Sports Training

Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs – Which Exercise Variation is More Effective For Traps?

There is nothing more commanding than a pair of thick and high traps on a well-built physique.

Don’t agree? Just take a look at Yoel Romero from the UFC or Kratos from God of war and you will realize that perhaps more than any muscle in the upper body, a large set of juicy traps just screams ‘strength’!

Shrug of War: Barbell vs Dumbbell

So whether you are looking to battle the mythical gods, dominate in the octagon, or just want to give the cuties something to hold on to, let us analyze the pros and cons of the two most commonly used variations of the weighted shrug and decide which one is the best for you to get yoked like an Olympic wrestler.

Is the barbell shrug better than the dumbbell shrug?

 If your goal is to gain strength the barbell shrug should take priority as it allows you to load more weight safely because the barbell provides more stability and makes progressive overload easier from one workout to the next.

The barbell shrug is also a better choice for the beginner sports athlete or newbie lifter because it does not require as much utilization of stabilizer muscles and is easier to grip compared to Dumbbells. Just try shrugging a 240lbs barbell compared to a 120lbs dumbbell in each hand and you will realize what we mean!

Speaking of grip, you can also switch it up to attack the traps from as many angles as possible by using the wide grip, shoulder width grip and behind the leg variations of the barbell shrug.

The use of barbell can also be considered more of a compound movement as it requires more use of the larger muscles like the back, lats, and glutes to be activated compared to dumbbells which activate the deltoids more and as we all know more compound movements lead to more overall growth.

There is also the convenience of having the barbell placed on the rack and not having to deadlift the weight up and down every set, which might not sound like much of a hassle but when you are at the end of a grueling session you need all the gas in the tank, especially considering that the average lifter does shrugs as more of a ‘finisher’ rather than a primary exercise. I am yet to see someone start a workout with shrugs, but hey! if you are a trap freak, we don’t mind.

The ease of loading and unloading the barbell cannot be overlooked when compared to scurrying around the gym like a headless chicken, looking for bigger/smaller dumbbells and waiting for people to finish their set so you may ‘borrow’ the dumbbells which rarely go beyond 120lbs in most commercial gyms.

Yet another victory for the barbell which lets you add as much weight as you can handle!

So, does all this mean that you should just stick to barbell shrugs and shrug yourself to oblivion in hopes of trapezius world glory? Before we can give a verdict, let’s consider how the dumbbell shrug stacks up against the uncrowned king (barbell) of trap development and decide if it is a worthy contender.

What makes the dumbbell shrug better than the barbell version?

With so much praise showered upon the barbell variant, you must be thinking that we are overlooking its dumbbell cousin, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Dumbbell shrug actually has a lot going for it as well and in some ways is actually better, for example dumbbells allow the lifter more range of motion in both the eccentric and concentric phases of the lift.

The use of dumbbells in doing shrugs is also better for grip strength and definitely ‘burns’ the forearms more than the barbell to get them nice and vascular.

The Dumbbell variation of shrugs is also better in developing a more symmetrical set of traps because the unilateral work required from each side of the traps corrects any strength or superficial imbalance that might be present.

Furthermore, the dumbbell version is also better for older lifters or those recovering from back injury as it is comparatively easier on the lower back and spine, especially during heavy shrugs.

The same holds true if you are recovering from a heavy deadlifting or leg day and want to rest your back and legs while still working on traps, the dumbbell shrug can easily be done in a seated position to really isolate the traps.

It is also the opinion of a lot of advanced lifters that the Dumbbell shrug gives for better ‘height’ or ‘pop’ to the traps compared to the barbell, which does make your traps look damn good in a t-shirt.


Battle of the Shrugs: Which Variation is More Effective?

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are trying to figure out the most efficient way to develop the trapezius muscle?

The answer to this depends on your personal workout goals.

That being said if your goal is to gain strength and/or you are a relatively new lifter the barbell shrug should be prioritized before the dumbbell as it has a greater overall effect.

But if you are an experienced lifter with sufficient mass/strength, the dumbbell shrug might be more effective for you in attaining more ‘aesthetic’ and ‘fuller’ looking trap.

We recommend doing both the dumbbell and barbell shrug along with other trap building exercises such as the farmer’s walk, high face-pull and even the smith machine shrug while changing your workout every few weeks to surprise your muscles so their growth doesn’t become trapped (pun intended) and you can carry the iron to yoked glory or at least the ability to carry all the groceries to the kitchen in a single trip.

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