The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs

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Working out for 10 years | Has a home gym | CPD (UK) Certificate holder in Fitness

The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs

Are you looking for a powerful shrug workout that will help build muscle and strength? 

Here’s the bottom line… Look no further than the barbell shrug.

This workout is versatile and can be done with either weights or dumbbells, providing different benefits for different types of athletes.

barbell vs dumbbell shrugs

Barbell shrugs vs Dumbbell shrugs, which is the best for your traps and shoulder?

If someone is doing shrugs, most of the time it will be a dumbbell shrug.

It appears to me that with dumbbell shrugs, you can lift your shoulders more.

If you are a beginner, then you can start with low weights and progress with heavy weights quickly.The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs 1

But with a barbell shrug, the barbell creates a lot of fiction as it is touching your body all the time.

This makes the workout tougher to execute.

In reality, the dumbbell shrugs and barbell shrugs work the same muscle and yield the same results.

But with barbells, you can lift heavier weights than a dumbbell.

But which is the best?

[Benefits of barbell curls]

As per the Indian Association of Biomedical Scientists, a modified version of shrug worked the best.

They did the study (the year 2018) on 30 subjects, and the modified shrug introduced an additional movement of upward rotation of the scapula.
It resulted in pain relief from shoulder impingement.

Doing shrugs this way is often recommended to people with shoulder pain. And they can develop some strength and mass as well.

I also perform the shrugs this way for my shoulder pain and mass development.
I often sit long hours in front of the computers, thus this modified version helps me with shoulder pain, rounded shoulder plus strength development.
Another study done in 2013 also finds the same, that the shrugs done with an upward scapula motion work the best.

What is the difference between a barbell shrug and a dumbbell shrug?

  • The main difference between the barbell shrug and the dumbbell shrug is that the barbell shrug is done with a neutral grip, while the dumbbell shrug allows your arms to not be internally or externally rotated.
  • The dumbbell shrug allows for your traps to move slightly more range of motion than barbell shrugs.
  • A barbell shrug is better for the strength-building element of your beginning weightlifting program, while a dumbbell shrug is just as effective.
  • Both exercises are effective for the shoulder muscles, and it ultimately comes down to which you find more comfortable and efficient.
The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs 2

What is the shrug workout?

The shrug workout is an upper shoulder exercise that focuses on the upper trapezius muscles. These exercises are designed to improve the strength and size of these muscles and can help to improve overall posture.

Shrugs will work the posture and other muscles more if you involve your scapula during the upward or downward motion.

Shrugs are often used for shoulder or rotator muscle problems.

Barbell Shrugs

Barbell Shrug Pros

  • They help build brute strength and stability in the shoulders.
  • Improve grip strength.
  • It can help stabilise the neck and upper back muscles.
  • Barbells can work a lot of muscles at once. It can be considered a compound movement.
  • Can do power shrugs.
  • Barbell shrugs are recommended to beginners since they do not need stabilizer muscles.

Barbell Shrug Cons

  • It is much more difficult to isolate one specific group of muscles when using a barbell than when using dumbbells.
  • Barbell shrugs have a limited range of motion if compared with dumbbell shrugs.
  • Can create imbalances.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell Shrug Pros

  • Gripping dumbbells at any angle allows for greater stability and grip strength.
  • Dumbbell shrugs offer more range of motion and are really great for shoulder strength, mobility and stability.
  • Since you are using weights separately in your hands, you can develop more symmetrical-looking upper traps.
  • Older lifters who want more mobility and strength can skip barbell shrugs and do these dumbbell shrugs.
  • Good for eliminating muscle imbalances.

Dumbbell Shrug Cons

  • Needs to be careful as one shoulder can move up higher than the other.
  • Some people may fatigue their forearms before their upper traps get maximally stimulated, while others will build up and strengthen their forearms using dumbbells.
  • Due to forearms getting tired quicker, you can not load up as heavy weights as with barbell

Which Is More Effective, Barbell Or Dumbbell Shrugs?
Barbell shrugs can easily be made heavier than dumbbell shrugs, which leads to greater strength and mass gains.

And a dumbbell shrug will increase your range of motion and muscle mass.

For this reason bodybuilders often pick dumbbell shrugs.

How to do the shrug workout with a barbell?

barbell shrug

Step 1: Set up the barbell

Stand in front of the barbell with their abs tightened and their traps contracted. Grabbing the barbell with an overhand grip, they should raise their shoulders upward.

Step 2: Shrug the barbell

How do you correctly shrug a barbell?

Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your shoulders towards your ears and squeeze your traps. Keep your arms straight and knees slightly bent while you do this.

Step 3: Lower the barbell

When lowering the barbell during the shrug workout, it is important to lower it slowly and under control to avoid injury. More time under tension will help your shoulder muscles to develop strength even more.

How to do the shrug workout with dumbbells?

dumbbell shrug

Step 1: Set-up

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms at your sides.

Keep your palms facing your body and keep your eyes forward.

Step 2: Shrug the Dumbbells!

You should keep a tight grip on the dumbbells and raise them up towards your ears in a tall posture. Pause at the top of the move to squeeze your traps, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.

Step 3: Lower the dumbbells

Then just slowly lower your shoulders all the way back to the beginning position.

The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs 3

Common Benefits Of Both Barbell Or Dumbbell Shrugs

A Stronger Back

Shrugs with either a barbell or dumbbell help to strengthen the upper back, which is beneficial for many different lifts.

A stronger upper back helps to maintain a neutral spine and creates a stable foundation for the bench press, squat, deadlift and all olympic lifts.

Therefore, doing shrugs with either type of weight is important for reaching your full potential and enhancing other lifts.

A Bigger Back

Barbell and dumbbell shrugs will train your upper back so you can develop a big and strong looking back.

Thus, your appearance will change, and you will have a larger back. I would ask you to do some pull-ups/lat pull-down to get the V look as well.

Shrug anatomy

Preventing Injuries

Shrugs help to prevent injuries in contact sports by helping to protect the body against injury. The traps play an important role in shoulder retraction, neck stability and arm elevation.

A strong neck, and strong upper back muscles will help you prevent injuries.

Are Shrugs the Only Trap Exercises a Beginner Can Do?

There are many other shrug exercises that you as a beginner can do. Some can be more effective in working out more muscles than just the upper back.

Barbell Rows

The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs 4

The benefits of doing barbell rows are that they work two different muscles in your upper back and that exercising two muscle groups at once will give you a better workout.

You can easily go heavy with doing workouts like pendlay row, one arm dumbbell row etc.

Farmer’s Walks

Farmers walk

Farmer’s walks are a good exercise for beginners because they develop traps, shoulder stability, and total body strength.

Farmer’s walks can be done with isometric holds to help increase trap tension.


The [Most Effective] Workout: Barbell vs Dumbbell Shrugs 5

Deadlifts are a great workout which trains your entire posterior chain, including the traps.

While the focus is not on the traps, but a deadlift will train your upper back as well.

Who Should Do the Shrug

Strength and Power Athletes

Athletes often do a power shrug to develop explosive strength, that is a top reason why they do this workout.

The shrug can help with the strength required in contact sports like American football, rugby, hockey, and combat sports. By targeting the upper traps specifically, shrugs can help athletes squat more powerfully and deadlift more weight.

Bodybuilders and Physique Athletes

The benefits of developing traps are widely accepted by lifters. Traps are a key component of a physique, and most lifters agree that they are difficult to build.

Dumbbell shrugs are typically done by bodybuilders to make their traps more visible.

General Fitness

Shrugs can be a good part of a well-balanced training routine for most people, and can be done without pain.

But many might can just skip shrugs if they are doing heavy deadlifts, rows etc.

Muscles Worked by the Shrug

Upper and Mid-Trapezius

The shrug exercise works the upper trapezius, middle traps, lower traps, and rhomboids. Shrugs also activate the rotator cuff muscles and forearm muscles.

Levator Scapulae

The scapula is holding your back together. The shrugs will train your scapula. And your scapula will give you a pain-free and strong shoulder.

Upper Back and Shoulder Stabilizers

The shrug works the upper back muscles, which can help improve posture and strength. Strong trapezius muscles will result in less neck and shoulder pain. Officer workers doing 12 hours shifts, do the shrugs!


The shrug movement is a great way to work the forearms. Since you are holding the weights on your arms thus with a heavy weight you will feel a burn on your forearm fairly quickly.

Quick Questions!

What are the different variations of the shrug workout?

The different variations of the shrug workout include the barbell shrug, dumbbell shrug, and wide grip shrug. Each of these variations targets almost all the same muscles. However, some can increase strength and some can help make more mass.

What is the peak contraction for a shrug?

The peak contraction is the highest point near your ear, upto where you can pull your shoulders up.

What are the negatives of doing a shrug workout?

Shrug workouts do not target more muscles, thus it is good for isolation. But it is not good as a compound exercise.

What is the verdict on the most effective shrug workout?

Barbell shrugs are often thought to be the most effective to develop strength. This is also great for going for progressive overload.

The Dumbbell Snatch Grip Shoulder Shrug is a great option if you have limited space.


Working Out for 10 years | Owns a home gym |Certificate course done on Improving Aerobic Fitness, Diet | CPD (UK) Accredited Certification on Fitness

🥊 About The Skinny Author

Yo Friends, this is Samarjit! A skinny guy who is building his tiny home gym.

I have successfully gained 10 kgs in 10 months going to commercial gyms. And I have been working out on and off for about 10+ years now.

I have gone swimming, done martial arts, Olympic lifts and body building type workouts!

I cancelled the gym subscription as I was more into making my home gym for workout. And getting ready, then getting my cycle and ride to the commercial gym seemed a drag after 10 hours in the office.

Thus, I needed a home that I can access at any moment!
And I started building my home gym!

I had to research a lot to build my home gym and decided to share effective, budget friendly home gym machines, nutrition to buy as per your goals here in

If you have question then contact here

Ps: Author is highly experienced with making small workout routines, understanding and guiding people to get gym equipment and set up home gym as per their Fitness goals.

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