Is a Shrug Exercise a Push or Pull?

Woman lifting weights

The shrug is an exercise that targets the multiple muscles in the back. This exercise is popular for building foundational strength needed to complete more advanced, multi-joint exercises. You can perform the shrug using a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells. The shrug is considered a pulling motion, and can be used to build muscular strength, endurance or hypertrophy.

Movement Classification

The shrug is considered a pulling motion, as the weight is lifted toward the center of the body during the concentric phase of the primary muscle group. This exercise is also considered of basic utility, as a greater intensity is placed on the muscles than with smaller auxiliary exercises. Basic exercises tend to be gravity dependent and include a shift in muscle groups through the range of motion of the lift. However, the shrug is an isolated exercise that involves the movement of just one joint.

Primary Muscles

The shrug primarily targets the upper trapezius. The upper trapezius is located in the upper back and lower neck, and is responsible for multiple movements in the scapula, spine and neck. Originating in the skull and inserting into the clavicle, the upper trapezius is important for providing support to the neck for sports such as football, hockey and rugby.

Additional Muscles

The shrug also relies on multiple synergists and stabilizers to facilitate the lift. A synergist is a muscle that contracts to assist the primary target in executing the lift, while a stabilizer contacts to provide joint support without significantly lengthening or shortening itself. During the shrug, the middle trapezius and levator scapulae act as synergists, while the erector spinae serve as stabilizers.

Training Tips

One way to vary your training program is to alternate pushing with pulling exercises. Pushing exercises include all those that mobilize weight way from the center line of the body. Examples include the bench press and leg press. When performing a total-body resistance training program, rotate between days in which you perform solely pushing exercises versus just pulling to promote muscular balance.