How to improve shrugs for killer traps: 7 mistakes
Shrugs is hands-down the best exercise to build a killer trapezius muscle.
Do you want to have big traps?
Raise your hand if you want bigger traps.
They add a great aesthetic appeal to your looks.
The trapezius is a big muscle which covers the upper back and is a strong stabilizer.
A strong and well-developed trapezius gives stability to your neck and shoulder.
Shrugs is probably one of the simplest movement to execute yet I see a lot of people doing it wrong all the time.
We will be talking about the movement in detail.
But first, let us understand a bit about the trapezius muscle. This will help you to know how the muscle functions and the most effective way to target your trapezius.
The trapezius is a big, flat, superficial muscle which covers the posterior (back) of the neck and most of the upper back.
This muscle helps in moving, rotating and stabilizing the scapula (shoulder blades). The other important function is extending the head at the neck (pulling your head back).
The Trapezius can be divided into three parts. All three parts have distinct functions:
The upper fiber of trapezius –
The upper fiber acts upon the scapula (shoulder blades) by elevating it.
It also provides stability to shoulder when carrying a weight.
The other important function of the upper fiber is the hyperextension of the head when the other muscles hold the scapula in place.
The middle fiber of trapezius –
The middle fiber pulls the shoulder blades closer to each other.
The lower fiber of trapezius –
The lower fiber depresses the scapula towards the inferior thoracic vertebrae.
Technically, when we are talking about the shrugs we are targeting the upper fiber of trapezius.
The middle and lower fibers of the trapezius are worked optimally with movements like Bent over rows, Low cable rows, Lat pull down, and Chin-ups.
We have covered the basic functions of the trapezius muscle. Now let’s discuss what many guys do wrong when doing shrugs.
Now let’s discuss what many guys do wrong when doing shrugs.
7 Things that go wrong when doing Shrugs
1. Not Doing a full range of motion
This is a common problem I have seen with many exercises. But when it comes to shrugs it’s just worse.
Some guys have so little movement that if you look at them from a distance you won’t even notice that their shoulders are lifting. They look like they are just standing there holding the dumbbells.
They do not pull the dumbbell all the way up. Doing it partially will not create the maximum impact, thus there will be low stimulus to grow.
In shrugs, the movement is very small. Unlike a bent over row or squat or overhead press where the weight has to travel a longer distance.
The smaller the movement the more you will have room to cheat to finish the set.
2. Doing it too fast
This means that every rep should look separate from the next rep.
After completing one rep, take a deep breath before starting the next rep.
Our goal is to work the muscle and to not just finish the set or hit a particular number of reps.
This is one mistake that most people make when doing shrugs. As soon as they pull the shoulders up, they just bring it down.
These guys look to be in a hurry to just complete the particular number of reps they have in mind.
What they don’t realize is that it is not creating enough load on the trapezius. As they are not using the muscle to its full potential.
When you pull the shoulders up, try pulling it up all the way before bringing it down.
This brings us to another problem of how you bring your shoulders down.
3. Dropping the shoulder without any muscle control
Many simply pull the dumbbells up and drop it without any control with their muscles.
This will not be counted as one rep; as one rep means 1 concentric and 1 eccentric (1 up and 1 down).
From the top they just let their shoulders drop.
This is neither correct nor safe particularly when lifting heavy. The movement is stopped by the joints and not the muscles.
This will put a lot of unnecessary load on the shoulder joints. Your muscles should be putting the break not your joints.
4. Going too heavy
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting to lift light weight in shrugs.
The weight you choose should be as heavy as you can lift. But the most important thing here is that you should be able to maintain the proper posture and full range of motion.
If this is not happening, the weight is too heavy for you right now.
Always remember you should be controlling the weight not the other way around.
Also, lifting weights that are too heavy for you will involve your whole body to pull the weight up. Thus, taking away a lot of stress from our target muscle. And not training the muscle effectively.
5. Pulling back the head (Hyperextension)
The other function of the traps is to pull the head in extended position.
The muscle cannot do two functions simultaneously (i.e. pulling the shoulders up as well as pulling the head back).
To completely engage the entire trap muscle, you have to keep your head and neck neutral.
Another mistake a lot of guys make is doing a lot of neck movement.
Once the head and the neck are in neutral position there should be no to-and-fro motion as you lift the shoulder up.
If you are lifting heavy weight then this jerky motion of the neck may cause neck strain.
6. Bending the body forward instead of hip hinge
This is a lot more common with beginners. But I have seen many experienced heavy lifters making the same mistake.
There is a difference between pushing your hips back and bending forward.
Hip hinge position gives room to keep the hands perpendicular to the ground without taking the dumbbells away from the body.
When you bend forward, you move the dumbbell away from the body. Thus, making it more challenging to control the dumbbells.
This will reduce the load on the target muscle as you are wasting your energy to control the dumbbell.
Remember the closer the weight is to the body the more the weight is in your control.
Another possible effect is it will put too much strain on your lower back.
As bending forward will load up your lower back to control the spine from bending. And also the weight is in less control so it might cause a strain on your lower back.
7. Bending of elbows
This happens when the weight is too heavy.
Since you are not able to pull it all the way up and you are aware of it so try to pull it up by bending your elbows.
One thing I want to say here is to focus on your traps instead of the dumbells.
There is a big difference between pulling the shoulders up and pulling the dumbbells up.
When your focus is to pull the dumbbells up you will bend your elbows.
But when you focus on the shoulder you will not cheat by bending the elbows. Because you are aware that this will not lift your shoulders any higher.
Should you be using Weightlifting Straps
Your traps are capable of lifting weight way heavier than what your forearms are capable of holding.
When the weight is heavy your focus may divert to the grip as the grip starts getting loose.
You will be doing some 10-12 reps. And your grip strength will not allow you to hold a heavy dumbbell for this long.
Thus, you will not be able to properly challenge the strength of traps as you have to put down the dumbbell. Because of the failure of the forearms instead of the traps.
The setup means what you do before starting the movement. And this is very important to know if you want to make the movement more effective.
Place the dumbbell on a flat bench or any flat surface. The height should be above knee height.
Now wrap the strap around the handle and hold the grip tight.
The distance between the legs will be slightly wider than hip width. And the toes pointing forward.
Before lifting, take a deep breath, tighten your back and stand up straight.
If you are lifting heavy dumbbells, do not pick it up from the ground.
Lifting a heavy weight from the ground will drain a lot of energy before getting to the starting position.
You will not be able to take the grip properly with the straps. You will be putting unnecessary pressure on your spine.
The execution: How to do it properly
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width. And toes pointing forward.
- Keep your knees soft. This will engage the gluteus muscle. It helps in absorbing the pressure from your lower back.
- Now push your hips back in a hinge position. As mentioned above, many people make the mistake of bending the upper body forward instead of pushing the hips back.
- This position allows your hands to be directly under your shoulder line.
- The shoulder should not be dropping forward. Keep your shoulders tight.
- The hands should be in a ‘Natural Hang’ position. As shown in the video.
- Fix your gaze on the floor, approx. six feet in front of you. Or if you are standing in front of a mirror, then fix your gaze on your toes in the mirror. This will maintain your head in a steady position.
- As discussed above, this will allow you to lift the shoulders higher thus increasing the load on the muscle.
- Maintain a neutral back and keep your elbows straight.
Go as heavy as you can but with full range of motion. Never sacrifice the range for the weight.