If you want to build bigger and stronger shoulder muscles, you will most likely want to add dumbbell shrugs to your routine. This simple-sounding exercise mimics your movements if someone asks you a question and you’re not sure of the answer but with a dumbbell in each hand. It especially targets the traps — the trapezius muscles that run from your neck to the middle of your back, and across your shoulders.
In addition to the trapezius muscles, you’re working your rhomboids during this exercise, as well as working on your forearms and grip strength. If your goal is to increase your grip strength, this is a great exercise to add. Building stronger traps will help increase your strength during deadlifts, overhead presses, rows and pull-ups.
But what would happen if you shrugged your shoulders 50 times a day for a week? To find out, I picked up a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, and added shoulder shrugs to my week-long routine.
As a reminder, it’s not recommended to train the same muscle groups every day — your body needs adequate time to recover, and muscles need time to repair and grow. I usually do a few strength sessions a week, along with running and Pilates, what works for me may not work for you and your body, and it’s always good to check your form with a personal trainer before adding reps, or adding weights.
How to do dumbbell shrugs
To shrug with dumbbells, you’ll need two weights — check out the best adjustable dumbbells and the best kettlebells for lifting weights at home. When choosing the right weight for you, remember that it shouldn’t interfere with your figure. It will feel challenging, but not impossible with the last few reps.
- Begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand, and feet hip-width apart.
- Engage your core, think about sucking in your belly button in toward your spine, and pull your shoulders toward the ceiling. Make sure you keep your chest open — you don’t want to arch your shoulders in this move.
- Once you reach the peak of your range of motion, close your traps for a few seconds.
- Slowly and with control, reverse the movement, lowering your weight back to the starting position.
As always, the key to this exercise is moving with good form. You should aim to maintain a neutral head and neck position throughout this exercise and keep your arms extended, with a dumbbell in each hand. Remember the move comes from your trap, so think about keeping your chest open and your shoulders back, and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you complete the shrug.
I did 50 dumbbell shrugs a day for a week – this is what happened to my shoulders
I feel this one on my forearm
Even though the main muscle you engage with dumbbell shrugs is a trap, after the first day, my forearms were burning after 50 reps of this exercise. I opted for a set of 15 pound dumbbells, and boy, that hurt. Luckily, by the end of the week, things got easier, and I was able to increase the load a bit by doing five sets of ten reps, resetting and shaking for a few seconds between sets. My grip strength isn’t great, so this is definitely an exercise I will stick with in my future upper body workouts.
Slow and steady wins the race
I have to slow down and think about squeezing an orange between my shoulder blades as I raise and lower the dumbbells. When I asked a personal trainer to look at my form, he noted that when I’m tired and bored towards the end of my reps, I tend to move off my shoulders, and speed up my reps. He explains that the small pause at the top of the movement, and the slow release of returning to the starting position, is as important as the upward movement itself.
I have to work not to strain my neck
I also had to really think about keeping my head and neck relaxed during this movement. As I did the last few reps, I noticed my chin starting to creep out, straining my neck. This can cause strain and injury in the long term, so it is not recommended.
I mixed everything up
As usual with challenges this week, in the last few days I was getting tired of the non-stop shrugs, so I mixed things up by swapping the dumbbells for the barbells. Obviously with barbell shrugs, your palms are facing your body, and I definitely had to work a lot harder to keep my chest open in this move. Other days I opt for one-arm dumbbell shrugs, working one shoulder at a time. I found my core had to work harder to keep my body in line with this variation, as I have a tendency to sway from side to side.
I feel stronger
Of course, a week isn’t long enough to make any physical changes to the body, but after seven days of shrugging with dumbbells, my traps definitely feel a lot stronger. I also feel like I’ve honed my technique, and worked on my grip strength. While I wouldn’t recommend doing the same exercise every day, it’s a great addition to your upper body routine.
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