What Is the Proper Form for a Shoulder Shrug?

by Jolie Johnson

The shoulder shrug is an isolation exercise that only involves movement at the shoulders. This upper-back exercise has a very small range of motion, and one of the most common form mistakes, according to ExRx.net, is attempting to extend the range of motion by adding extra movements.


The shoulder shrug exercise involves lifting your shoulders toward your ears. This is a basic movement with a small range of motion — only a few inches. The range of motion varies from person to person, depending on your flexibility. The shoulder shrug exercise targets your trapezius muscles, specifically the upper and middle fibers. Your rhomboids and levator scapulae -- a muscle in your neck -- also engage during the shrug movement.


Hold a barbell in front of your thighs with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Keep your elbows straight and do not bend them at any time during the movement. Your arms act as hooks to hold the weight. Pull your shoulder blades down and back. Exhale and lift your shoulders toward your ears. Pause for a count and then slowly lower your shoulders back to the starting position. Do not allow them to simply drop back down; control this phase of the movement.


Do not roll your shoulders forward or backward as you lift them. This is a simple lifting motion; it does not involve any rotation of the shoulders. Because you are in a standing position, the weight does not act against the muscle if you move your shoulders in a horizontal position, so adding this extra movement does not yield any benefit. Keep your wrists and elbows straight, and your head in alignment with your spine. Don't pull your head forward or relax it backward.


Use a barbell, shrug machine, Smith machine or dumbbells for the shoulder-shrug exercise. If you use dumbbells, you can hold them at your sides with your palms facing you. This might be more comfortable for some lifters. Keep your torso erect throughout the movement; do not allow your back to arch. Pull your belly button into your spine to engage your abdominal muscles and help stabilize your torso.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.