Alternatives to Barbell Shrugs

Build a strong back and shoulders with alternatives to the barbell shrug.
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The barbell shrug is a strength exercise that isolates the upper portion of the trapezius, or traps, muscle. While it is a simple and effective exercise for building a strong neck and shoulder area, it can only be done if you own or have access to a barbell and plate weights. If you don't, there are alternatives to the barbell shrug that are just as effective.

Dumbbell Shrug

Dumbbell shrugs not only isolate your traps in the same way as the barbell shrug, but it also requires each side of the muscle to work independently, leading to greater muscle balance. Stand with your legs slightly apart, back straight, stomach tight and hold a dumbbell in each hand. In a controlled manner, shrug your shoulders as high as possible. Slowly return to the starting position. Kettlebells or even gallon jugs filled with water or sand can be used in place of the dumbbells.

Cable Shrug

Unlike free weight shrugs, the cable shrug uses resistance from a fixed point. Attach a rope cable or bar to a low pulley machine and adjust the weight to a challenging resistance. Stand facing the machine with your legs slightly apart and your torso erect. Grasp the bar or rope with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. With your arms straight, elevate your shoulders as high as possible, pause at the top of the movement, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Resistance bands can also be used for this exercise if you don't have access to a cable machine. Ensure that the bands are securely attached to a sturdy object before you begin the exercise.

Inverted Shrug

The inverted shrug is a challenging exercise that uses your own body weight to isolate the traps. This exercise should only be attempted by experienced exercisers with adequate upper body strength. Inverted shrugs can be performed using parallel bars, gymnastic rings or any other contraption that allows you to hang upside down. Stand between the bars, grasp one in each hand, squat down then kick your legs up so that you're hanging upside down between the bars. Once you are balanced and situated on the bars, lift your body upward by shrugging your shoulders toward your ears. Relax and carefully return to the starting position.


Use the appropriate weight and repetitions to meet your fitness goals. If you are trying to build muscle, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends using 70 to 85 percent of your one-repetition max weight for eight to 12 repetitions and completing two to three sets. On the other hand, improvements in muscular endurance require completing two to three sets of 12 to 20 reps using lighter weights. Perform a 5- to 10-minute warmup before your workout and adequately stretch each muscle group after the workout.

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