This Is How You Figure Out How Many Reps To Do For Shrugs

July 21st 2019

Just how many reps are you supposed to do for shrugs? Is there a universal rule for this trap development exercise? The answer may be more simple than you could imagine. If you are like most lifters, we stumbled into the world of lifting weights by necessity. I would imagine that very few of us actually wanted to endure the pain of weights. For some athletes, getting big and yolked was easy. But for a large majority of just lifters, we did it because we needed to get bigger and stronger.

Well, the muscle group we will focus on today is the traps. Specifically, how many reps of shrugs should we do? It really depends on your goals and let me explain why:

How many reps for shrugs


  • For big deadlifts, you may want to include heavy shrugs, for sets of 3 reps
  • For bodybuilders, you can do heavy or light shrugs. You just need to figure out what your specific goals are and work towards them accordingly


For a big deadlift

If you are incorporating shrugs into your workout as a deadlift accessory, that is a good choice. Cailer Woolam would agree with you and he is a 900+lbs deadlifter.

What kind of shrugs should you do? For Cailer Woolam, he likes to do heavy shrugs, for as little as sets of 3. In the video I linked above, he explains this rep selection by telling us that if you are able to shrug heavy weight off the ground. In a similar way, a regular deadlift pull would feel much lighter due to the insane power in your traps. 

For bodybuilding

This is probably the gray area in lifting weights; what should you do if you are bodybuilding? For some, they may care about strength. For others, they just want to increase the size of their upper back and traps. For others, they may want to maintain their muscular frame. There are so many goals that overlap if it is just “bodybuilding” you are after.

It would be more helpful for you to narrow down your goal so that your exercises can be more specific. For instance, if you are more focused on building muscle first and strength second, lifters may want to start off with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of shrugs. Why?

Well, why not? You need to try to see if it works and you can definitely research til the day you die about the benefits of certain rep ranges. So, instead of all these mental puzzles you create for yourself, it is more practical and better use of your time if you just implement the rep scheme to see if it works. 

And do not think these numbers are made up out of thin air - you have decades of strength training athletes who have been pumping iron before the internet age. Do you think they had time to debate and question whether or not you should do 6 reps versus 10 reps for shrugs? Definitely not.

Try something and see if it works. If you are making progress, do not change it. If you are not seeing any results after a significant period of time, change something. 

Barbell shrugs vs dumbbell shrugs

It does not really matter how you do your shrugs. The most important aspect of training is that you are getting closer to your goals. So, if this means that you only need to do 135lbs shrugs to increase your muscle mass, that is what you need to do. Alternatively, if you need to do 600lbs shrugs for sets of 5 to increase your deadlift max, then so be it. 

Do not let your equipment dictate what you should and should not do. Again, what is critical in training is that the stimulus is forcing your body to adapt and recover.

For instance, I have done both barbell shrugs and dumbbell shrugs during my 6+ years of strength training. My main goal is to gain strength. For me, I feel way more activation during barbell shrugs. So, if I were to ever include a trap development exercise, I would definitely include barbell shrugs.

Should you incorporate heavy shrugs?

It is hard to say yes or no because it depends a lot on the athlete’s training history and goals. For instance, if you want to deadlift 700lbs, heavy shrugs may be one deadlift accessory you may want to include in your program. But at the same time, is that your weakness? You could also be working on strength off the floor (with deficit or paused deadlifts). You could also be working on the middle portion of the deadlift (with barbell rows or higher paused deadlifts).

So again, there is more than one way to skin a cat. You do not have to do heavy shrugs but they are an option to include in any programming. So, it is important to make sure you have a clear and precise goal you are working towards so that you know that you are not wasting your time including different exercises.

Beware of ego-lifting

For a lot of inexperienced lifters, ego-lifting may occur if you are lifting weights beyond your capacity. Many lifters may think they are shrugging the weight while swaying their bodies excessively. 

If you are doing to do an exercise, make sure you do the exercise correctly. If you post a video of yourself doing heavy shrugs with crap form and minimal trap movement, you will get laughed at. That is guaranteed. 

On the contrary, if you lift a submaximal weight and develop good form, you will get much more benefit from that.


So, how many reps should you do for shrugs? As many or as little as you want. Shrugs can work if you focus on squeezing on the top of the movement for long periods of contraction. At the same time, you can also pump up your traps by moving heavy weights.

So, just pick something and try it out for a couple of weeks. See if you progressed and make another decision after you have collected some data.

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