I spend a lot of time in open gyms and see a lot of ridiculous things, things I feel compelled to speak out about, and against. There is so much misinformation, and plain bad information circulating in the mainstream, and in the gym, about fitness and nutrition there is no shortage of subject matter.

Recently I have seen so many guys doing shrugs – and a lot of shrugs, like a whole workout of shrugs – it struck me that this is a colossal waste of time and effort. If you feel compelled to do shrugs at the most they should be treated as a fine tuning exercise, and I even hesitate to qualify them in this manner, and only a few sets are needed. More than three sets is folly. This is a great example of how a decent exercise can be ruined by improper use.

Inevitably people do shrugs to develop their “traps.” And let’s be honest, in the vast majority of cases “people” are guys. The reality is that while the traps are involved the levator scapulae and rhomboids play a major role in the shrugging movement. The rationale for doing shrugs is aesthetic, not functional. In reality, shrugs are an inefficient way to develop the trapezoid muscle.

Guys compound their mistake of over-emphasizing shrugs by using wrist straps and/or using a machine to perform the movement. This “shrug syndrome” illustrates how little the average person – and unfortunately, many trainers – know about anatomy and function.

Perform explosive, compound movements such as power shrugs, high pulls and hang cleans – without using wrist straps – to maximize your training, while developing all the aforementioned muscles, and other muscles as well. Linking the shoulder and the hip in training, not isolating body parts/muscles, allows you to get the most out of your training. Performing proper dead lifts, without straps, will also do more to develop the muscles discussed more efficiently than shrugs.

A quick note about straps; lose them. Wrist straps hurt physical development and strength, they do not help. Develop the strength in your hands, wrists and forearms and your overall fitness level will improve. Using straps disrupts the kinetic chain and detracts from the benefits of performing compound movements. Plus it looks silly when a guy has big, bulky traps, rounded shoulders and skinny little shaved wrists and forearms.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I am just starting back in the gym after a ridiculously long hiatus, I have never used straps, but I have always felt that the shrug works well in developing your Traps. I understand that there are other muscles involved in the lift, but if there are better exercises for isolating the traps I’d love to hear some recommendations.
    The post was good, I would just suggest that when you point out a problem, offer up some alternative solutions.

    • Here’s an excerpt from the item that does what you suggest.
      “Perform explosive, compound movements such as power shrugs, high pulls and hang cleans – without using wrist straps – to maximize your training, while developing all the aforementioned muscles, and other muscles as well. Linking the shoulder and the hip in training, not isolating body parts/muscles, allows you to get the most out of your training. Performing proper dead lifts, without straps, will also do more to develop the muscles discussed more efficiently than shrugs.”

  2. Deadlifts are my favorite way to work my forearms. I find that wrist curls are as tedious and unrewarding as you believe shoulder shrugs to be. If anything, I’ll do reverse barbell curls to work the top of my forearm in addition to deadlifts since I am getting a bicep workout in at the same time. As for the bottom of my forearm, I find that curls get the job done just fine.

  3. Some people may have injured their lower back doing compound exercises like cleans or high pulls so shoulder shrugs are all they can do for traps. Secondly if you want to use a lot of weight straps are a great tool. Just relax there.

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