Doing shrugs is guaranteed to get big traps, right? My clients often think there isn't much else you can do for training your traps other than a shrug.

I'm here to show you that dumbbell and barbell shrugs are not the only way to add size to your traps. If you need some inspiration for your workouts, then read on, as I have the best shrug alternative exercises for you.

Doing a barbell shrug or dumbbell shrugs only serves one purpose: to work the trapezius muscle or the traps. This muscle is responsible for posture and movement.

The traps move your neck, allow you to stand straight, rotate your torso, and shrug your shoulders or pull them down.[1] Pretty important stuff!

This muscle also looks great when it's strong, something many of my clients really want to achieve. Let’s get into the best 8 alternatives for barbell and dumbbell shrugs.

1. Snatch Grip Shrug

man doing barbell snatch grip shrug

The first alternative exercise on my list uses a snatch grip, a wide grip used in Olympic Weightlifting that takes the barbell overhead. In this shrug alternative, no overhead is necessary as we want to just focus on the traps.

This exercise is used by high-level athletes, but you, too, can benefit from this shrug alternative exercise.


  • A very effective upper back strengthening exercise that allows large loads
  • A good assistance exercise for Olympic Lifting
  • Builds size and strength in the traps

How To Do It

  1. Load the bar and set it up using J hooks or safety bars on your squat rack if possible (if not, you will need to stand with the weight at the start of each set).
  2. Grab the bar in a wide, overhand grip. Your hands should be positioned roughly outside the rings marked on the bar.
  3. Place your feet hip-width apart, brace your core, and stand tall with the weight resting at your hip crease.
  4. Shrug straight up and imagine yourself trying to touch your ears with your shoulders.
  5. Control the weight to the start and repeat for the desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

My clients always tell me their grip is a limiting factor here. If this is you and you start to feel your grip fail and it isn't allowing you to lift as heavy as you can, you can use lifting straps to assist and enable you to get heavy stimulus into the traps.  

2. Trap Bar Shrug

man in black being assisted while doing trap bar shrug

If I could choose only one staple piece of equipment in my gym, it would have to be a Trap bar. This bar is an awesome piece of equipment traditionally used to build full body strength, but there are many ways to use it.

I’ve found that this alternative is great if you’re more advanced and want to load up the bar with heavier weights.


  • The grip on the Trap Bar is easier, and you can focus more on isolating the traps.
  • Builds strong grip strength
  • It can be loaded heavier

How To Do It

  1. Stand inside the loaded trap bar with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Keep your spine neutral and core braced, and stand tall with the weight.
  3. Shrug your shoulder straight up to your ears.
  4. Control the weight back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

It's a good idea to set up the trap bar on lifting blocks so it is elevated off the ground. Otherwise, if you are doing this with heavy weight, you must pick it up off the ground at the start of each set. 

3. Cable Upright Row

man in blue shirt doing cable upright row

The cable upright row is a great alternative to try instead of a barbell shrug.

I really like this cable shrug alternative as using the cable machine emphasizes the eccentric portion of the lift, increasing time under tension, compared to using a free weight.


  • Increases muscle strength and size
  • Great for improving posture
  • A good option for beginners as it provides lots of stability

How To Do It

  1. Set the cable machine pulley to the lowest setting and attach the straight handle.
  2. Grab the handle and stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Start with arms straight and point your elbows outwards.
  4. Pull the cable handle upwards, keeping it close to your torso and your elbows out wide.
  5. Pull until your elbows are higher than your shoulders and wrists, roughly to the height of your chin.
  6. Control the weight back to the starting position, making sure you keep tension, and don’t let the plates rest.
  7. Repeat for the desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

If using the straight bar attachment aggravates your wrists or shoulders, or both, try using the rope attachment. I've found that the angle can reduce any discomfort felt with a straight bar. 

4. Barbell Upright Row

man in orange shirt doing barbell upright row

Many people think the barbell upright row is an exercise that will only target the shoulders but don’t forget about this one when training traps.

This exercise is effective at building the traps as it allows for greater loading while contracting the muscle and while moving the muscle through its full range of motion.


  • Builds bigger, stronger traps
  • Improves performance in exercises like the deadlift
  • Great strength development of the upper back

How To Do It

  1. Stand holding a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and the bar resting approximately at hip level.
  2. Brace your core and initiate the upwards pull by driving your elbows outwards and lifting the barbell up to your chin.
  3. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Return the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

The barbell upright row may not be suitable for everyone. It can be dangerous when performed with bigger loads, potentially placing the shoulder and elbow joints at risk of acute injury. I recommend that this exercise should be performed with caution, and if you have shoulder injuries, you can try upright row alternatives.

4. Dumbbell Upright Rows

man doing dumbbell upright rows

This works the same muscle group that the barbell upright row targets. I really like this alternative because it helps reduce any imbalance between the two sides of your body, which is something I commonly see as a personal trainer.


  • Builds strength in the shoulders and upper back muscles
  • Improves other pulling exercises
  • Using the dumbbells for the upright row helps improve strength on both sides.

How To Do It

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand upright with your arms straight and palms facing toward your body.
  2. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Pull the dumbbells upwards simultaneously, keeping them close to your body with your elbows out wide.
  4. At the top, your elbows should be higher than your shoulders and wrists.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades and lower them with control.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

A common mistake I see with the upright row is people using too much weight and using a swinging motion to row the dumbbells up. Choose a weight that you can pause for a second at the top and lower with control. 

Related Article - Barbell Row Vs Dumbbell Row

5. Hang Muscle Snatch

man doing hang muscle snatch with loaded barbell

The snatch is one of two movements in Olympic Weightlifting, a highly technical barbell-strength sport.

You don't need to be a high-level athlete to perform this exercise, but you do need to perform it with good form. There is skill involved in doing exercises like this well, so make sure you practice with the barbell or dowel first before attempting any weight.

Once you get it, you'll see great developments in your traps.


  • Develops better balance, coordination, and timing
  • Good assistance lift for Olympic lifting and drilling the timing and bar path in the snatch
  • Develops bigger and stronger shoulders and traps

How To Do It

  1. Start with an empty or loaded barbell with a wide grip. The bar should be resting in your hip crease and arms straight.
  2. Push the hips back while maintaining a neutral spine and lower the bar to just above the knees. Your knees should be slightly bent.
  3. With straight arms, lightly drag the bar up your thighs until it reaches the hips.
  4. Use the hips to create an explosive drive upwards while at the same time shrugging your traps and pulling the elbows upwards and outwards.
  5. The bar should stay close to your body as possible, moving your head back slightly and allowing the bar to turn over into an overhead position.
  6. Lock the elbows out and secure the bar overhead.
  7. Reverse the arm movement, bringing the bar back to the hip crease before lowering the bar back to the hang position, ready for the next rep.
  8. Repeat for desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

I teach people to do the muscle snatch all the time, and by far, the biggest mistake I see is people missing out on the shrugging motion of the traps and trying to use too much of their arms to lift the weight. Make sure you shrug your traps up to your ears as the bar is traveling upwards. 

5. Clean Pulls

man doing dumbbell pull movement

Clean pulls are regularly used in Olympic Weightlifting to develop strength, explosive upwards power, and build strong traps. Repetition is key to performing this exercise well.

Clean pulls work the same muscles as a barbell or dumbbell shrug but with the added benefit of developing full body strength. This exercise requires good technique to do it well, so make sure you practice with lighter weights to start.


  • Teaches balance, coordination, and timing
  • Builds full body strength and increases the size of the trapezius muscle
  • Increases explosive power, which translates to better sports performance

How To Do It

  1. Set a barbell loaded with weight plates on the ground or set on pins on a squat rack at knee level to reduce movement from the floor.
  2. Stand with your feet approximately at hip-width, toes slightly turned out, and place your hands just outside your legs in an overhand grip.
  3. Pull your hips down to the starting position that allows your shoulders to be above the bar and your knees out towards the inside of the arms.
  4. Engaging your core, initiate the movement by pushing with your legs against the floor, and once the bar is at the lower to mid-thigh, open the hips and accelerate, driving the weight up.
  5. With your torso vertical and legs straight, shrug straight up while keeping your elbows straight or slightly bent is okay.
  6. Lower the weight back to the floor and repeat for desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

I'm trained in Olympic Weightlifting, and the biggest mistake I see is people trying to muscle the weight up using their arms. Don't use your arms to power the bar up; this movement is not an upright row. Once your legs are straight and your torso is vertical, shrug hard. 

6. Dumbbell Side Raise

Man Doing Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

The dumbbell side raise should be part of any shoulder routine due to their effectiveness at strengthening the shoulder cap. You may not automatically think of a side raise when training traps, but they are a great variation as the traps are working too.


  • Builds bigger, rounder shoulders
  • Improves posture
  • Creates more stability through the shoulder joint

How To Do It

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing in and elbows slightly bent.
  2. Raise the dumbbells out to the sides at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Pause once the dumbbells get to shoulder height.
  4. Return the dumbbells with control back to the start.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

It's important to choose an appropriate weight for the side raise; heavier is not better in this instance. Choose dumbbells you can control, and you will get so much more out of them. 

7. Farmer’s Walk

Woman Doing Kettlebell Farmer’s Walk Outside

The farmer's walk is an exercise that brings huge benefits to many areas of the body, like improving posture, working the core, and increasing the heart rate.

You can use a range of equipment to do a farmer's walk, such as two dumbbells or kettlebells, single weights, or the trap bar.

It is also a great exercise to target the traps, which is why it makes it onto my list of my favorite shrug alternatives.


  • Enhances overall strength
  • Improves sports performance
  • Increases conditioning and can reduce the risk of injury

How To Do It

  1. Start with the weights you are using on either side of your legs.
  2. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees, keeping your spine straight, and grab onto the weight.
  3. Brace your core, and with a tight back, lift the weights up to a standing position.
  4. With control and looking straight in front, walk forwards at a slow pace focusing on your shoulders back and down, core engaged, and your back tight.
  5. I generally prescribe my clients to walk for 40-50 yards for a whole set without resting, then repeat for desired sets.

Tips From A Trainer!

I love giving my clients the option of changing up the farmer’s walk and doing this exercise carrying weight plates. The added benefit of this is it will really work your grip and forearms by holding the plates at the edges, something that my clients get a lot out of.

8. Cable Face Pulls

Man Doing Cable/Rope Face Pulls In The Gym

The face pull is a fantastic and underrated exercise targeting upper back muscles. I often have my clients perform this exercise as it shows great improvements in posture, especially as many of my clients spend a lot of time sitting.

The face pull exercise will effectively strengthen the rear delts and traps, which will prevent muscular imbalances and build shoulder strength, all of which are important to reduce your risk of upper body injuries.

If you don't hace a cable machine available, try doing face pull alternative exercises.


  • An excellent exercise for the rear deltoids, trapezius, and upper back
  • Helps reduce hunching forward and promotes good posture
  • Targets the rear delts, which can often be neglected in a training program

How To Do It

  1. Set the cable machine pulley at a high height, above eye level, and attach the rope handle.
  2. Grip the rope at each end with your palms facing in and step back from the cable machine with straight arms.
  3. Standing tall with knees slightly bent, engage your core and pull the elbows back, aiming for the center of the rope toward the top of your head.
  4. Keep the palms facing in as the elbows flare outwards, keeping them high. Squeeze your shoulder blade together for the full benefit of this exercise.
  5. Reverse the movement and slowly extend your arms out in front of you without letting your shoulder roll forward.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your elbows high and in line with your shoulders throughout the movement, focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the peak of the contraction. This not only targets your rear deltoids effectively but also helps prevent strain on your neck and upper traps.

What Muscles Do Shrugs Work?

Good training programs should always have some sort of trap work in there. As you can see from my list, it doesn't necessarily need to be a shrug; there are plenty of variations that target this muscle group.

The main muscle that shrugs target is the trapezius muscle, the muscle that is located on either side of your upper back.

The trapezius muscles, particularly the upper traps, are the main working muscle when doing shrugs. The traps are a broad, flat, superficial muscle that extends from the top of the neck to the thoracic (middle) spine.

The function of the traps is to stabilize and move the scapula (shoulder blades). They are connected and are responsible for the movement and rotation of our arms above shoulder height.[2]

Benefits Of Doing Shrugs And Other Similar Exercises

Any good training program will include exercises that strengthen the upper back and includes working both the upper traps and lower traps.

I will always ensure my client's programming includes trap work because it will improve posture and create significant improvements to upper back muscular strength.

When these muscles are strengthened by doing specifically targeted exercises, like a shrug, it helps stabilize your neck and upper back. It will assist with everyday movements like lifting things from the floor.

You will also see benefits to your health and fitness and improve performance in the gym and for athletes who play sports.

Another benefit of including a shrug exercise in your training routine is the reduction of neck and shoulder pain.

A study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders evaluated the effect of implementing strength training on work-related neck pain. The study found that pain was significantly reduced with resistance training exercises, including shrug exercises.[3]

When To Stop Doing Shrugs (3 Reasons Explained)

1. Injury

People often carry a lot of tension in their necks, and raised shoulders can often place strain on the traps. If you do this exercise with improper posture and positioning, excessive range of motion, and overloading the weight, there is a higher risk of injury.

Always do this exercise with good form and if you already carry too much tension around your neck, make sure you incorporate good stretching and mobility into your fitness routine.

2. Going Too Heavy

Doing a shrug too heavily forces your shoulders into an uncomfortable forward position. Heavy weights can force the shoulders to roll forward.

Instead, choosing a weight that allows you to focus on retracting your shoulder blades (squeezing them together) in order for your shoulders to elevate is a much more effective choice.

3. If You Target Your Traps Enough Already

Many exercises, as you can see from this list, already target your traps, so there could be a chance you're wasting your time by adding in shrugs. If you already do a lot of deadlifts or Olympic weightlifting, there is no need to target your traps separately.

Related Article - Powerlifting Vs Weightlifting

Common Questions About Shrug Alternatives

Do traps grow without shrugs?

Yes, you can grow traps without shrugs if you are doing exercises that target them, such as the deadlift, Olympic weightlifting, upright rows, and more. You do not necessarily need to do shoulder shrugs to see development in your trap muscles.

Do you need to shrug heavy weights?

No, you don't need to shrug heavy weights, and doing so could even be dangerous, and the weight might pull you into a compromising position.

Why does my neck hurt after shrugs?

If your neck hurts after shrugs, some of the factors include wrong positions during the day, such as being rounded in the shoulders, in a hunched position, and bad shoulder range of motion. Adding shrugs on top of this may create shoulder issues and can create a lot of tension in your neck. If this is you, I recommend reducing the amount of shrugging, trying different exercises, and ensuring you do exercises to improve upper mobility.


Shrugs are an effective exercise to provide stimulus to the traps, but as you can see from this list, you are not restricted to just this exercise.

You can choose a variety of different exercises that will target the traps just as well, if not better, than a shrug does. If you want strong-looking traps, try one of these alternative exercises at your next workout.


Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website