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Sitting at work for long hours, going through emails and messages constantly on the laptop or phone are some of the common problems affecting the posture of most people these days. 

While getting up from a sitting position every half an hour is the best way to avoid chronic neck pain, back pain or shoulder pain, regular exercise is also a must for those habituated to spending hours in constricted postures.

Gym workouts help you gain muscle and strength, of course. But they are also beneficial for strengthening otherwise weaker muscles and tissues in the body. Shoulder workouts are a great way to keep niggling aches and pains away - not to mention the fact that clothes fit better on the body when you have sculpted shoulders. 

Apart from staple shoulder exercises like shoulder press and lateral raises, shoulder shrugs are a great way to work on the muscles that can be at risk of injuries and chronic pain. The shrug, a movement involving lifting both the shoulders together close to the neck, is performed with the help of additional weights, making it an effective exercise to strengthen the shoulders and neck muscles.

  1. Benefits of shoulder shrugs exercise
  2. Types of shoulder shrugs
  3. How to do shoulder shrugs correctly
  4. Takeaway

Shoulder shrugs particularly target the large trapezius muscles located at the back of the neck, extending over the shoulders all the way to the middle of the back. The traps, as they are commonly called, help in the movement of the head and the neck in every direction as well as moving the arms with the help of the shoulders. 

Strong trapezius muscles help in improving the posture by stabilising the neck and the shoulders, keeping them pulled back instead of the drooping posture one assumes while sitting continuously.

Strong traps also help in various day-to-day activities such as lifting things, reaching for things with the arms, or even while bending and sitting down. Shoulder shrugs help in strengthening all the muscles that carry out these tasks, as well as improve your pulling strength that is necessary while performing other weight training exercises such as deadlifts, or while doing shoulder or overhead presses.

A study conducted in Denmark in 2011 found that those with chronic neck pain emanating from posture problems saw considerable benefits after performing neck strengthening exercises, including shoulder shrugs.

While the most common form of shoulder shrugs one can see people perform at the gym involve the use of dumbbells, they can also be done in the following ways:

  • Shoulder shrug machine
  • Dumbbell or kettlebell shrugs
  • Barbell shrugs
  • Behind-the-back-barbell shrugs

Shoulder shrugs do not involve a long range of movement, and hence can be performed with heavier weights as compared to the kind of weights one would lift while performing other isolated exercises such as dumbbell curls or tricep workouts. Remember to warm up before exercise and stretch afterwards to avoid any workout injuries.

Muscles worked

  • Trapezius, neck, shoulders, upper back

Equipment required

  • A barbell, or
  • A pair of dumbbells or kettlebells, or
  • A shoulder shrug machine


  • Intermediate to experienced

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

Dumbbell shrugs technique

  • Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with both palms facing the body.
  • Bend your knees only slightly, and while keeping your arms straight, lift your shoulders up towards your ears.
  • Reach the top of the movement and pause for a second or two, and lower the shoulders down to their original position. This is one rep.

Tip: The shoulders should not move in a rotational movement - they should only move up and down. The weights should be based on your strength level and should be enough to provide resistance while lifting up your shoulders while keeping your arms straight. If you have a pre-existing pain in the neck, perform this exercise without any weights.

Read more: What to eat and what not to eat before a workout

Shoulder shrugs are extremely effective for building and strengthening the shoulder muscles, as well as the muscles behind the neck that help in stabilizing the head as well as help moving the arms from the shoulders.

It is also an essential exercise for those suffering from chronic neck and shoulder pain, as it helps strengthen those muscles and stabilise them. But like any other exercise, this too must be practised with caution, correct technique and preferably under the guidance of a trained professional.

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  1. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Strength training relieves chronic neck pain..
  2. Easwaran PG et al. Comparison of Scapular Muscles Activation with Shoulder Retraction and Shoulder Elevations in Individuals with Scapular Dyskinesia. International Journal of Scientific Research in Science and Technology. 2019 Apr; 6(2): 658-664.
  3. Pizzari T et al. Modifying a shrug exercise can facilitate the upward rotator muscles of the scapula. Clinical Biomechanics (Bristol, Avon). 2014 Feb; 29(2): 201-205. PMID: 24342452.
  4. Ekstrom RA et al. Surface electromyographic analysis of exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2003 May; 33(5):247-58. PMID: 12774999.
  5. Lee JH et al. Various shrug exercises can change scapular kinematics and scapular rotator muscle activities in subjects with scapular downward rotation syndrome. Human Movement Science. 2016 Feb; 45: 119-129.
  6. Seth A et al. Muscle Contributions to Upper-Extremity Movement and Work From a Musculoskeletal Model of the Human Shoulder. Frontiers in Neurobiotics. 2019 Nov; 13:90.
  7. Mortensen P et al. Lasting Effects of Workplace Strength Training for Neck/Shoulder/Arm Pain among Laboratory Technicians: Natural Experiment with 3-Year Follow-Up. BioMed Research International. 2014 Mar; Article ID 845851.
  8. Louw S et al. Effectiveness of exercise in office workers with neck pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. South African Journal of Physiotherapy. 2017; 73(1): 392. PMID: 30135909.
  9. Zebis MK et al. Implementation of neck/shoulder exercises for pain relief among industrial workers: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2011 Sep; 12: 205.
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