How the Overhead Shrug Improves Shoulder Health & Posture

overhead shrug

The overhead shrug simultaneously works your shoulder and trap muscles to improve posture. 

The shrug is a highly effective exercise for strengthening your back, specifically targeting the upper traps. Engaging in this simple lift can significantly reduce the risk of back-related injuries. One variation is the overhead shrug, which transitions the movement from pulling to pushing, which can improve shoulder health and prevent neck injuries (1). It does this by forcing your upper traps, usually weak from underuse, to do most of the lifting and strengthen them.

You can do the overhead shrug with barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells. However, we’ll look at the overhead barbell shrug for this exercise guide. You’ll get a step-by-step guide on how to do this exercise, its benefits, and more movements you can use to build your upper traps.

Techniques & Muscles Worked

The overhead shrug works on your upper traps, toning and strengthening them (2). This isolation exercise also hits the fibers covering your neck’s posterior. This engages your rotator cuff, rhomboids, shoulders, levator scapulae, and upper back.

Using the correct form to prevent injuries is essential when doing the overhead shrug. You’ll need an Olympic barbell or a standard barbell for this routine. Here’s a step-by-step guide showing the actions to take when doing an overhead shrug.

  1. Unrack a barbell and put it in the front rack position.
  2. Then, press it overhead using an overhand grip. Your hands should be about two times your shoulder width with your arms straight. This is your starting position.
  3. Next, brace your abs, shrug your shoulders towards your ears, and pause for a second or two. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  4. Slowly lower them back to the starting position to complete the rep.
  5. Repeat for the number of reps you desire. 


Overhead shrugs are efficient and allow you to train your back and shoulders with one exercise. Due to the overhead movement, this exercise hits the entire upper and middle back. Below are some of the benefits that overhead shrugs offer. 

Engage & Strengthen Your Upper Traps

The overhead shrug targets and strengthens your upper traps. Lifting the weight overhead creates tension in your traps, causing them to contract and do the lift. This tension also leads to muscle growth in your traps and upper back. 

Better Shoulder Health & Stability

Overhead shrugs strengthen the muscles that support your shoulders. As a result, you’ll get better stability in your shoulders and less risk of injuries. Doing this exercise can also help you achieve better form during activities that require good shoulder mobility.

Improve Your Posture

Your trap muscles support your upper back and spine. Strengthening them with this routine counteracts the effects of slouching and sitting for long periods. As a result, this exercise improves your posture.

Stronger & Bigger Back

Training your trap muscles will make your back look bigger and stronger. Well-developed traps are part of what builds a good bodybuilding physique. Strengthening your traps also strengthens your back and upper body.

Prevent Injuries

Athletes often focus their training on the muscles they can see in front. This leads to having a massive chest and a weak back. As a result, they become more prone to shoulder and neck injuries. The overhead shrug helps to strengthen your back and prevent that.

Carryover to Other Routines

The overhead shrug is excellent for your back and improves shoulder mobility. Therefore, it has carryover to routines like the bench press, the Olympic snatch, and the clean and jerk. Doing the overhead shrug regularly will improve your form for those exercises.

Overhead Shrug Alternatives

While the shrug is a great exercise, it’s limited regarding time under tension. The range of motion is also short. Here are some alternative movements that also target your upper traps.

Cable Face Pulls

The cable face pull is an overhead shrug alternative and targets your upper traps and posterior delt. It reinforces your shoulder health and improves upper body stability. This exercise also gives the traps a full range of motion, and the time under tension is better.

Upright Rows

The upright row is an excellent exercise for building your upper traps. It offers a fuller range of motion and allows for more significant loading. However, using proper form for this routine is essential to prevent injuries.

Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is a convenient and straightforward exercise that targets your upper traps and forearms. You can do them with dumbbells or kettlebells, which puts your traps under tension for longer. 


What does overhead shrugs work?

Overhead shrugs work on your back, shoulder, and arms. This exercise is a great way to strengthen and add size to your back. It’s a two-parter that involves an overhead extension and shrug to hit your traps and shoulders. 

What muscles do overhead shrugs work out?

The overhead shrug is an isolation exercise for your upper traps. This exercise targets the entirety of your upper back and also works on your delts. Check the exercise guide above for a complete list of the muscles worked.

Which muscle does the shoulder shrug strengthen?

The shoulder shrug is an exercise that strengthens your trapezius muscles. As a result, this exercise is good for your shoulder health and helps prevent neck injuries. 

Working your traps extends beyond the barbell shrugs for adequate muscle growth. The barbell shrug is good for isolating your traps but has limitations. Try the overhead shrug to simultaneously target your shoulder muscles and trap muscles, improving your shoulder health and posture. It’ll also carry over to Olympic lifts and CrossFit movements like the snatch that require excellent shoulder stability and mobility.

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  1. Zebis, M.K., Andersen, L.L., Pedersen, M.T. et al. Implementation of neck/shoulder exercises for pain relief among industrial workers: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 12, 205 (2011). 
  2. Schory, A., Bidinger, E., Wolf, J., & Murray, L. (2016). A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF THE EXERCISES THAT PRODUCE OPTIMAL MUSCLE RATIOS OF THE SCAPULAR STABILIZERS IN NORMAL SHOULDERS. International journal of sports physical therapy, 11(3), 321–336.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.