If you’re looking to build bigger, stronger shoulder muscles, chances are you’ll want to add the dumbbell shrug to your routine. This simple-sounding exercise mimics your movement if someone asks you a question and you’re unsure of the answer but with a dumbbell in each hand. It mainly targets the traps — the trapezius muscle that spans from the neck to the middle of your back, and across your shoulders.
As well as the trapezius muscle, you’re also working your rhomboids during this exercise, as well as working on your forearms and grip strength. If increasing your grip strength is your goal, this is a good 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 did 50 dumbbell shrugs every single day for a week? To find out, I grabbed a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, and added dumbbell shrugs to my routine for a week.
As a reminder, it’s not recommended to work the same muscle group day after day — your body needs adequate time to recover, and muscles need time to repair and grow. I normally do a couple of strength sessions a week, along with running and Pilates, what works for me might not be right for you and your body, and it’s always good to check your form with a personal trainer before increasing your reps, or adding weights.
How to do the dumbbell shrug
To do the dumbbell shrug you’ll need two weights — check out the best adjustable dumbbells and the best kettlebells for weight lifting at home. When it comes to selecting the right weight for you, remember that at no point should the weight compromise your form. It should feel challenging, but not impossible by the final few reps.
- Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand, and your feet hip-width apart.
- Engage your core, thinking about sucking your belly button in towards your spine, and draw your shoulders up to the ceiling. Make sure you keep your chest open — you don’t want to round your shoulders in this move.
- Once you reach the top of your range of motion, squeeze your traps together for a couple of seconds.
- Slowly and with control, reverse the movement, lowering your weights back to your 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 long, with a dumbbell in each hand, throughout. Remember the move is coming from your traps, so think about keeping your chest open and shoulders back, and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you complete the shrug.
I did 50 dumbbell shrugs a day for a week — here’s what happened to my shoulders
I felt this one in my forearms
Although the main muscle you’re working with the dumbbell shrug is the traps, after day one, my forearms were on fire after 50 reps of this exercise. I selected a set of 15-pound dumbbells, and boy, it hurt. Luckily, by the end of the week, things had gotten easier, and I was able to increase the weight slightly by doing five sets of ten reps, re-setting and shaking out for a few seconds between sets. My grip strength isn’t all that great, so this is definitely an exercise I’ll keep in my upper-body workouts in the future.
Slow and steady wins the race
I had to slow down and think about squeezing an orange between my shoulder blades as I lifted and lowered the dumbbells. When I asked a personal trainer to take a look at my form, she noted that as I tired and got bored towards the end of my reps, I tended to move from my shoulders, and rushed my reps. She explained that the little pause at the top of the movement, and the slow release back to your starting position, was as important as the upwards motion itself.
I had to work on not tensing my neck
I also had to really think about keeping my head and neck relaxed during this move. As I got to my final few reps, I noticed my chin started to creep outwards, tensing my neck. This can cause tension and injury in the long run, so it definitely isn’t recommended.
I mixed things up
As always with these week-long challenges, by the final few days I was getting a little bored of endlessly shrugging, so I mixed things up by swapping the dumbbells for a barbell. Obviously with barbell shrugs your palms are facing toward your body, and I definitely had to work harder to keep my chest open in this move. Another day I opted for single-arm dumbbell shrugs, working one shoulder at a time. I found my core had to work harder to keep my torso still with this variation, as I had a tendency to rock from side to side.
I felt stronger
Of course, a week isn’t anywhere near long enough to make physical changes to the body, but after seven days of dumbbell shrugs, my traps definitely felt a lot stronger. I also felt I’d honed my technique, and worked on my grip strength. While I wouldn’t recommend doing the same exercise day after day, this is a good one to add to your upper body routine.