Forgotten Exercises: Kazmaier Shrugs


So admittedly I am a massive fan of the World’s Strongest Man competition having grown up watching clips from the 1980s and 1990s. As a child I marvelled at the strength of Geoff Capes, the ‘Viking’ Jón Páll Sigmarsson and I even had a soft spot for Rick ‘Grizzly’ Brown. There was one strongman however, who always captured my attention and it was the immortal Bill Kazmaier.

An accomplished powerlifter, strongman and, for a brief period, wrestler, Kazmaier is rightly counted as one of the strongest men to have walked the earth. Looking at his old World’s Strongest Man footage, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the man’s sheer size. As a powerlifter, Kazmaier totalled over 2,000 lbs. and his body reflected that. Like other strongmen and accomplished lifters, Kazmaier regularly devised new methods and approaches to his training, including the Kazmaier shrug.

What is the Kazmaier Shrug?

Thankfully Kazmaier published a series of training books at the peak of his career, some of which are republished on this website. This means we can describe the Kazmaier shrug in his own words,

The shrug should be an up and down movement and not one in which the shoulders are rolled. Try to develop the movement into an Olympic weightlifting type pull with the bar kept close to the thighs. Without consciously trying to bend the arms, lift the shoulders as high as possible. ‘Catch’ the lowered bar on slightly bent thighs and repeat raising slightly on the toes during the pull. On the light day high repetitions should be used, building up to as many as 40 in one set (total exhaustion), bouncing the bar slightly off the thighs and shrugging as high as possible each time in a series of continuous repetitions. This initial exhaustive set should be followed by a similar performance to exhaustion followed by a final set of fewer, stricter repetitions without the bounce off the thighs. On the heavier day use the bouncing style with more poundage and lower repetitions. Using a shoulder width hand spacing the thumbs would be rubbed unmercifully if not kept over the bar.

Now for those of you who are more visually inclined, the below video gives a nice indication


Using the Kazmaier Shrug

Shrugs are one of those strange exercises where, outside of Olympic weightlifting gyms, they tend to be done in a sloppy and half-hearted manner. There is little room for complacency when it comes to the Kazmaier Shrug. Treating the exercise as a pseudo-Olympic lift allows a certain level of explosiveness to the exercise, which means you can go heavy on this movement.

In terms of rep ranges, Kaz’s own suggestion of 40 reps on light days and lower reps on heavier days works pretty well. Be warned on the light days, 40 reps will bring DOMS! Now my own enthusiasm for this exercise comes from the fact that I can do them pain free. Using a snatch width grip and focusing on explosiveness lets me do shrugs again having avoided the exercise for several months.

For some reason, which I’m sure the better educated can explain, traditional dumbbell shrugs aggravated my shoulders. Not so with the Kazmaier Shrugs. So from my own selfish self-interest, I find this a fantastic movement.

Hopefully you all agree. As always … Happy Lifting!


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