Hex / Trap Bar & Dumbbell / Barbell Shrug Alternatives to Break Up Stale Routines

Dreading your usual shrug workouts that feel more like a tedious task than what you really want: a trapezius swelling opportunity for growth? Then it's time to supercharge your routine with innovative dumbbell/barbell shrug, trap bar, and hex bar alternatives.

Say hello to the urge to crank up linebackers’ traps, and goodbye to the same old movements that no longer spark your enthusiasm or ignite muscle growth. Whether you're a gym punk or a weightlifting legend, transforming the way you approach shrugs can dramatically restore workout enthusiasm and results.

In this guide, we'll plunge into a selection of dynamic shrug alternatives. That doesn't simply replace the status quo, but also restores the urge to crank up some serious mass and turbocharge your trap training!

Hex Bar vs. Trap Bar ‘Open’: Key Differences

Hex bars (hexagonal shape) and trap bars are open, and both allow you to stand inside the bar for lifts held with a neutral palms-facing body grip. This setup is great for heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts, as it promotes an upright torso posture and reduces lower back strain common to Olympic Barbell squats and deadlifts or thigh abrasion associated with Barbell Shrugs.

Trap Bar Open Overview

The open-style trap bar typically features custom curved handles and a design that elevates the bar off the ground. This setup makes loading/unloading olympic weight plates much more convenient. Also, the open bar design negates a feeling of confinement – thereby freeing the body to exercise without body to bar conflict.

However, depending upon user body height, the ability to achieve maximum squat depth may be compromised for shorter individuals. Trap bar open design is an ideal choice for explosive movements. By facilitating better starting form via a higher grip position, that relieves the urge to round the lower back when clearing the weight from the floor.

Hex Bar Overview

The age-old trap hex bar, also known as a hexagonal bar or trap bar, is a more traditional weightlifting option for barbells. It’s designed to place weights and keep them closer to the body’s center during deadlift or shrug exercises to minimize the risk of lower back injury. It also helps negate thigh and shin on barbell scrub common to said usage.

The hex bar is characterized by its hexagonal shape. It encircles the lifter, allowing for a more comfortable palms-facing body neutral grip (as opposed to a barbells lateral powerlifting-type hold).

Perhaps the greatest detriment of hex bar usage is the cumbersome loading and unloading of multiple heavy olympic weight plates as needed to train such powerful muscle groups as traps and legs. 

Distinguishing Features:

  • Grip and Setup: The hex bar features a neutral grip which enhances grip strength and ability to hold on to heavy loads, while trap bars’ open design sports custom curved handles for alternate gripping options. Also, they are better suited for dynamic, explosive squats and deadlifts as there is little opportunity for bodily contact with the bar.
  • Starting Height: The trap bar starts higher, making it much easier to load and unload than a floor-level hex bar. Also, it provides most lifters a better starting elevation for exercises (though the hex bar may be best for shorter individuals who don’t want their exercise range of motion compromised).
  • Lifting Mechanics: The olympic hex bar as well as the trap bar open both keep weight safely close to body center, thereby reducing the likelihood of lumbar spine aggravations during shrugs, squats, and deadlifts. The trap bar open encourages a more upright beginning posture, thereby minimizing potential weight-clearing back stress – while the hex bar provides a neutral grip and ability to maximize exercise range of motion (albeit at expense of cumbersome unloading). 
  • Choosing the Right Bar: Your choice depends on your stature, workout goals, personal grip preference, and ease of use regarding these Barbell Shrug alternatives.

Barbell vs. Dumbbell Shrugs: A Quick Comparison

Barbell and Dumbbell Shrugs are traditional options for overall trap development. However both have pluses and minuses to be considered prior to incorporating into your trap building workouts.

Barbell Shrugs

These are the absolute most popular ‘go to’ for trapezius training due to their ability to perfectly position olympic bars within a power rack. With the ability to load upwards of 700 pounds, barbell shrugs reign supreme for maximizing absolute power.

However, that typically comes with a price in the form of barbell-abraded thighs and compromised exercise range of motion. Combined with a barbell flexion during use, it negates the overall effectiveness of the barbell shrugs exercise poundage used. That can deflate the likelihood of optimum muscular hypertrophy occurrence.

Also, the barbell does not afford users the option to focus on a lagging left or right trap muscle, as a unilateral shrug machine might render. 

Dumbbell Shrugs

The original unilateral shrug option, dumbbells allow one to move more freely during exercise, allowing a lifter to single out left and right traps for individual attention.

Combined with a much longer effective exercise range of motion when properly used, this means your muscles can develop more evenly and fully as each side pulls its own weight – thereby helping you correct and manage any unevenness in muscle size or strength.

The most glaring downside of dumbbells usage is the fact that one must use huge poundages (limited by dumbbell availability) to grow powerful trap muscles. But wrestling huge dumbbells from the rack prior to the shrug exercise set, then back after the 15-20 high rep set is finished and your grip is gone, can be a truly hazardous event to say the least!

Also, the same thigh contact, abrasion, and compromised movement that is associated with barbell shrugs also afflicts dumbbells. 

Making Your Choice

It all depends on what you're looking to achieve: go for barbell shrugs if you want to focus on lifting big and getting attention. Or choose dumbbell shrugs if they are heavy enough to score better balance, shape, and muscular definition via more exercise freedom of motion and isolation.

You can net the best of both shrug tools by training first each individual trap with a single dumbbell for 2-3 sets, then finish them off with maximum barbell poundages for 2-3 more sets of 15-20 reps. 

Best Shrug Exercises for Lifters

As you can see, there are multiple shrug exercises out there if stuck in a stale, boring routine – or you feel like you’re just not getting the gains you used to. But you may have tried a few of these and are wondering what the best shrug exercises are if looking to wake traps up and maximize rep-for-rep gains.

Here are additional methods and means I’ve counseled clients to resistance train the trapezius muscle group both safely and effectively.

Shrugging Machines

Shrugging machines are simple to use and effective to a degree. However, they typically lock you into a very defined track of movement. That is never as effective as free weight exercises where the body must manage the movement while operating in the three ‘planes of motion,’ such as an athlete performing while the body does the coordinating, balancing, and maintaining of form.

This means shrug machine users are likely sacrificing better gains that Dumbbells/Barbells/Trap Bars Open/Hex Bar Olympic and other Free Weight Exercises might deliver.

The problem with training trapezious muscles is the fact that they are extremely powerful and super fatigue resistant. That means you need a lot of weight and a lot of repetitions done correctly to maximize their potential. You must continually focus on maintaining the correct posture and form throughout the exercise to prevent injury and maximize gains.

Also, they are a lot of work to load and get into position for the heavy exercises. This explains why all but serious lifters even bother with shrugs – which is likely why Power Rack Barbell Shrugs & Trap Bar Opens are so commonly used. 

A Better Alternative: Be the SHRUG PRO

At LPG Muscle, we decided to combine the benefits of Hex Bars, Trap Bars, Power Racks, and Dumbbells for free weight training of the Trapezius muscles of the upper back. We created a system for handling shrug exercises called ShrugPro.

This pair of handles act as self-supporting Weight Plate Stands for fast and easy loading and unloading of plates. ShrugPro is also adjustable, so once set for your height, all that's needed is a slight bend of your knees to grab handles, clear weight, and go! 

The ShrugPro is also unilateral, which gives you a training advantage in that you may individually target the weak or dominant side to suit, as you could with a dumbbell, but without having to wrestle it from the rack and back again when it is totally wasted. 

Patented ShrugPro with rollers forever ends thigh and shin abrasions caused by dumbbells and barbells. In fact, ShrugPro uses bodily contact to your advantage by allowing the control of heavy loads as rested against your legs.

It does this without restricting you – in fact, it enhances dynamic movement as the cushy rollers glide up and down your shins during exercise. This delivers a traps training workout you’ve got to experience to appreciate. All the gain with zero pain! 

ShrugPro Can Help You Blast Through Plateaus

The ShrugPro isn’t just any shrug bar; it's a freestanding, multifunctional powerhouse designed to break the mold of traditional trap training.

Innovative Design and Unmatched Functionality

USA-made and commercial-grade, ShrugPro features a patented, freestanding design that contours close to the body's center of gravity for accurate trapezius targeting and maximum lumbar safety. This ensures loads stay at proper distance and minimizes any risk of strain due to awkward weight distribution. This body-hugging feature not only bolsters safety but also amplifies the efficacy of each repetition, pushing you far past those frustrating plateaus.

Safety, Convenience, Training Tip 101

Bid farewell to loading a hex bar from the floor, or wrestling 150-pound dumbbells from the rack and back again. Simply load your plates onto the ShrugPro plate platforms. Next, set handle elevation to clear the load with a slight bend of the knees. Then commence with a forceful shrug and a 3-second pause at the top full contraction. Then resist the lowering for 3 seconds and repeat for a 15-20 rep set to feel the fire! Three to four sets performed twice weekly with ever-increasing weights will definitely get you crazy ass results other methods won’t.

Versatility for a Comprehensive Training Experience

The ShrugPro transcends traditional uses—it's not just for shrugs. Equipped to handle farmer’s walks, the ShrugPro adapts seamlessly to your power training needs. With vertically adjustable handles that accommodate athletes from 5' to 6'6" tall and the capability to hold up to eight 45-pound Olympic weight plates, this equipment is crafted to cater to users of all sizes and strength levels. You can walk down the hall under load without shin abrasions likely to occur with lesser farmer’s walk handles.

Durable and Reliable

Built with commercial-grade steel and finished with a robust powder coat, the ShrugPro is designed to withstand the rigors of intense and prolonged commercial gym use. Each unit promises to survive under the heaviest loads, ensuring that you can train with rabid devotion.

Preventing Muscular Imbalances

The ShrugPro's unilateral design plays a crucial role in promoting balanced muscle development, preventing the common muscular imbalances that can arise from conventional training methods. Each side of your body is challenged independently, fostering symmetrical strength throughout your upper body.

With its innovative design, safety features, and versatile functionality, the ShrugPro is your ultimate shrug training gym gear backed by a lifetime replacement warranty. Transform your shrug workouts and build pit bull traps with ShrugPro. It’s the best barbell shrug alternative and the cure for the common hex trap bar!

About the author: Daniel Emick is a personal fitness and lifting expert, and the CEO of LPG Muscle.

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