Your trapezius muscles are one of the first things your opponents size up to judge your level of strength. As a competitive athlete, you obviously want to make the kind of impression that strikes fear in their hearts.
Your traps are the large muscles in your back that look like triangles. They attach to your spine in your mid-back, your neck and at your shoulder. For our purposes, we will focus on the upper trap, which is the muscle that sits above your collarbone.
This area of the trap doesn't play a huge role in the movements you perform in your sport, so direct trap training is often not even included in performance training programs. Deadlifts are believed to be sufficient.
But let's be honest—that's no fun.
Direct trap training, which is typically done with Shrugs, creates an awesome pump and gives you the appearance you're looking for. One of our favorite Shrug variations is the Single-Arm Barbell Shrug because of the additional benefits it provides over traditional Barbell or Dumbbell Shrugs.
Benefit 1: Increased Trap Activation
The No. 1 goal of a Shrug is to build the upper traps. However, range of motion in a standard Shrug is so small that it's not terribly effective at creating larger and stronger traps. That's why it's commonly recommended to hold each rep for a few seconds, since this more effectively activates the muscles.
The Single-Arm Barbell Shrug inherently creates more activation in your traps. By working only one side at a time, it more effectively isolates the muscle, causing it to work harder. Also, the tension created by holding an unstable barbell with one hand flows up to the traps via a process known as irradiation. This gets more fibers involved in the exercise, resulting in more benefit from each rep.
Although you won't lift nearly as much weight as when you perform traditional barbell Shrugs, or even a Single-Arm Dumbbell Shrug, you can be sure that your traps will be severely challenged.
Benefit 2: Builds a Strong Grip
Your grip plays a huge role in this exercise. As you are probably well aware, most barbell exercises are performed with two hands simply because that's how barbells are designed to be held.
Holding a barbell with one hand completely changes the exercise. Your hand becomes a fulcrum, or a pivot point, for the barbell, allowing it to teeter up and down, almost like a seesaw.
Your hand and forearm muscles must work overtime to keep the bar level. Of course, you get some grip training from any type of Shrug, but holding a barbell with one hand is an immense challenge to your trap muscles. As an added benefit, a stronger grip has a direct correlation to your performance on other strength exercises.
Benefit 3: Increased Core Strength
Your core muscles are tasked with keeping your spine in a neutral position. When you hold a weight on one side of your body, as you do with this exercise, your body naturally wants to tilt to that side. Your abs and obliques engage to prevent that from happening. This is the concept of Suitcase Carries, which can also be performed by holding a barbell with one hand.
When you perform a Shrug with an unstable bar, your core has to work even harder to keep your spine in the proper position. Even if you use only the bar, you'll feel a burn in the side of your core toward the end of your sets.
How to Add the Single-Arm Barbell Shrug to Your Workouts
First and foremost, you need to know how to perform the exercise. Although it looks simple, you must follow these important coaching cues to maximize every rep:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the center of the barbell with your right hand.
Tighten your core muscles as if bracing for a punch, and tighten your grip on the barbell as hard as you can.
Start with your shoulders down and back, and keep your neck in a neutral position.
Shrug your right shoulder up toward your ear as far as your range of motion allows. Hold this position.
Slowly lower the bar to the starting position while attempting to keep the bar as level as possible.
To get the best results from the Single-Arm Barbell Shrug, perform 10 to 12 reps with a relatively light weight, and hold each rep for 2-3 seconds. For many of you, the bar alone will be heavy enough at first. Since this exercise also crushes your grip, it's best to perform it near the end of your workout, after other strength work.
The execution of the exercise is very simple. Do your reps on one side, then switch to the other side without resting. Keep going for 4-5 sets. Your traps will feel like they want to pop through your shoulders.
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