Shrugs are a common exercise done by bodybuilders to grow their trap muscles. The trap muscles also experience a lot of tension during deadlifts. So, some people wonder whether doing shrugs will help the deadlift.
Here’s my quick answer:
No, shrugs do not help deadlifts because, during deadlifts, the shoulders are never shrugged up when standing in an upright position. Shrugs do not address weak points or technique issues that people may have at different points in the deadlift. So while they are under tension, they don’t contribute meaningfully.
In this article, I will go through why shrugs do not help deadlifts in more detail and what you can do instead to address different types of weaknesses with deadlifts.
Let’s dive in!
What Do Shrugs Do?
Shrugs are an upper back and shoulder exercise that can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell, or smith machine. The primary areas of the body that shrugs train are the forearm muscles and the trap muscles.
The trap muscles are a group of large, wide muscles located at the top and sides of the upper back. The function of the trap muscles is to shrug (lift) your shoulders upwards and also to pinch your shoulders backward.
When you perform shrugs, you raise your shoulder blades towards your ears while keeping your arms straight. Then you return the weight back down to a relaxed shoulder position.
Related Article: 18 Exercises To Improve Deadlift Strength
Why Shrugs Do Not Help Deadlifts? (4 Reasons)
The 4 reasons why shrugs do not help deadlifts are:
- They do not help with deadlift strength off the floor
- They do not help with deadlift strength at the knee
- They do not help with deadlift strength at lockout
- They do not help with posture or technique during the deadlift
They Do Not Help With Deadlift Strength off the Floor
Deadlift strength off the floor can be due to weak leg muscles or poor posture and technique. Having weak trapezius muscles does not affect strength off the floor and so shrugs cannot help.
The shoulders start in a relaxed and low position at the start of the deadlift and trapezius muscles do not shrug the shoulders at this position. In this position, the shoulders are said to be in a depressed position.
To improve strength off the floor, exercises such as leg press, front squat, and deficit deadlifts are recommended. These exercises can help improve the leg strength and strength of the body in the start position.
If it is positioning that is making your deadlift strength weak off the floor, make sure that the barbell is above the midfoot, shin is by the knees, armpits above the barbell, and back flat.
For more information, check out our article if you struggle with deadlift strength off the floor.
They Do Not Help With Deadlift Strength at the Knee
Deadlift strength with the barbell around the knees can be due to weak hip muscles, as the goal at this phase of the movement is to bring the hips toward the barbell.
The shoulders still remain in a depressed position and do not shrug up toward the ears.
To improve deadlift strength around the knees, exercises such as the paused deadlifts and point.
As well, some people fail the deadlift in the mid-range either because the barbell is not ‘tight to the body’ (i.e. the barbell breaks contact with the thighs) or the mid and lower back muscles begin to fatigue and round forward.
In both instances, this is a spinal erector and lat weakness that is causing these technical deficiencies, and doing more shrugs won’t increase strength in these areas.
For more information, check out our article if you struggle with deadlift strength at the knees.
They Do Not Help With Deadlift Strength at Lockout
Deadlift strength at lockout can be due to poor posture and positioning from the start of the lift and can be due to weak hip muscles, specifically the glutes, hip adductors, and hamstrings.
The shoulders stay in a lowered and depressed position all the way until you are standing upright with the deadlift. Therefore, shrugs do not contribute to the deadlift lockout.
To improve strength at lockout, you should use exercises such as block pulls, rack pulls, and hip thrusts, all of which target the glute muscles to the greatest extent.
For more information, check out our article if you struggle with deadlift strength at lockout.
They Do Not Help With Posture or Technique During the Deadlift
Doing shrugs will not help with poor posture or technique during the deadlift. To address poor posture, you need to focus on improving core strength and having good hip mobility. To address technique issues, you need to practice the deadlift with a lighter weight.
Improving poor deadlift posture include exercises that focus on strengthening the abdominals, obliques and back extensors to make sure that the trunk is rigid, but having good hip mobility i.e. making sure that you can hinge through your hips well, will make sure your lower back will not round.
Performing shrugs has the effect of worsening your posture as it can encourage you to push your head forward as you try to shrug your shoulders up and back too much. Also, it will make your technique inefficient if you are unconsciously trying to shrug the weight when you need to rely on using your legs and hips to get the barbell up.
Related Article: Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs: Differences, Pros, Cons
How Can Shrugs Help With Deadlift (1 Way)
One way that shrugs can help with deadlift is to improve grip strength and stop the shoulders from overly hunching forward.
By performing shrugs, you can improve your grip strength as you are challenging your forearms by holding onto a heavyweight for some time under tension.
If you round your shoulders and hunch excessively, shrugs can help you keep your shoulders back more. Although, there are better exercises to help with this, such as rope face pulls and reverse pec deck.
Related Article: Can You Just Do Deadlifts For Back? Yes, But It’s Not Ideal
Better Alternative Exercises To Shrugs To Help With Deadlift
Here are 3 alternative exercises to shrugs to help with the deadlift, they are:
- Barbell Row
- Good Morning
- Pull Ups
Barbell rows are a great overall back exercise that can help with deadlift.
They help the deadlift by increasing muscle mass around the back extensors, lats, and traps, which are important in maintaining good posture and brace during the deadlift.
Barbell rows can be performed with different back angles, and if you choose to perform them with your back parallel to the floor, it is called a Pendlay row.
For more information, check out our article on the difference between barbell rows and Pendlay rows.
Good mornings are a great exercise that not only targets the back extensor muscles along the spine, but also the hip extensor muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings.
These hip extensor muscles are primary muscles during the execution of the deadlift, especially in the lockout phase, thus having a strong carryover to the deadlift.
Pull ups are a great bodyweight exercise as an alternative to shrugs to help deadlifts.
It primarily targets the lats and the upper back, but is also effective at challenging your grip strength too. Lats help maintain rigidity in the torso during the execution of the deadlift.
Other Exercises That Help Deadlifts
- Do Good Mornings Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How)
- Do Front Squats Help Deadlifts? Yes, Here’s How
- Do Leg Curls Help Deadlifts? Yes, Here’s How
- Do Good Mornings Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How)
- Do Hip Thrust Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How)
- Do Back Extensions Help Deadlifts? (No, Here’s Why)
- Do Pull-Ups help Deadlifts (Yes, Here’s How)
Shrugs are a good exercise to build muscle mass in the upper back muscles, but they do not have a great carry over to deadlifts or have a potential to fix any specific deadlift weakness. You should identify what it is that is holding your deadlift performance back and choose a better exercise to help target that problem.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com