How to do single-arm dumbbell shrugs? step by step, easy to learn

single-arm dumbbell shrugs single-arm dumbbell shrugs mistakes single-arm shrugs

The dumbbell shrug is a trapezius exercise that involves shrugging your shoulders while holding a pair of dumbbells. 

The exercise can also be performed with a barbell, in which case it is called a barbell shrug.

Here are the steps to properly perform single-arm dumbbell shrugs:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in one hand at your side with your palm facing inwards.
  2. Keep your arm extended but not locked out, with a slight bend in the elbow. Maintain good posture - keep your chest up and core braced.
  3. Initiate the movement by shrugging the shoulder of the working arm straight up towards your ear. Focus on lifting the dumbbell straight up without leaning or swinging.
  4. At the top of the movement, pause briefly and fully contract the trap muscle. You should feel a strong squeeze in the upper trap.
  5. Slowly lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position in a controlled motion. Don't let your shoulder drop down between reps.
  6. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other arm. Alternate sides evenly.


  • Keep your core tight and avoid excessive arching in your back.
  • Use your free hand to help stabilize your torso if needed.
  • Start light and focus on the mind-muscle connection and proper form.
  • Breathe out as you shrug the weight up.

Here are some of the common mistakes to avoid when performing single-arm dumbbell shrugs:

  1. Excessive Momentum and Swinging
    It's tempting to use momentum to heave the weight up, but this reduces trap activation and can lead to injury. Focus on controlled, deliberate shrugging motions.

  2. Arching the Back
    Arching the back excessively to try and lift the weight higher takes the focus off the traps. Keep your core braced and maintain a neutral spine position.

  3. Shrugging Too High
    Trying to shrug the weight all the way up towards your ear can put unnecessary strain on the shoulders. Aim to lift the weight up about 3-4 inches.

  4. Not Squeezing the Traps
    Make sure to really contract and squeeze the trap muscle at the top of the movement. Don't just lift the weight, focus on activating the traps.

  5. Uneven Shoulder Movement
    Letting one shoulder shrug higher than the other can create muscular imbalances. Keep your shoulders even and lift the weight straight up.

  6. Not Controlling the Descent
    Lowering the weight too quickly or letting it drop down can eliminate the tension on the traps. Maintain control through the entire range of motion.

  7. Gripping Too Tightly
    An overly aggressive grip can fatigue the forearms and hands before the traps. Keep a firm but relaxed grip.

  8. Not Bracing the Core
    Failing to brace the core can cause your torso to twist or sway, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise.

Start with a weight you can control and gradually increase over time. Engage the traps fully on each rep for maximum effectiveness. Proper single-arm shrug form is key to targeting the traps efficiently.

We've compiled numerous youtube videos demonstrating how to perform one-arm dumbbell shrugs for you reference

Video 1: Jim's Tip of the Day: One-Arm Dumbbell Shrug by Jim Stoppani, PhD

 Video 2: Leaning Dumbbell Shrug by Nick Tumminello - Trainer of Trainers

 Video 3: Kettlebell Single Arm Shrug by ElephantJay

Video 4: How to Perfect Your Dumbbell Row | Form Check | Men's Health

Video 5: Single-Arm Dumbbell Shrug

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