If you have a desk job, you likely spend a big part of your day with your neck pitched forward, your shoulders slumped, and your eyes focused on a screen in front of you. Over time, this posture can take quite a toll on your neck and shoulder muscles.

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do to relieve muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Shoulder shrugs are a popular choice of exercise for strengthening your shoulder muscles and upper arms too.

Shoulder shrugs can be done anywhere and only take a few minutes. Even better, shoulder shrugs are perfect for most fitness levels and can be modified for different levels of strength.

This article will cover the benefits and proper technique for this easy, but powerful, exercise.

The main muscles that shoulder shrugs target are the trapezius muscles. These muscles are located on either side of your neck. They control the movement of your shoulder blades as well as your upper back and neck.

When these muscles are strengthened through exercise, you will have an easier time maintaining proper posture. A strong trapezius pulls your shoulders back and helps stabilize your neck and upper back.

Everyday movements such as lifting, reaching, bending, and even sitting are more efficient and safer when your trapezius muscles are toned and strong. Working these muscles may also help you with other fitness exercises, such as lifting barbells.

Researchers who conducted a 2017 review of the literature on exercises for neck pain, found that strengthening exercises targeted at the neck and shoulders have the ability to significantly reduce neck pain.

A 2011 study involving 537 people in Denmark found that participants with work-related neck pain got significant relief by doing specific neck-strengthening exercises, including shoulder shrugs with dumbbells.

If you have chronic neck pain, consider talking to a physical therapist about shoulder shrugs. Ask if they are safe for you to do, or if there are other exercises they recommend for your pain.

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Follow these steps to do this exercise safely and with good form.

  1. Start with your feet flat on the floor, in a standing position. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your arms at your sides, turn your palms to face each other. If you’re doing the exercise with weights, bend down and grab them now.
  3. Bend your knees slightly so that they line up with (not past) your toes. Keep your chin up, facing straight ahead, and your neck straight.
  4. While you inhale, bring your shoulders as high up toward your ears as you can. Do the movement slowly so that you feel the resistance of your muscles.
  5. Lower your shoulders back down and breathe out before repeating the movement.

Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions to start. You can increase the number of reps as you build up your shoulder strength.

Over time, try working up to doing 3 sets of 20 repetitions, 4 times a week.

If you’re doing this exercise to ease shoulder or neck pain, try doing the exercise without weights at first. Start slowly by doing fewer reps and sets to ensure you’re not aggravating an injury or pinched nerve.

Shoulder shrugs can be done with or without weights. Shoulder shrugs with weights (also called dumbbell shrugs) boost the strengthening potential of this exercise.

If you’re new to shoulder shrugs (or weight training in general), start with a lower weight at first. Hand weights of 5 or 8 pounds are still heavy enough to strengthen your trapezius and upper back muscles.

As you get into the habit of doing this exercise several times a week, you can increase the weight to 15, 20, 25 pounds or more.

If you want to change things up, you can also try this exercise using barbells or resistance bands.

Shoulder shrugs look simple — and that’s because they are. There aren’t a lot of steps or instructions to follow. But there is some safety protocol to be aware of when you try this exercise.

Never roll your shoulders when you’re doing a shoulder shrug. This also applies to dumbbell shrugs performed with weights or resistance bands. Make sure you carefully lift your shoulders up before dropping them back down in the same vertical direction.

If you’re looking to boost the strength of your shoulder, neck, or upper back muscles, or you want to improve your posture, consider adding shoulder shrugs to your workout routine.

Strengthening your trapezius muscles can help stabilize you neck and upper back and reduce the strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.

Shoulder shrugs may also be a good option if you have chronic neck pain. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about this exercise.