Shrugs Are Overrated: Build a Massive Yoke Without Shrugs

Ben Johnson
Written By: Ben Johnson
May 18th, 2016
Updated: August 3rd, 2021
83.8K Reads
Shrugs Are Overrated: Build a Massive Yoke Without Shrugs
Traps are the true sign of strength. Quit relying on ego-based, half shrug movements and build a serious yoke with this 4 week explosive workout plan!
Workout Summary
  • Main Goal
    Build Muscle
  • Workout Type
    Single Muscle Group
  • Training Level
  • Program Duration4 weeks
  • Days Per Week
  • Time Per Workout15-30 minutes
  • Equipment Required
    Barbell, Dumbbells
  • Target Gender Male & Female
  • Workout PDF Download Workout

Workout Description

Big traps are a silent answer to the age-old question, "Do you even lift?"

Nothing says strength and size like an impressive yoke and thick neck. But if you're only doing shrugs, the gains train left the station without you.

When it comes to building traps that stretch your t-shirts, shrugs won't cut it. You need more.

The trapezius is massive, extending from the back of the head all the way to the bottom of your T spine. But when building a massive yoke, the upper fibers receive the biggest focus—for good reason.

Built upper traps make you look powerful.

Shrugs are the golden child of trap development. But a lot of people struggle packing pounds on their upper traps, even with countless sets and endless reps spent shrugging.

It's because shrugs have some serious shortcomings.

Related: Traps are the New Abs - Here's How to Build Them

Where Shrugs Fall Short

For one, a ton of shruggers still make the mistake of rolling the shoulders. Just stop. It's a bad idea. Rolling moves the load away from the traps and puts unnecessary strain on the shoulder girdle.

At best, rolling shrugs don't work your traps. Effectively side stepping why most people shrug in the first place. And at worst, it puts you out of commission with a nasty injury to your shoulder or rotator cuff. No thanks.

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The shrug also has an extremely limited range of motion. Because of this, it's relatively easy to go heavy. Add some ego and you've got people shrugging bars and bells that are far too heavy. Before long, reps get sloppy (if not horrendous), and traps remain puny and underworked.

Sure, you can turn a couple hundred pounds into a massive shake weight. But bad news—that's not shrugging and it won't build your traps.

Most importantly, upper traps do more than scapular elevation (read: shrug). While loading a shrug will help build traps, it's only one piece to the puzzle. If scapular elevation is the golden child of trap development, upward rotation of the scapula is the red headed stepchild nobody cares about.

Shrugs aren't a bad exercise. They simply aren't a cure-all for tiny traps. If you only rely on shrugs for upper trap development, you're leaving gains on the table.

But the shortcomings of the movement also provide opportunity. Add the right exercises, fill in the gaps left by shrugs, and build a massive yoke. Leave a nation of shruggers looking on in jealous awe.

No matter what people say, we all know the truth… Size matters.

Beating the Shrug: Which Exercises and Why

1. Hinged High Pull

The high pull involves both elevation and upward rotation of the scapula. Both are primary movements for the upper fibers of your traps. But shrugs only elevate. An exercise demanding multiple primary movements—in this case, the high pull—recruits more motor units, works the muscle harder, and leads to more growth.

Compared to shrugs, there's a massive increase in range of motion when you perform a high pull. This increased ROM also makes for a better hypertrophic response.

Increases in intensity stimulates growth as well. Because high pulls are an explosive movement with heavy weight, the intensity level blows shrugs away. That intensity recruits more motor units and fast twitch muscle fibers, which help you pack on the mass.

2. Snatch-grip Deadlift

Holding hundreds of pounds in your hands is going to help build your yoke. That's a big reason why shrugs work. But the wide hands in a snatch-grip deadlift turns trap development on overdrive by creating more tension in the upper traps. When it comes to biomechanics, small angle changes can make big differences.

According to Dr. Hypertrophy, Brad Schoenfeld, a key component to optimize muscle growth is mechanical tension. Usually, a set of shrugs has significantly less time under tension than a set of snatch grip deadlifts. Not only do you have more tension because of the wider grip, the total time under tension increases as well. Translation: gains.

3. Farmer's Walks

Tension strikes again. But with farmer's walks you can take total time under tension through the roof. Even the slowest and most controlled set of pause shrugs only lasts about 30–40 seconds. Multiply that by a few sets and you're looking at a couple minutes under tension. Tops.

Related: Never Stop Making Gains! Use Micro-Progressions For Growth

A single set of farmer's walks lasts as long as your grip and grit. One set of carries can beat multiple sets of shrugs when it comes to total time under tension. And putting it simply, you get bigger.

The Program

Perform the following workouts once each week. Personalize the program with custom accessory work. Either superset the exercises with snatch-grip deadlifts or add accessories between the deadlifts and finisher.

Generally, I'd recommend a focus on pulling and hip dominant exercises. KB swings and snatches, bent over rows, pull ups, band work, suspension training—you get the idea.

Intensities are measured on a scale of one to ten for your rating of perceived exertion (RPE).

Week 1
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Hinged High Pull 5 4*
2. Snatch-grip Deadlift 3 4**
3. Farmer's Walks 1 10 min***

*Perform sets with 6-7 RPE
**Perform sets with 8-9 RPE
***Set a timer for 10 minutes and perform as many farmer's walks as possible before time expires. Goal is maximal time under tension. Moderate weight is best. Walk until form breaks down or grip begins to fail.

Week 2
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Hinged High Pull 4 2*
2. Snatch-grip Deadlift 4 8**
3. Farmer's Walks 5 30 secs***

*Perform sets with 8-9 RPE
**Perform sets with 7-8 RPE

***Go heavy this week. Select weight you can only carry for about 30 secs. A good goal is 50% bodyweight in each hand. 

Week 3
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Hinged High Pull 4 8*
2. Snatch-grip Deadlift 5 2**
3. Farmer's Walks 1 10***

*Perform sets with 7-8 RPE
**Perform sets 5-10lbs heavier than week 1

***Just like week 1, set a timer for 10 minutes and perform as many famer's walks as possible. Use a weight 5-10% heavier than week 1.

Week 4
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Hinged High Pull 6 4*
2. Snatch-grip Deadlift 5 6**
3. Farmer's Walks 6 30 secs***

*Perform sets 5-10lbs heavier than week 1
**Perform sets 10lbs heavier than week 2

***Just like week 2, but this time use a weight that's 5-10% heavier and perform 6 total sets.

As mentioned, perform these workouts once a week in addition to customary accessory lifts. The hinged high pulls is best utilized as the main lift of that day’s work out. Also, the farmer’s walks are best used as a finisher to that day’s workout.

Paul Carter said, "Every skinny, weak guy has abs. Traps are the true sign of strength." It's time for you to start showing off your true sign of strength.

Follow the program for a month and your traps will grow. Follow it for two months and they'll explode.

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Building a massive yoke takes more than scapular elevation. Take advantage of the shortcomings of shrugs and pack pounds onto your upper back.

Look strong. Be powerful. Get yoked.

Posted on: Thu, 05/19/2016 - 14:44

An article aimed at beginners? Why not actually explain or provide a link to what these exercises actually are? I know what number 3 is but the others?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 05/19/2016 - 16:52

A simple Google or YouTube search will often reveal the answer to your question.