What Do Dumbbell Shrugs Work?

Explaining Shoulder Shrugs and The Muscle Groups They Focus On

What are dumbbell shrugs?

Dumbbell shrugs (also known as shoulder shrugs or dumbbell shoulder shrugs) are an isolation exercise that target your upper trapezius muscles. Despite the inclusion of “shoulder” in the name, they actually focus more on the muscles in the upper back. They can be performed with free weight dumbbells, kettlebells or disc weights – really any kind of weight that can be easily held whilst performing the shoulder shrugging motion. For this article however, we’ll be discussing shoulder shrugs carried out with dumbbells.

How do you perform dumbbell shrugs?

Grab your weights, in this case a pair of dumbbells, and hold them by your sides. Keep your arms straight – don’t use them to lift, but instead envision your shoulders doing all the lifting. Bring your shoulders towards your ears and hold them for a couple of moments before bringing them back to the original starting position in a smooth, controlled motion. This action is classed as a rep. Repeat this movement for the desired number of reps. (Some people also rotate the shoulders in a rowing motion to really work all of the trapezius muscles!)

Dumbbell Shrugs

What are the muscles worked in dumbbell shrugs?

Most of the muscles worked through shoulder shrug exercises are actually located in the back. However, they can also build up a few parts of your body, including:

Trapezius muscles:

The main muscles targeted during dumbbell shrugs are your trapezius muscles, sometimes shortened to “traps”. Dumbbell shrugs are fantastic for isolating the traps during weight training and are one of the most effective exercises for building strength and muscle in the upper back, as well as improving posture!


Like most weight training exercises, dumbbell shrugs will engage your forearms. As you hold the dumbbells, even in a neutral position, the muscles in your forearms will naturally be used to help keep the dumbbells gripped in your hands. This can increase the strength in your forearms and assist you with other exercises too, like deadlifts and the bench press!


 Part of your shoulders do get targeted during dumbbell shoulder shrugs. Your rhomboid muscle group, one of the main muscle groups that help with shoulder mobility and movement, become active during the motion that the exercise involves. This helps strengthen these muscles and aids mobility.

Avoiding Injury when performing Dumbbell Shrugs

Like all exercises, performing dumbbell shrugs should be done in a manner that promotes healthy muscle engagement and doesn’t promote serious strain or injury. If you’re prone to back injuries or have any pre-existing health condition that may be triggered by performing exercise, you should consult with a doctor or physician prior to beginning any new exercise, especially those involving heavy weights or ones you’re not used to.


To minimise the risk of injury when carrying out dumbbell shrugs, you should:

  • Start with a weight that you are able to lift comfortably, so you are not straining any part of your body more than necessary.
  • Lift with a slow and controlled motion – no jerking or erratic movements, as this will increase the chance of pulling or straining a muscle.
  • Pay attention to any new and unpleasant feelings in the body, such as a sharp pain or discomfort when carrying out the exercise.

It also helps to aid recovery if you leave 24-48 hours between training the same muscle group twice. Not only does this help the muscles recover faster to stimulate adequate growth, but also reduces the chance of injury by overworking the muscles.

If you’re looking for some new dumbbells to carry out your dumbbell shrugs with, or even just looking to spruce up your home gym equipment, we have an excellent range of dumbbells on offer on our website, relife sports. Some models that you can use for your  dumbbell shrugs include:

We offer a wide range of sizes and colours in our neoprene dumbbell sets, which are fully customisable to suit your needs. You can order a pair of dumbbells, each ranging from 3-20lbs, ideal for children or beginners, and definitely a safe bet for incorporating shoulder shrugs into your routine! The neoprene coating ensures they are easy to grip, and their cast iron core is designed for durability and long term usage.

For the more intermediate weight lifter, the VIGBODY dumbbells are a great option. The dumbbell pairs come in a range of sizes from 25lbs to 45lbs and are built with a solid cast iron design, ensuring that rust has the smallest possible chance of forming! The ergonomically designed handle pattern provides excellent grip, making sure the weights won’t slip from your hand during exercise. The PEV materials coating the edges are a real benefit as well, as the 7mm thickness of the PEV protects your floor and surfaces from scratches or dents.

A hexagonal dumbbell that is available in sizes from 15lbs to 50lbs, the RELIFE SD model provides a wide range of dumbbell weights for various exercises whilst still boasting useful features such as the non-slip handles and the protection of the odourless PEV materials.

Similar to the hexagonal dumbbell models above, but round! If you like your dumbbells to be easy to grip, made of odourless PEV materials but also able to roll, this is the option for you! Available in sizes ranging from 5lbs to 50lbs!

If you like being able to adjust the amount of weight on your dumbbell, these PITHAGE dumbbell sets are right up your street. With a total weight of 45lbs, these dumbbells are made up of a 15.75 inch bar equipped with spin lock collars and three sets of disc plates, including 1.25lbs, 2.75lbs and 5.5lbs! These are ideal for those who enjoy regularly customising their workouts to keep things challenging!

Whatever type of dumbbell you’re after, we have an enticing range of options on the relifesports website, which will all help build strength, promote muscle growth and burn fat. Oh, and most importantly – they’re all suitable for performing dumbbell shrugs!

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Comments (1)

  1. Kenneth Cottier

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