overhead shrug

When it comes to isolating the upper traps for overall gains in upper back thickness, basic shrugs have always been the go to exercise for most lifters out there. These can be performed using barbells, dumbbells or cables and are certainly one of the best trapezius exercises for this purpose.

In today’s post I want to introduce you to a highly effective variation of the standard shrug that you can also use as part of your traps workout known as the “overhead shrug”.

Although it’s a very uncommon lift that you’ll rarely see being performed in the gym, overhead shrugs carry a multitude of benefits that definitely make it a worthwhile exercise to include in your training plan.

This is because the overhead shrug not only effectively adds mass to your upper traps, but it also helps to improve your overall upper body posture and mobility at the same.

trapeizus muscle

Many lifters who perform standard bodybuilding exercises in the gym over a lengthy period of time (such as deadlifts, chins/pulldowns, rows, regular shrugs or any movement where you’re holding heavy weights at your sides) will often have what is known as a “depressed scapula”, also referred to as “low shoulders”.

If you have a noticeable downward slope in your shoulders when standing with your arms at your sides then there’s a good chance that you already have this postural issue.

depressed scapula

This problem is often exacerbated further through poor day to day postural habits, such as a sitting for lengthy periods of time without your shoulders supported or by wearing a heavy backpack.

Without going into too much detail, excessive scapular depression can eventually lead to all kinds of problems, such as compression of the tendons of the rotator cuff, compression of the nerves that run under the collarbone, and decreased shoulder mobility which can cause shoulder impingement and several other potential issues you’ll definitely want to avoid.

Overhead shrugs help to directly counteract this by focusing on upwardly rotating the scapula for improved shoulder health, and while building your traps at the same time.

These are definitely one of the best trapezius exercises out there, and here’s how to go about performing them…

(I’d highly suggest watching the video below for a live demonstration of this lift)

Proper Overhead Shrugs Form

These can be done using either a barbell or dumbbells, and for this demonstration I’ll be using dumbbells…

1) Hold onto the weights with a fairly wide grip several inches outside of shoulder width and press the weight directly overhead.

2) Keep your arms straight and locked, and contract your abs and glutes.

3) While keeping your torso upright, head neutral and arms locked at all times, elevate your scapula and press the weight directly overhead as if you were trying to touch your shoulders to your ears.

4) Pause for a full second at the top of each rep.

5) Lower the weights back down into a comfortable starting position without depressing the scapula at the bottom of each rep, as the goal here is to focus primarily on upward rotation.

Always start off very lightly on this exercise until you get a good feel for the movement and can feel a strong contraction in your traps on each rep. These may feel slightly awkward when you’re just getting started, but with a bit of practice you’ll fall into the proper groove.

You can execute your overhead shrugs for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, and as with any lift, focus on very gradually increasing the resistance over time while maintaining proper form.

Give overhead shrugs a try as part of your traps workout and see what you think. If you’re looking for a new way to stimulate growth in your upper back while improving your overall posture and shoulder mobility at the same time, these are definitely one of the best trapezius exercises to add into your routine.

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