Crush Upper Body Competitors With Barbell Shrugs

Feminine fitness brunette does arm and upper body exercises and uses a barbell with gloves. Indoor gym concept, stay strong and fit

What do Ronnie Coleman, Dennis James, and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? Their uncanny ability to craft and sculpt a premium physique put each of them on the map.

While most “common folk” aren’t striving for the enormous stature of these notables, it would be nice to create a little upper-body love when working toward better health and wellness. The training trend of the hour focuses on the lower body and glutes, but one mustn’t neglect to build strength and balance in the upper body, as well.

Check out some of the many benefits you’ll gain from working on upper body strength.

Upper Body Strength Improves Posture

A significant percentage of Americans live sedentary lives, with only 21 percent meeting movement and exercise standards recommended by the World Health Organization. As a result of all this sitting, the body suffers several imbalances in muscle strength and posture, as a strong core and back are essential components of good posture. Back muscles get weaker, chest muscles tighten, and the shoulders round forward in a condition known as kyphosis

As you commit to working on your upper torso, you’ll gradually see an improvement in strength for all of your core muscles, from your shoulders to your hips. You’ll stand taller, feel better, and succumb to fewer injuries when you engage in movement and exercise.

Upper Body Strength Enhances Other Workouts

Improving upper body balance and strength works wonders for your other workouts’ efficiency. The more muscles you engage, the more overall improvement you will see. Most circuit training and HIIT workouts offer several upper body exercises such as planks, mountain climbers, and push-ups, all of which provide an excellent support base for other upper body strength work.

By committing to a weight-bearing upper body workout schedule, you’ll make the most of other workouts without having to modify or refrain from participating in certain movements.

Man rests olympic barbell on shoulders in workout class

Upper Body Training Improves Metabolic Rate

A remarkable side effect of upper body training is its ability to boost metabolic efficiency. Like HIIT training, strength workouts are an efficient and straightforward way to rid yourself of excess body fat and give you a lean, toned appearance when paired with a sensible diet. 

The more muscle mass you acquire, the higher your resting metabolism will be. You’ll burn more calories at rest than if your rate was lower.

Strength training allows you to continue burning calories for up to 72 hours after your session. 

Upper Body Training Feels Good!

Working traps, deltoids, and biceps feels great — particularly if your fitness goal involves setting and achieving strength gains. Whether performing your first unassisted pull-up or breaking your record for full-body push-ups, feeling stronger and looking leaner are achievements you can feel proud of.

Upper Body Strength Makes Everyday Tasks Much Easier

You may have started strength training for aesthetic reasons, but losing fat and building muscle will soon become secondary benefits to feeling stronger and accomplishing daily tasks easier and more efficiently.

As your strength and coordination improve, you may regain confidence you didn’t realize you were missing! This confidence can spill over into nearly every other aspect of life. You’ll positively impact all aspects of life — work tasks, home tasks, and even relationships change in light of your newfound strength and a belief that you can and will reach your goals. 

Fit woman working out with olympic barbell resting on upper back

Adding Barbell Shrugs For Improved Strength and Fitness

Whether you’re going for a balanced, well-sculpted physique or you’re intent on building mountain-sized traps, adding barbell shrugs to your upper body strength routine is the next step to improved fitness. Bodybuilding greats such as Larry Scott, Sergio, Olivia, and Franco Columbo all utilize the power of the shrug to sculpt and form some of the most impressive upper body physiques in the health and wellness industry.

Should you do shrugs? In short, yes! Find out why:

What Are Barbell Shrugs?

Barbell shrugs are an essential exercise for building the upper back muscles. Though the motion appears easy when performed by experts, performing movement without injuring oneself is harder than you might imagine.

People often minimize the impact of a good barbell shrug, with many fitness professionals failing to see the importance of including them in personal training plans. However, adding a set of barbell shrugs to your workout routine puts you in an advantageous position over those who don’t work the traps. The Trapezius muscles facilitate many daily movements; failing to work these muscles can cost you strength and mobility over time.

Olympic barbell and plate weights on the ground

Muscles Used In Barbell Shrugs

The trapezius muscles are the primary muscles stimulated in a vigorous barbell shrug session. The trapezius back muscle starts at the base of the neck and extends across the shoulders and down the middle of your back. It gets its name from the trapezoid-like shape it makes as it travels across your shoulders and down either side of your spine.

Seasoned bodybuilders refer to this muscle as the “traps,” perhaps because this is all they can utter when struggling with an ambitious weight. The trapezius can be broken down into three distinct parts, each with different functions and responsibilities: upper, middle, and lower.

Upper Trapezius

The upper trapezius starts at the neck’s base and runs across the top of your shoulders. It is the smallest section of the trapezius muscle.

Upper trapezius muscles allow you to shrug your shoulders, assist you in lifting the arms, and tilt, rotate, extend, and raise the neck and head.

Middle Trapezius

The middle traps extend across the shoulders and help stabilize your arms as they move. The middle trapezius also assists you in pulling your shoulders back and extending your arms behind you.

Lower Trapezius

The lower trapezius starts at the base of your shoulder blades, forming a “v” shape in the middle of your back. This part of the traps muscle stabilizes and strengthens the small muscles and connective tissue around the spine as you bend and twist. It also performs the important work of allowing you to bring your shoulders down from your ears after a vigorous session of shrugging.

All three of these subsections work together to coordinate movements in the shoulders and upper arms. A well-performed barbell shrug is not easy to do, but it yields remarkable results in increasing upper body strength and helping to define a well-balanced physique.

Woman in workout class with barbell resting on lower neck, men in background

Performing The Barbell Shrug

Performing the barbell shrug is quite effective when done correctly. Follow the strategic steps below to reduce the risk of injury and build a beautiful upper back and shoulders.

Mind Your Stance

Stand straight and hold the barbell with a combination grip with your hands just outside the thighs. A combination grip should include one overhand and underhand grip to maximize strength and keep the bar from slipping from your fingers.

Shrug Straight Up And Down

Keeping a firm grip on the bar, lift your shoulders toward your ears, hold at the top for two seconds, and then lower straight back down. Avoid rolling your shoulders when you perform the exercise and stabilize your elbows for maximum efficiency.

Repeat for the desired number of reps, taking a rest in between sets if needed to maximize strength gains and preserve grip strength and posture.

Benefits Of Barbell Shrugs

You’ll see the benefits of barbell shrugs almost immediately after incorporating them into your routine. You’ll also feel a notable difference in strength as you commit to proper form and use the right amount of weight to isolate and exercise each muscle group in the trapezius.

Better Isolation Of Upper Body Muscles

Other alternative compound exercises stimulate the traps, but nothing comes close to the barbell shrug, which isolates them entirely. This isolation creates larger, stronger muscles.

Fewer Injuries

Strengthening the trapezius muscle reduces your risk of injury to the upper body. Strong neck, back, and shoulder muscles can protect your joints from movement or stress that may compromise their function.

Improved Posture

Proper form on a barbell shrug helps you attain excellent posture. The strength of your upper back muscles is exponentially increased through proper shoulder shrug movement, leading to greater ease in standing and even sitting with good posture. Without these movements, you’d likely be slouching your way through the day.

Woman performs bent-over rows of barbell

Well-Defined Traps Are Attractive!

Most people think a muscular chest and well-defined arms are all you need for an attractive upper body. Wrong! A well-toned trapezius plays a significant role in making someone appear more commanding, and you don’t have to sport Schwarzenegger’s size to be noticed, either. Strong back muscles are attractive on any body type — from a swimmer’s build to a linebacker’s.

Increased Strength

Your body is supposed to work like a well-oiled, collaborative machine. Making gains with one muscle group has a significant effect on the way your whole body functions. Barbell shrugs not only strengthen your shoulders and back but also add strength to exercises like deadlifts and squats.

Alternatives And Modifications

Not sure you’re ready to handle the traditional barbell shrug? The following alternatives and modifications will yield similar results and provide whole-body benefits to improve all your workout efforts.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Using dumbbells to perform a classic shoulder shrug offers a bit less restriction and more contraction than standard barbell shrugs. The movement is still very isolated, targeting the traps. For this reason, the amount of weight you’ll be able to lift with good form is significantly less than that you’d pull with a barbell.

Behind-The-Back Shrugs

Behind-the-back shrugs allow you to give your hands a rest while isolating the shoulders and upper back quite effectively. Be mindful of the amount of weight you use with this variation, as you want to avoid injuring your lower back by not using the correct form. Start small, and work your way up for a safe and effective workout.

Trap Bar Shrugs

The trap bar shrug gives you the benefit of isolation that dumbbells provide while allowing a little extra weight, similar to that of a barbell. It bears excess weight while giving you more mobility and space to lift. You can perform the exercise more efficiently and cleanly with a specially-designed trap bar.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are ideal for working the traps with proper gym equipment. Focus on contracting the upper back muscles as you draw an overhead bar straight toward your nose. Make sure you are in control of your selected weight, as you want to avoid leaving your workout with battle scars.

Barbell Upright Row

While the barbell upright row works for a slightly different muscle group than a traditional barbell shrug, the benefits to upper body strength are similar. This exercise engages the biceps, latissimus dorsi, and deltoids, all working together to give you a sculpted and toned upper back.

Resistance Band Side Shrugs

If dumbbells and barbells aren’t an option for you, have no fear! You can still effectively perform a solid upper trap workout with resistance bands. Using the same form as a barbell shrug, secure resistance bands underneath a stable stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and shrug straight up, then straight down.

Fit man curls barbell in gym

Training Dos and Don’ts

As with any weight-bearing exercise, avoiding common mistakes and following expert advice will be crucial to achieving your fitness goals. Follow the strategies below for solid muscle building and massive traps.

Do: Mind Your Form

Proper form is essential to reduce your risk of injury. Keep your arms and legs as straight as possible, and ensure your grip is firm on the bar. Consider using lifting straps or wrist wraps to lift safely if your hold on the weight feels unwieldy.

Shrug straight up, hold at the top for one to two seconds, and then slowly lower the shoulders to build muscle and sculpt both the primary and secondary muscles in your upper back.

Don’t: Bounce Your Weight

Choosing a bar or a weight that is too heavy is one of the most common mistakes people make when performing barbell shrugs. Bouncing a heavy weight will strain your muscles and joints and lead to nerve injuries, muscle tears, and neck pain. Start small and manageable, and work your way up to a heavy weight that continues to give you results without compromising your health.

Do: Isolate Movement

A barbell shrug is the most effective exercise when the movement isolates only the trapezius muscles and the upper back. Any jerking or force of this movement often results in a loss of balance, muscle tearing, or nerve damage in the neck and shoulders. Small, isolated exercises ultimately yield the most significant changes in the body.

Don’t: Roll The Shoulders

The primary function of the shoulder is to perform vertical lifting and lowering movements in a controlled manner. Excess shoulder muscle and joint rolling can cause additional stress to the neck, back, and rotator cuffs. Focus on returning to your starting position, and avoid excessive rounded motions as you lower weights after each rep.

Greater Strength, Mobility, And A Killer Upper Body!

The barbell shrug is your answer to a well-defined, balanced upper-body physique. The upper back and shoulder muscles provide an extra measure of strength, stability, and coordination, adding efficiency and enjoyment to many other areas of your life and daily activities.

Consider adding shrugs to your workout to reach the next level of health and fitness, not to mention a killer upper body!

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