Are shrugs a good shoulder exercise?

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As a baseball athletic trainer I am not a huge fan of shrugs for the overhead athlete.  The upper trapezius is a large muscle and when over stimulated it can cause a myriad of problems in the shoulder. I tend to teach more scapular stabilization, focusing on the rhomboids and lower trapezius (an example of this would be a row with retraction or prone 6 exercise).  If you are not an overhead athlete and have shrugs as part of a well rounded shoulder program then its alright but again not my first choice.  Remember that more is not better in this case.

While choosing exercises for your next shoulder routine, or any routine for that matter, make sure to consider your goal. First, if you are seeking a weight reduction goal, performing a shrug is not going to give you the most bang for you buck.  It is true that the trapezius muscle in which you are working is large, but shrugging will use little of that particular muscle.  The second thing to consider is your posture.  While taking a look at yourself in the mirror, notice the position of the shoulders.  Are they hiked up toward your ears? Or are they rotated forward? Or both? Does your head protrude forward? Or do you have a tendency for headaches?  If any of these happen to be you, then lets consider a different exercise. 
A shrug will work primarily the upper fibers of the trapezius. If an individual suffers from any of the afore mentioned postural conditions, chances are the upper fibers of the traps are already working very hard.  If you continue to work this muscle you create the potential for repetive overload and eventual injury of either the neck or the shoulder.  It is the lower and middle fibers of this muscle which need to be emphasized. All of these muscle attach to and influence the shoulder blades, the lower fibers need to "up their game" and work to pull the shoulder blades down (depression). So, the shoulder should not appear to be migrating toward your ear.  The middle fibers should work to pull the shoulder blades together (retraction). So, the shoulders should not be rounded forward.  In order to fix this, you will need to design a program which allows for an inegrated approach to the muscle imbalance.

Begin by first using a foam roller on the latissimus dorsi. Find a tender spot and hold for 30 seconds, repeat on both sides.
Then use static stretching on the latissimus dorsi, the pectoralis muscles, and the upper trapezius muscles. You will want to hold these stretches for 30 seconds.
Next, use isolate strengthening for the mid and lower traps by peforming a stability ball combo with a dowl rod.
Finally, use an integrated exercise such a squat with a row with cables to help re-teach the nervous system what proper poster is.

If you run into any problems understanding these exercises or performing an assessment, contact a qualified individual for assistance.

Shrugs can be used in an exercise program if you have a well-rounded shoulder routine, do not show any obvious signs of muscle imbalances (muscles that are not at the correct lengths and activate improperly during exercise) and are not experiencing shoulder or neck pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.