Trapezius muscles. Traps. Meat pillows. We all call them something different. It’s that bit of muscle between your shoulders and neck — although it actually extends further than most of us realize. Your traps start at the base of your neck, then go across your shoulders, and span down to the middle of your back. Your traps aren’t there just to make you look extra athletic. They also help you move your head, neck, shoulders, arms, and even your torso. Here’s what the muscle looks like.

trapezius muscles

How to Build Strength in Your Trapezius with Dumbbell Shrugs

If you lift weights, then you might very likely build your traps without even trying. This is especially the case for Olympic weightlifters since every pull of the barbell demands that the traps activate. However, if you want to improve your trap strength further, you can do that with dumbbell shrugs!

The exercise is pretty simple. Stand up straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing inward toward your body. Make sure your spine, neck, and head are in alignment. To ensure you’re standing with the correct posture, push your shoulders back slightly so that you avoid slouching. From here, simply shrug by bringing your shoulders up toward your ears, squeeze for a moment, and then release. Remember, time under tension triggers muscle growth (also called hypertrophy). So, don’t rush these.

This is what it’s going to look like:

You can use just about any type of weight for this — dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, plates, or a barbell.

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What Weight Should You Use for Dumbbell Shrugs?

Consider that the range of motion for this movement is very limited. All you’re doing is shrugging your shoulders. So, you’re going to be able to go pretty heavy. As long as you can pick up and hang onto the dumbbells, feel free to experiment with weights you wouldn’t normally touch. Also, be mindful of keeping your core engaged and your shoulders slightly back. If you notice your torso start to sag at all, you might be holding too much weight.

Keep the rep count high for this — something around 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

What are the Benefits of Dumbbell Shrugs?

Yes, you’ll build up your meat pillows. But there are even more benefits of shrugs beyond aesthetics. It’s going to build strength in not just your trapezius but your shoulders as a whole. This, in turn, helps to support and stabilize your neck, which means that you’ll be able to perform upper body exercises more efficiently and safely.

Plus, because you have a dumbbell in each hand, you’re going to notice if one side is significantly stronger than the other. And if this is the case, you can work to correct that imbalance, which will help you prevent injury in the long run.

Shrugs are a very simple exercise that can add serious muscle growth to your upper body. Plus, they’re quick and easy to weave into your weekly programming. Try them on as an accessory exercise and let us know what you think!