Shrugs (Fast vs Slow Tempo, Which Should You Be Doing?)

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A side by side comparison of a man performing shrugs slow and fast.

I used to have trouble engaging my traps while doing shrugs because I would go very light and perform insanely slow reps and my arms would fatigue. Then I started watching others in the gym performing much heavier, faster-paced shrugs and they had decent-sized traps.

As a general rule, each shrug repetition should take 2-4 seconds to fully perform. Go slow enough to control the weight while achieving a full range of motion, but not so slow that your forearms and biceps engage over your traps.

There’s not one best speed for shrugging, but below are a few guidelines that can help you decide which tempo is optimal for your training goal.

Guidelines for Shrug Tempo

The speed you use to perform shrugs is somewhat dependent on whether you’re a beginner or more advanced.

For instance, beginners could stick to a slower tempo ratio such as 3:0.5:3:0.5.

The first 3 signifies the time in seconds of the eccentric (lowering phase). The second 3 signifies how long the concentric (lifting phase) will take.

The 0.5s portray how many seconds you should pause between reps at the bottom and top.

Rep ActionRatios in order (3:0.5:3:0.5)
Eccentric (lowering phase)3-seconds
Pause at the bottomHalf-second
Contraction (shrugging upward)3-seconds
Pause at the topHalf-second

However, if you’re advanced and looking to optimize hypertrophy (6-15 reps) or strength (1-5 reps) these ratios may look different.

Hypertrophy (building muscle): 1:0:1:0 or 2:0:2:0

Implement these tempos by:

  • counting to 1 or 2 as you shrug up, but don’t pause at the top.
  • Count to 1 or 2 as you lower, letting the traps stretch completely at the bottom before repeating the positive.

Strength: 1:0:X:2

  • The X indicates that you’ll explosively shrug upward while keeping control.
    • Heavier weights will typically take longer to lift.
  • Squeeze for two seconds at the peak contraction.
  • Lower with a one-count.
  • Explode back up without pausing at the bottom.

Since the shrug is a single-joint exercise focusing on strength isn’t usually necessary because it can constrict your ability to fully contract upward.

Strength is better reserved for multi-joint movements such as pull-ups or deadlifts.

Learning proper form: 3:0.5:3:0.5

  • Shrug upward while counting; thousand one, thousand two, thousand three.
  • Squeeze for half a second at the top.
  • Release your shoulder blades down, counting to three again.
  • Let your traps stretch for half a second, then repeat the upward phase.

Remember these are just guidelines.

It’s a whole different story when you’re holding weights in your hands and the last thing you’re thinking about is counting in your head.

Shrug with enough control to move the weight with your traps but not so slowly that it unnecessarily hinders your ability to reach your target rep range.

The Importance of Shrug Tempo

Brad Schoenfeld, Dan Ogborn, and James Krieger conducted a meta-analysis in 2015 looking at exercise tempo studies (not specific to the shrug).

They found that entire reps lasting between 0.5 and 8 seconds sparked very comparable levels of hypertrophy.

They also concluded that reps taking longer than 10 seconds may hinder performance.

This shows that tempo isn’t the most important stressor when doing shrugs.

Use a speed that allows you to control the load throughout the entire range of motion with the correct form by engaging the traps.

Is It Better To Go Heavy on Shrugs?

Early in my lifting career, I swore by going light on every exercise, shrugs were no exception. That was before I learned about fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Shrugs target the traps in particular, which are made up of both types.

Using heavy weights and lower rep ranges on shrugs is great for engaging the fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are responsible for generating strength and size in the traps. Going to failure in the 4 to 8-rep range is optimal for recruiting them.

It’s important to note that the traps are made up of about 45% fast twitch and 55% slow twitch fibers.

So, combining heavy and light weights for lower and higher reps is recommended for shrugging.

This can be done by having one heavy and one light shrug workout per week, so two sessions in total.

If you don’t have time to do them twice a week you can also do 2 lightweight working sets in the 12-15 rep range and 2 heavier sets for 4-8 reps in a single session.

Why Are Shoulder Shrugs Bad?

Whether you do them slow or fast, heavy or light, some people swear against doing shoulder shrugs altogether, claiming they’re bad for your posture.

The shoulder shrug is not a bad exercise granted you do them properly and don’t have any underlying neck and shoulder impingement or nerve issues. Make sure you shrug up and in, and avoid rolling your shoulders.

When you perform shrugs correctly they will build bigger upper traps, helping to mobilize your neck and protect it from harmful blows.

How to Shrug With Correct Tempo

When it comes to actually performing shrugs you can use body weight, dumbbells, barbells, cables, or bands.

Barbells are great for focusing on strength and hypertrophy for overloading those fast twitch trap fibers.

If your goal is to build a better mind-muscle connection or target the slow twitch fibers, cables, dumbbells, bands, or bodyweight are better options.

  1. Grab the handles using a neutral (thumbs facing forward) or overhand grip (thumbs facing each other). Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Stand or sit upright and lean your upper body forward by 10 degrees while maintaining a flat back.
  3. Lift your shoulder blades up and in towards your ears using a one-count without pausing at the top.
    • It is okay to slightly bend your elbows as you raise.
  4. Count to one while lowering your shoulder blades straight down.
  5. Squeeze back up without pausing for very long at the bottom.

Common Mistakes

  • Letting gravity control the eccentric action.
    • This is a common occurrence when performing shrugs under heavy loads.
      • You shouldn’t let your shoulders lazily drop down after pulling upwards.
    • Always maintain control of the eccentric portion.
      • This puts your muscles in a better position to contract concentrically and helps maintain tension for greater trap activation.
  • Going too light and too slow.
    • If individual sets are taking too long the biceps and forearms will fatigue. This makes focusing on trap isolation in the subsequent sets much harder.

Form Tips

  • After you reach the bottom of the rep, allow the weights to pull your shoulders down to maximize the stretch.
  • Shrug with body weight to practice the mechanics and lifting tempo.
    • You can also start each weighted shrug session with body weight to warm up and engrain proper form in your mind.
      • Utilize the 3:0.5:3:0.5 ratio.

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but do your shrugs at a pace that’s comfortable for you.

Keep in mind that 0.5 to 8 seconds is the best range to stick to when it comes to muscle growth.

Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!