Spot the Error: Dumbbell Shrug

Dumbbell Shrugs

One of these photos shows a critical but common mistake on the dumbbell shrug. One shows a straight up-and-down motion, while the other indicates a rolling of the shoulders. Can you spot which one is wrong?

By Jimmy Peña MS, CSCS

About the Dumbbell Shrug

Dumbbell Shrug 1

The traps, though often thought of as one muscle, really function as three different muscles with different movements. The upper traps, which make up the most mass of the overall muscle, primarily lift and rotate the shoulder blades upward (mainly targeted with the dumbbell shrug). The middle traps primarily pull the shoulder blades together, and the lower traps rotate the shoulder blades downward. Using dumbbells allows your core musculature to engage more readily to help provide overall balance and stability.

Spot the Error

Dumbbell Shrug 2

Because of what we know about the anatomy and function of the traps, the error is easy to spot. With the dumbbells in hand at your sides, you’re working in the vertical plane against gravity. Because the standard dumbbell shrug zeros in on the meaty upper traps, you don’t need to rotate or roll your shoulders in any direction. Besides being less effective, rolling your shoulders doesn’t incorporate any of the other parts of the traps, and you’re also causing undue stress to the delicate rotator-cuff muscles to perform that wasted motion.

✔Fix It

With the dumbbells at your sides try to touch your ears with your shoulders. Keeping that goal in mind will help you stay strict and within the safe and effective vertical path. You may also want to invest in a pair of pulling straps because the traps musculature is stronger than your grip. You don’t want your hands to fail before your upper traps reach their point of fatigue.

Beginner’s Tip

Head over to the Smith machine. The Smith version is great because you don’t have to worry about balancing the dumbbells in your hands; rather you can simply focus on shrugging some good weight up and down in the vertical plane. When that up-and-down motion feels natural, try the dumbbell version to round out your exercise selection for upper-traps training. Just make sure you don’t roll your shoulders.

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