How to Do Dumbbell Shrugs: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Dumbbell Shrug exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Shrugs

Muscles worked in dumbbell shrugs

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Dumbbell Shrugs

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Lift your shoulders straight up as high as possible.
  3. Lower your shoulders again.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Dumbbell Shrug

The dumbbell shrug is a trapezius exercise that involves shrugging your shoulders while holding a pair of dumbbells.

The exercise can also be performed with a barbell, in which case it is called a barbell shrug.

Which Muscles Does Dumbbell Shrugs Work?

The dumbbel shrug works your upper trapezius muscle. If you are not using lifting straps to hold on to the dumbbells, you will also work your grip muscles.

If working your trapezius is your goal, however, you might want to consider using lifting straps so that your grip strength does not limit the training effect for your traps.

Muscles worked in dumbbell shrugs

Benefits of Dumbbell Shrugs

  • Targeted muscle building. Dumbbell shrugs are great for targeting the trapezius’ upper part, making it a good exercise if you want to improve strength and size in that area.
  • Accessible. The only thing you need is a pair of heavy dumbbells, which makes the exercise very accessible for most lifters.

Dumbbell Shrugs: Proper Form & Technique

Dumbbell shrugs starting position
Starting position
Dumbbell shrugs top position
Top position


Stand with the dumbbells in your hands, and make sure to keep a good posture and tension in your core during the entire movement.

The movement should come from your shoulders, not your arms or wrists. Your arms should remain straight while you lift your shoulders up towards your ears.

The range of motion in this exercise is quite short, so do the movement slow and controlled, preferably with a short pause in the top position to get a longer time under tension.

Common Mistakes in Dumbbell Shrugs

  • Not maintaining correct form. Your arms should be straight and passive; the lifting motion should come entirely from your shoulders and traps. The shoulders should go straight up and down and not move forward/backward.
  • Picking the wrong weight. This is an exercise where it’s easy to pick both a weight that’s too heavy, which can lead to difficulties with keeping a proper form, and a weight that is too light. If you feel like the grip strength is what’s holding you back from picking a heavier weight, don’t hesitate to use lifting straps.

Dumbbell Shrugs vs Barbell Shrugs

The differences between dumbbell and barbell shrugs are quite small, and both are effective exercises for strengthening the trapezius muscle. The choice between the two comes down to personal preference, comfort, and available equipment.

The dumbbell version allows for a slighter longer range of motion, while most lifters find it easier to lift heavier in the barbell version.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do in the Dumbbell Shrugs?

The classic recommendation is to use heavy weights and do around 1–5 reps per set if your goal is increased strength, and moderately heavy weights and do 6–15 reps per set if your goal is combined strength and muscle gain.

The dumbbell shrug typically lends itself best to the medium rep range of 6–15 reps, as any heavier dumbbells can become very impractical. It is also a little easier to control the technique and perform dumbbell shrugs with proper form in the medium rep range.

Regarding the number of sets you should do of dumbbell shrugs, it depends on what other trapezius training you are doing throughout your training week and also your fitness level.

Generally speaking, if you don’t already do plenty of training for your trapezius and you are fairly new to training, a good starting point is to do around two to three sets of dumbbell shrugs per workout, up to a max of about ten sets per week.

As you get more accustomed to the exercise, you might increase the total training volume by a few more sets. But once again, this depends on your total training volume.

Training Programs That Include Dumbbell Shrugs

All of the training programs above, and many more, are available in our free workout log app StrengthLog.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

Read more:

>> Return to exercise directory.