This can be remedied by using a lower weight but incorporating pauses throughout each rep, as opposed to bringing it up slowly and dropping it quickly between reps.

Related Post: 14 Amazing Benefits Of Trap Bar Deadlifts

Pro Power Bar - 700 lb capacity Black Oxide
Pro Power Bar – 700 lb capacity Black Oxide

Barbell Shrug Cons

While it is true that barbell shrugs are better for building muscle size, they don’t come without their downfalls.

For example, it is much more difficult to isolate one specific group of muscles when you are using a barbell than when you are using dumbbells.

The very nature of a barbell shrug requires you to hold onto a big chunk of iron, which leads your body to recruit other muscles from nearby areas to help stabilize and balance out the weight.

By comparison, dumbbell shrugs will force your upper traps (the exact muscle we want) to work harder and alone since there isn’t any other stabilizing weight being carried by our arms. 

Dumbbell Shrugs

barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs - close-up-of-man-with-dumbbells-exercising

For building up your traps, dumbbell shrugs are a great way to get started.

Make sure that you shrug your shoulders straight up and down, not back and forth.

If you do them right, they can be a fantastic exercise for filling out your traps and making them more prominent through sheer muscle growth.

Incorporate these into your routine as often as possible—you’ll be glad you did. But don’t overdo it!

One or two sets of 10-15 reps are all it takes to see results; go beyond that and there are potential problems on the horizon with joint health due to overexertion.

Related Post: 15 Kettlebell Back Exercises – Improve Strength And Posture From Home

Dumbbell Shrug Pros

One major advantage of using dumbbells is that they require more coordination and help strengthen your core.

This can be particularly beneficial if you plan on lifting heavy weights, as it helps prevent injury.

Another positive is that you can lift dumbbells at any angle, allowing for a greater range of motion than barbells.

Plus, you have more room to move around because there’s no bar in front of you taking up space.

Finally, many people find dumbbells easier to grip than a bar due to their smaller size.

Increasing grip strength and stability with these weights transfers over well into other fitness areas such as climbing rope or pull-ups.

Premium Dumbbell Storage Rack w/ 44 Black Neoprene Pairs DB
Premium Dumbbell Storage Rack w/ 44 Black Neoprene Pairs DB

Dumbbell Shrug Cons

In most cases, dumbbell shrugs are performed using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).

This is great for increasing chest and shoulder strength, but not optimal for building big traps.

Since you’re lifting with your palms facing each other, your elbows tend to drift inward as you perform a dumbbell shrug.

This places uneven stress on your shoulders and can lead to injury.

Because of their design, dumbbells also limit how much weight you can use in any given lift.

Most people who perform them follow a 5–10 rep range because they wouldn’t be able to lift much more than that with a neutral grip.

That’s fine if building muscle isn’t your goal—but it really puts a damper on trap growth!

Related Post: 16 Calisthenics Shoulder Exercises For Strength, Size, And A Wider Back!

Are Shrugs Worth Doing?

For starters, you should know that shrugs are an isolation exercise.

Because of that, there’s no real carryover to compound exercises like deadlifts or bench presses.

So while they can certainly be a part of your routine, they probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list.

In fact, many fitness professionals don’t recommend them at all—you could always add some kind of back extension instead if you want to strengthen your upper back.

Beyond that, it depends on whether you’re doing barbell shrugs or dumbbell shrugs—each has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.

Final Mop Up

Whether it’s with a barbell or dumbbells shrugs are an effective exercise for your traps.

But at the end of the day, you don’t need to be doing them if you’re getting plenty of rows and deadlifts in your workouts.

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