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The shrug can be an essential addition to your training routine to help build bigger, stronger traps and shoulders, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you grab your weights and start rolling your shoulders like there’s no tomorrow, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Using the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of how common it is for guys to put their shoulder health at risk by moving the wrong way. Let’s break down everything you need to know.
Neck in Neutral
Eb says: Bro-science (or at least some of it) states that you should look at the ground when you’re shrugging. In theory, you work the traps through a fuller range of motion by doing this. Don’t fall for it, though.
First off, looking at the ground places your cervical spine in extension, not a position you want to train from or be in the habit of working from. Secondly, the key function of your traps you train when you shrug is that of elevating your shoulder blades. You can execute that same motion whether you’re looking at the ground or looking straight ahead, so opt for the position that’ll be long-term safer.
Eb says: Move only at the shoulders when raising the weights. You’ll often see people bending their elbows, essentially creating extra momentum and energy to drive overly heavy weights upwards. That’s not a motion the traps govern.
Your traps are, again, elevating your shoulder blades, and that happens when you’re elevating your shoulders. Avoid bending your arms, no matter what anyone says.
Arms at Your Sides
Eb says: You’ll see people holding the weights in front of them when they shrug; don’t do this. Keep your arms at your sides, palms in neutral (facing your thighs). Roll your shoulders back. Your posture should be sound when you shrug period: Shoulders back, glutes squeezed, abs tight. Having your arms at your sides will let your traps move naturally, and it’ll prevent you from closing down joint space at the front of the shoulder joint.
And if you shrug with a barbell, you should keep this in mind, too. No, your hands can’t be in neutral when you’re shrugging with a barbell. But you want to do something called “breaking the bar,” essentially trying to bend the bar so that you can get your hands in a neutral position. Will it happen? Not a chance, but by maintaining that pressure, you’ll protect your shoulders and clean up your posture when shrugging, too.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
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