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Build a Better Set of Traps With Kirk Shrugs

Here we’ll get into all things Kirk shrugs so you can build a big yoke, crushing grip strength, and deadlift PRs.

Kirk shrugs a barbell-shrugging variation with a unique grip and a particular way of performing them. But before getting into that, there’s a story behind this excellent upper trap exercise.

Kirk shrugs got their name from the lifter who first used them, Kirk Karwoski. Karwoski is considered one best squatter in the history of powerlifting and currently holds the IPF-equipped world record in the squat of 1,003 pounds in the 275 pounds weight class. Kirk and his coach Marty Gallagher started doing Kirk shrugs to increase Kirk’s deadlift grip strength. Kirk then pulled an 800-pound deadlift, but both discovered it built a big yoke too.

Kirk shrugs are predominately an upper-body exercise that focuses on the upper traps with little assistance from the lower body. Here are the primary muscles trained with Kirk shrugs.

The most obvious benefit of performing any strength exercise is to get you jacked, and Kirk Shrugs will do that and more. Here are some vital benefits of incorporating these into your current workout.

Barbell shrugs are different because the weight is anterior; you must pay close attention to your lifting posture to ensure you get the best from this shrug variation. Here are a few form tips to pay attention to.

Upper Body Finisher

Try for three straight sets of eight to 12 reps rest two minutes between sets at the end of sessions, or choose a weight around 40-50 % 1 RM deadlift and go till failure.

For Upper Body Muscle

If you’re a sucker for punishment and want to push your grip and back strength to new heights, try this triset for size instead of your usual back exercises.

1A. Barbell bent over row-10 reps.

1B. Towel pull-ups- until failure.

1C. Kirk shrugs 8-12 reps.

Repeat two to three times, resting as needed.

If you have trouble shrugging with a regular barbell or with the Kirk Shrug in particular, these two alternatives will build your upper traps nicely.


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