Smith Machine Shrug

Proper Form and Benefits for Building Bigger Traps

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 10, 2021

Smith machines are a great way to isolate the target muscles more than you might get with standard free weights. And Smith machine shrugs are one of my favorite exercises for targeting the traps.

But even with the Smith machine, you have to be mindful of using the correct form. So I’m going to show you how to do shrugs properly on the Smith machine.

Smith Machine Shrug

What Is A Smith Machine Shrug?

Shrugs are an exercise where you elevate your shoulders while holding a weight bar in front of you. The movement is like the way you shrug your shoulders when you tell someone, “I don’t know.”

A Smith machine shrug is a variation of this exercise where you use a barbell on guide rails to provide resistance. With the bar’s path fixed, you don’t have to balance the weight from front to back.

Therefore, the Smith machine shrug can help you get more activation of the target muscles.

Smith Machine Shrug Muscles Worked

Smith machine shrugs primarily work the trapezius muscles or traps. This muscle forms a diamond shape connecting your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Specifically, the shrug movement targets the upper part of the traps and the muscles in your neck and shoulder blades.

Smith Machine Shrug Muscles Worked

How To Do Smith Machine Shrugs

Before doing a Smith machine shrug, set the safety stops to just above knee level and load the appropriate amount of weight.

Then stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your hands should be just outside your thighs.

Next, stand up straight with the bar just in front of your thighs. From this starting position, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears while keeping your arms straight.

Lower the weight back down to the starting position to complete one rep. Repeat this for the desired number of reps and set the bar back down.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Set the safety stops at just above knee level
  2. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart
  3. Grab the bar with your hands just outside your thighs
  4. Stand up straight with the bar at your thighs
  5. Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears while keeping your body and arms straight
  6. Lower the weight back down and repeat for the desired number of reps

Smith Machine Shrug Video

Smith Machine Shrug Form

Before you begin the Smith machine shrug, make sure you stand with the bar over the balls of your feet. This position is essential to make sure the loading is on your traps.

If you stand too close, the bar will rub too much on your thighs. But too far away, and you’ll put unnecessary strain on your back.

On some Smith machines, the safety stops don’t go low enough to prevent the bar from bottoming out. In that case, you may need to stand on a box or platform.

Smith Machine Shrug Starting Position

In addition, it’s vital not to bounce the weight or use momentum when performing this exercise. Doing so results in less activation of the trap muscles.

Also, be sure you’re working through the full range of motion. Let the bar get low enough at the bottom to feel a stretch through your traps and neck. And lift it high enough to get a good muscle contraction.

Smith Machine Shrug Form
Smith Machine Shrug Top

Finally, do not bend your elbows or pull with your arms at all during this exercise. This extra movement makes the bar appear to move further, but it takes the load off your traps and places it on your biceps.

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Smith Machine Shrug Alternatives

It’s important to realize that you don’t need to do regular Smith machine shrugs every workout. There are several variations you can do to mix it up or use different equipment.

Behind The Back Smith Machine Shrug

One way to modify the Smith machine shrug is by doing it behind your back. With this variation, it’s much harder to cheat by using momentum, so you don’t need as much weight to get results.

Barbell Shrug

Of course, you can always go back to the standard barbell shrug. This classic variation is like the Smith machine shrug, except you have to stabilize the bar.

Trap Bar Shrug

trap bar is a hexagon-shaped barbell with perpendicular handles on the sides. During trap bar shrugs (or hex bar shrugs), this bar keeps your hands in a more neutral position at your sides.

I don’t particularly like trap bars for this exercise because the handles are sometimes too far apart, which can put unnecessary stress on your arms. This problem is especially true if you’re shorter or have narrower shoulders.

Dumbbell Shrug

Another way to keep your hands in a neutral position during shrugs is by using dumbbells. With dumbbell shrugs, you hold a weight in each hand at your sides and perform the shrug movement.

One benefit of dumbbell shrugs is that you have control of your arm position. So you can pull your shoulders up and back as you shrug.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

Hypertrophy Training Program

The Smith machine shrug is an excellent exercise variation for targeting the traps with greater precision. But to reach your overall fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

To maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust ten specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better body. And if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

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By |November 10, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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