Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

If you’re wondering the difference between barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs, you’ve come to the right place. Shrugs are a well-known exercise used to build up the upper traps. One can undertake this exercise with various machines, but the barbell and dumbbell are standard.

Barbell and Dumbbell shrugs are both result-yielding methods of increasing the upper traps, but barbell shrugs are reputed to be more effective. 

You might have been engaging in dumbbell shrugs for a while now, but exploring other options is also advisable; you can never tell which will help you achieve a more outstanding result.

Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs For a Beginner Lifter

Barbell shrugs have more significant positive aspects that surpass the negatives for a beginner. They are also more substantial, safer, can accommodate heavy loads, and are an excellent option for bodybuilding. 

You can consider various factors before you pick the right option for yourself. Let’s proceed to consider the differences between barbell shrugs and dumbbell shrugs.

The Barbell Shrug

The barbell shrug simulates the natural movement of the front trapezius muscle; that is, the aspect that can be gleaned from the front and fills the gap between the shoulders and the neck. 

It is an excellent exercise option for building your trap muscles as it can carry super heavy loads and make your results more extraordinary.

You can perform a barbell shrug by holding the barbell behind the back but typically, to achieve a barbell shrug, position yourself with a barbell held at arm’s length in front of you while ensuring that your palm faces your body. 

Then without bending your elbows, pull your shoulders as high as you can and slightly back. While you do the shrug, rolling your shoulders might not be necessary. The movement must be fully up and down to activate the upper traps.

The Dumbbell Shrug

With the barbell with a pair of dumbbells while performing the shrug movement. A super with the dumbbell shrug-heavy dumbbell must achieve the desired result of a dumbbell shrug. Dumbbell shrugs are easier than barbell shrugs.

The dumbbell and barbell shrugs are very similar in respect of functionality, and this is seen in the words of Dr. Yessis of Sports Lab, who stated that;

“For bodybuilders, the shoulder shrug is the main exercise for developing the upper portion of the trapezius muscle on both sides of the neck.”

Significant Differences Between Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

The main difference between both shrugs is that the dumbbell shrug is usually performed in a neutral grip. 

Here, the palm faces the body, and the back of the hand faces either left or right. The barbell shrug is performed with the back of the hand facing away from you from the front.

Also, the dumbbell shrug allows your arm to neither rotate in nor out and allows your traps to give themselves a little more range of motion.

On the other hand, the barbell shrug rotates your arm inward; this is a more uncomfortable position for your shoulder. However, it is essential to note that both shrugs are effective in a bodybuilding routine.

Pros and Cons of Barbell and Dumbbell Shrugs

Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

It is crucial to consider the barbell shrug pros, barbell shrug cons, dumbbell shrug cons, and dumbbell shrug pros. Both the barbell and dumbbell shrug have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Firstly, why should you do barbell shrugs instead of dumbbell shrugs? The various reasons are highlighted and explained below.

With Barbell, You Can Lift More

It is possible to naturally undertake heavy barbell shrugs than use a heavy pair of dumbbells for the exercise. As stated earlier, barbells can carry more severe and decisive loads making it possible to exert greater force and utilize more weight during your workout.

A Barbell Can Withstand Heavy Loads

You have to focus on weightlifting form, so any lifting movement that’s inherently easier to maintain is beneficial. 

Barbells help you maintain the exact shape you want, even if it comes with excruciating sacrifices. 

With Barbells, You Tend To Progress Faster

When a machine carries out its functions effectively, results and progress tend to come faster. That also applies to performing shrugs with barbells. Barbell shrugs accelerate your bodybuilding result and help deliver your desired target.

The following are why you should choose barbell shrugs over dumbbell shrugs. 

Easy Learning For a Beginner Lifter

Since the dumbbell cannot carry as much weight as the barbell, a beginner lifter can easily handle it and have more control of the weight. It is an excellent option for beginners who look forward to making progress.

Beneficial To An Experienced Lifter

The experienced lifter tends to benefit from dumbbell shrugs as they can overload their traps and grip by ending uplifting with dumbbells for that extra pump.

Finally, significant results can emanate from both movements if you put in your efforts and practice them well and meaningfully.

Are Shrugs the Only Trap Exercise a Beginner Can Do?

Barbell shrugs are practical and efficient trapeze exercises a beginner lifter can undertake. It shouldn’t be the only trap exercise to focus on, as you tend to achieve more growth when you train your muscles in various ways. The other trap exercises you might like to explore are as follows;


You can perform deadlifts by standing with the middle of your feet directly under the middle of the barbell. Go further to pick up the weight with approximate palm widths that fit your shoulders, bend your knees and touch the bar with your shins.

Also, ensure your lower back is straight, stand up with a deep breath, and take the weight with you. 

Effective performance of this move will set up your traps right away. When performing this deadlift correctly, there is a 100% tendency to achieve your desired trap result.

Barbell Row

There are so many variations of barbell rows, and you need to find the one that works for you.

Target your mid trap heavily depending on your form to perform the barbell row. As you stay upright, you will need to target your upper traps. If you row the bar higher on your chest, you will succeed in targeting your upper traps. Diligent performance of the barbell row leads to an effective result.

Farmer’s Walks

You can use isometric grips to achieve your trap development via farmer walks as a beginner. As a result, your trap will constantly maintain tension to keep your shoulders from sagging.

Other alternative trap exercises include; smith machine shrugs, behind-the-back shrugs, and trap bar shrugs.

The exercises mentioned above can ideally take the place of a shrug exercise, depending on your goal.

How Heavy Should a Barbell Shrugs or Dumbbell Shrugs Be?

As stated earlier in this article, you must sacrifice to achieve a perfect result. However, the accurate answer to the above-asked question is that both shrugs should always be slightly heavier than you find comfortable.

Consistently practicing either movement with progressively heavier weights will help you in your weightlifting program.

Effectively Working the Trapezius

What comes to the mind of most men when it comes to trapezius muscles is an oblique muscle that sits between the neck and shoulders. 

However, it is the only part of a large muscle that originates at the skull base, stretches to the scapula, and returns to the thoracic vertebrae. 

The muscle forms the kite’s shape down the middle of your back. The traps pull the shoulder blades together and also pull the shoulder up.

To train the traps effectively, you must engage in workouts that simulate the abovementioned actions. Therefore, you have to make two different moves to work the traps fully. 

Also, it would be best to do a two-handed cable pull exercise, squeezing your shoulder blades together to hit the middle trap.

For top traps, the shrug is the best trap exercise.

Common Mistakes and Form Errors in Dumbbell Shrugs

Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

There are three major mistakes in the performance of dumbbell shrugs. They are as follows;

Bending Your Elbows to Recruit the Biceps

If you get tired or heavy during a set, you may find yourself bending at the elbows to increase the dumbbells’ range of motion. This mistake happens when you focus more on the barbell’s movement than the shoulders.

Therefore, focusing on relaxing your arms as much as possible is advisable.

Going Too Hard

You can quickly get overzealous when choosing a weight for dumbbell shrugs. However, pick a weight that gives you as much range of motion as possible for all prescribed sets and reps to get the best result.

Failure to Go Through a Full Range of Motion

Because the dumbbell shrug is a small range of motion exercise, it’s pretty easy to be faster with your reps without figuring that you are not shrugging as much as possible. However, moving through the full range of motion increases the stimulus to muscle mass.

Benefits of Dumbbell Shrugs

There are various benefits to performing a dumbbell shrug, and they are as follows;

More Freedom of Movement

Because your arms have more range of motion, you have more freedom of movement when undertaking the dumbbell variation of the shrug. Therefore, you don’t have to utilize much load to get muscle stimulus on each rep.

Increase in Muscle Mass Around The Top Traps

Dumbbell shrugs are excellent for isolating the upper trapezius, and it’s a perfect addition to your back or shoulder exercises if you want to kick-start the increment of the size of your upper trapezius.

Increase Shoulder and Neck Strength for Sports

A strong upper back and neck will be necessary for athletes such as strongman competition athletes and martial arts athletes.

However, dumbbell shrugs greatly benefit athletes playing sports where strong neck muscles can assist in keeping the head stable and prevent severe injuries to the head area.

Benefits of Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs help strengthen the muscles located at the side of your neck and help control the movement of your shoulder blades. It also improves your pulling power required in other strength-training exercises like deadlifts and overhead presses.

It is important to note that your feet must be shoulder-width apart to achieve a great result when performing the shoulder shrug.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are the questions frequently asked by persons who are interested in engaging in the shrugs exercise;

Is it better to do shrugs with barbells or dumbbells?

We recommend you to choose barbell shrugs as they allow you to lift heavier weight and give room for mass gains.

Are dumbbell shrugs effective?

Dumbbell shrugs are also effective, most especially for a beginner. They are the best option for developing strong shoulders and upper trapezius muscles.

Are barbell shrugs effective?

Barbell shrugs are super practical as they give you fabulous results quickly.

Should you go heavy on shrugs?

Heavyweight is the best for building the traps; therefore, we advise you to go heavy on shrugs.


Barbell Shrugs Vs Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell shrugs and barbell shrugs have their merits and demerits and offer various strength and bodybuilding opportunities. You can decide to try the two if you are confused about the one that works for you.

If you found this article resourceful, check other fitness-related articles on

Other Related Articles:

Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.