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The shrug is one of the most well-known exercises. It's used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, football players, track and field athletes and athletes who participate in overhead sports, such as volleyball. It's also a component of
a group of exercises known as "scapular stabilization," which is a buzzword in rehabilitation today.
To achieve scapular stabilization, the trapezius rhomboid and serratus muscles must be strong, something that weight trainees have known for decades. The shrug primarily targets the upper trapezius and a smaller muscle under the trap known as the levator scapulae, which originates on several vertebrae in the upper neck and inserts on the upper, inner area of the scapula, or shoulder blade, The large trapezius muscle is kite shaped, and the top of it attaches to the base of the skull, the shoulder blade and all of the vertebrae, from the first one at the top of the neck down to what is nearly the top of the lower back. The entire group is trained during a shrug, but the upper trapezius gets the bulk of the work.
The trapezius muscles have several functions: They elevate the shoulder blades, as in a shrug motion; they rotate them upward, as in an overhead press: and they pull them backward, as in a military posture. The shrug is a tremendous exercise for the trapezius group, as are several other exercises I've addressed previously in this column, including the power clean, snatch, high pull, clean, snatch pull, deadlift and top-half deadlift. The shrug is very simple to learn, and it does fit the needs of many trainees.
This exercise is commonly performed with either a barbell or dumbbells. Since trainees can frequently handle very heavy weights on shrugs, those who use dumbbells generally graduate to a barbell at some point. In fact, most trainees resort to using wrist straps to hang onto the heavy bar. A power rack is also very handy because you can set the pins to position the bar only a few inches below your starting height. The standard method of performing shrugs-shrugging your shoulders straight up and down without rolling them back-common)y lead to problems in two areas. The heavy weight can make it difficult to hold onto the bar, and some trainees don't like to use wrist straps.
The other problem occurs with trainees who have a hand or wrist injury or fractured forearm involving either the ulna or the radius, Trainees who incur these injuries must stop heavy upper-back training until they're healed. This presents a real problem for football players, field athletes or even powerlifters, all of whom train hard to build the upper-back strength their sports require.
Fortunately, there's a good alternative to the standard shrug. I first saw this exercise performed a number of years ago and later at Gold's Gym in Venice, California. It was created by Don Ross, who won numerous physique titles, competed in professional wrestling as "the Ripper" and performed countless feats of strength that are rarely seen today.
The alternative movement is calf machine shrugs. Position yourself a calf machine as if you were going to perform calf raises. The only difference is, you start with a weight that's significantly less than your calf raise poundage. Shrug your shoulders up and down. The advantage here is that you're not holding onto a bar or dumbbells. Don devised this variation in order to train his traps with heavy weight and multiple sets without using straps.
As with any exercise, there are people who shouldn't perform calf machine shrugs. If your doctor has that you've separated your shoulder or you have an AC joint separation, then this exercise is a bad idea for you. The AC, or acromioclavicular, joint is located where the clavicle, or collarbone, meets the acromion on top of the shoulder blade, just above the anterior delt.
There's frequently a small bump at this joint, and that's normal. If this bony prominence is painful or is significantly larger on one side, or if you've been told that you've injured the AC joint, then pass on calf machine shrugs. If your AC joint is in good shape but the pad on the machine is old or worn and there's too much pressure on the top of your shoulders, roll or fold a towel and place it on your shoulders for additional padding. Then ask the gym manager if the padding can be replaced-with extradense foam, if possible.
If you're an athlete who needs to maintain your upper-back strength while you're dealing with another injury, keep this exercise in mind. There is another alternative to the standard shrug, and this one was created by C. David Stringfield, who is the president of Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. While you cant use as much weight on this variation as you can use on the calf machine shrug, it's useful for trainees who have a different kind of problem from the ones described above; for example, patients who have had an inguinal, or lower-abdominal, hernia repair and cannot stress that area again.
Stringfleld's variation is a seated shrug performed on a weight stack machine such as a Universal bench press. Position the stool in or near the U-shaped bar so that when you're sitting on the stool with your hands at your sides, the bar is only few inches from your hands. Grip the bar, pulling it up as you perform the shrug motion. This variation involves minimal reach and lift, and because you're seated, you place less stress on the hernia region.
Unfortunately, athletes and weight trainees do get hurt- whether they're in the gym or on the football field, track, court or baseball diamond. Perhaps with Don Ross' shrug variation you can maintain your upper-body strength while you rehabilitate. If you've had an inguinal hernia operation and you're still feeling pain, which you have, naturally, reported to your physician, then give David String- field's seated shrugs a try. If you're still feeling pain even with these alternative movements, leave the trapezius work out of your routine until your rehabilitation is complete.