In the gym, Shrugs exercise is one exercise that the novices love and so do the pros. Big and muscular traps separate a beginner from an experienced lifter and is one muscle which is the envy of many. Big trap muscles and a thick neck are surely a sign of strength and power. Professional sportsmen like boxers, wrestlers, MMA players, rugby players, throwers in athletics, etc. are the people who deeply understand the value of strong neck and trap muscles. The exercises which develop the trap muscles will indirectly strengthen the neck.
A strong neck and traps are also of utmost importance in weightlifters doing heavy lifts like Clean & Jerk and Snatch, and powerlifters performing heavy deadlifts.
As per author and coach Paul Check, “the trapezius group is critical to the stabilization of the shoulder in any activity requiring the use of the arm… The trapezius group (upper, middle and lower) are key contributors to the force-generating sequence during most pulling exercises and are critical to most lifts, particularly Olympic lifts.”
According to the Poliquin group, “Because the traps are involved in stabilizing the upper body, one benefit of performing shoulder shrugs is that they may help you use heavier weights in military presses and curls performed from a standing position.”
A 2014 study in the journal Clinical Biochemistry, by a team of Australian researchers led by T. Pizzari, found that, in shoulder rehab programs, the shrug exercise has been prescribed to facilitate upward rotation of the scapula by strengthening the upper trapezius muscle.
However, in the weight room, one can find people performing shrugs exercise in a number of ways and in most cases the technique is as funny as the amount of weight being lifted.
If I have to define the method in which for e.g. dumbbell shrugs exercise is to be performed one line then it would be, “lift two heavy dumbbells by your side, lift your traps slowly and lower slowly”. It is actually as simple as that. I really don’t know where did these funny movements come from? I once saw a guy lifting some puny dumbbells. He then kept the dumbbells in front of his body, he lifted his traps rolled them back, lowered them, brought them forward again and then straightened his arms to give his traps a kind of a stretch, this was one rep. The cherry on the cake was that this was told to him by his trainer.
The physical meaning of shrug exercise is “to raise and contract the shoulder” and it actually means to show indifference. You have done it a number of times without knowing it, but this time do it a bit slowly and deliberately.
The trapezius or the traps is not a single muscle, but three different muscles with different roles and movements ultimately used to elevate and rotate the shoulder. The bulging traps of a bodybuilder that you see are the upper traps that are primarily used to lift and rotate the shoulder blades upward. The middle traps pull the shoulder blades together and lower traps rotate the shoulder blades downward. Dumbbells shrugs are the best way to target the traps. Shrugs on a trap bar is another way to engage the traps more readily.
“Charles Poliquin” suggests a single shoulder dumbbell shrug at a time to give your traps isolation and even greater stretch at the top. Then there are multiple other ways to perform shrugs exercise.
When we are holding the dumbbells by the side the upper traps are acting against gravity to move up and rotating them in any direction will not only be less effective but also put undue stress on the rotator cuff apart from wasting your precious energy. While standing the feet should be parallel, with stance almost equal to the width of the pelvis. Any wider and the dumbbells will drag on the outer thigh. While moving the dumbbell up or down, avoid any kind of shoulder rotation or too much elbow flexion (bending), there would be a slight bend in the elbow though. Maintain the torso erect, and don’t arch the back, keeping the wrists neutral all this while.
Never let the shoulder move or round forward during the lift. This encourages forward head posture, and causes excessive and unwanted loading of the sternoclavicular and acromioclavicular joints, says Paul Check. Though while doing the shrugs the shoulders should move vertically straight up and down, slight scapular retraction and a wider chest would help even more. This would also help strengthen the other movements like squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts, as scapular retraction is commonly seen in all these movements.
When performing shrugs exercise, it is better to combine it with chest or shoulder exercises. As the back workouts already have a lot of use of traps and scapula. While performing most workouts, shrugs exercise is generally taken at the end of the workout as a finisher, due to which the optimal loading is not done, as the body is already exhausted. Try and take the shrugs exercise in the middle of the workout, and maximize the loading, by lifting heavy. When combining with shoulder workouts, finish all other shoulder movements like overhead presses before shrugs exercise, as exhausted scapula and traps muscles, due to shrugs exercise, can lead to faulty biomechanics while performing shoulder movement.
Try doing dumbbell shrugs with a 3022 tempo i.e. take 3sec to lower the weight, hold the weight for 0sec at the bottom, 2sec to take the weight up and 2sec hold at the top. This small change in the tempo will bring phenomenal changes in the way your trap fibers are recruited. There is no limit to the number of sets you want to perform, anything from 3-6sets is good, though more can be performed by advanced lifters.
For a trap roast meal, do a drop set with the same tempo. Lift the weight equal to your 10RM (rep max) and do 10 reps. After every 10 reps lower the weight by 10lbs and do total 4 levels of a drop. So if you start at 90lbs, do 10 reps, next do 10 reps with 80lbs and so on till last 10 reps with 60lbs.
Traps muscles are extremely strong and in most cases, it is your grip that fails you first. Use a set of lifting straps if required. However, use them only when necessary.
Behind the back barbell shrugs which were made famous by former Mr. Olympia, “Lee Haney” is another good way to target the traps. You can use a smith machine for such a shrug. Again in this shrugs exercise, it is a natural tendency to roll your shoulder back excessively. Avoid against this practice and keep the bar as close to your body as possible.