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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Exercise Police - Shrugs

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Panel Discussion: Enough with the "shrugs"!!!

In a study by Sola et. al., nearly 1/3 of asymptomatic individuals had trigger points in the upper trapezius musculature. Release and stretching is effective in reducing trigger point activity. Shrugs are a great way to irritate these generally overactive muscles. How about some lower trap exercises… can I see a cobra?

Moderated by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

This Panel Discussion was originally posted on my facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/brent.brookbush - on July 17th, 2010

Derrick Price, May 26, 2010 at 8:52am: What if a person LIKES to do shrugs, "sumo squats", or stretch their hamstrings? What's more important? What the trainer thinks is best for the client or what the client enjoys? :)

Brent Brookbush, May 26, 2010 at 9:00am: Great Question DP,

With the limitless creativity of a trainer like yourself, and the literally 100's of exercises at our disposal, I am 99% sure that we can create an awesome routine that does not exacerbate underlying issues. Musculoskeletal pain accounts for an unbelievable percentage of medical visits, and that ain't fun for no one.

Marty Miller, May 26, 2010 at 11:04am: Brent I have never heard anyone say how good someone’s low traps look. Bring on the shrugs baby!!! Hahaha.

Dan Daly what about shrugs on the smith machine with straps and a weight belt? is that ok? :- )~

Matt Schoeneberger LOL @ Marty and Dan! don't forget to chalk up, too

Derrick, I've found that if you can convince someone that the movement (shrugs) or habit (wearing heels) they like so much is causing them pain, they'll stop. Pain trumps just about everything :)

Igor Daysudov, May 26, 2010 at 3:14pm: This reminds me of a trick you showed me with relaxing a pectoral muscle. I am thinking that the same can be applied to trapezius?

Derrick Price The upper traps are typically lengthened with someone who has rounded shoulders/computer posture (See both Sahrmann: Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairments and Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers). This tissue is then under constant stress which in the long term creates excessive build up of fascia tissue in this upper back and neck area (Davis's Law) and lead to trigger points. This build up immobilizes the scapula, thoracic and cervical spine. Once the trigger points are released (along with other areas of shortness around the shoulder girdle and neck) that the movement of shrugging as part of an integrative routine can help create better mobility of the scapula and spine and restore proper length tension relationships around this area which ultimately may alleviate pain…

Brent Brookbush, May 26, 2010 at 4:44pm: Good points DP, although I would add two small points.


Using Tom Meyers as a reference for assessment is questionable, just as using Sahrmann for release techniques would be questionable. Although I believe that Tom Meyer's work detailing the mechanical role of fascia is important, his work leaves much to be desired in consideration of muscle length, inter-muscular coordination, and neuromuscular control. That being said the upper traps are both shortened via scapular elevation and atlo-occipital extension. An argument can be made for lengthening of the traps via cervical flexion, but you have to pit one against the other. AT BEST… I would say you have a muscle that is not in an ideal position, but hardly lengthened or shortened.


Elevation is important, but are shrugs really functional. We can choose a variety of compound shoulder movements to reinforce scapular elevation, and thoracic mobility that do a better job. For example, wall angels, I-T-Y's and any OH press.

Brent Brookbush P.S. Marty your hilarious.

I've never heard of a women who appreciated how close a guy's shoulders were to his ears either, but you keep reinforcing those tight traps.

Derrick Price, May 26, 2010 at 5:43pm: I didn't use Myers as a reference for assessment nor Sahrmann for release techniques. They just happen to be sources that both discuss overactive, weak upper traps that are in a lengthened position.

Not all Upper trap fibers attach to the occipital protuberance and when the shoulders are protracted, this does not necessarily cause the scapula to elevate, rather migrate away from the midline of the body.

Shrugs not functional? No one should ever work on accelerating shoulder elevation and decelerating shoulder depression? When you perform a power clean, the first half of the movement requires a shoulder shrug. If I have to hold two heavy bags of groceries, you better believe there's going to be some shoulder shrugging or my arms would rip off!

Also, ITY, Wall Angles, OH Presses are great exercises but may not necessarily create better thoracic mobility, especially in the manner they are usually taught in the gym (no movement of the spine).

BTW, love the posts and the discussion. Love what you do bro!

Brent Brookbush, May 26, 2010 at 6:15pm: I think they should repost our discussion on a couple sites… Send me your website address so people can see the wonderful stuff your doing as well…

Dan Daly, May 26, 2010 at 6:42pm: I agree with Derrick, isometric trap engagement are a part of everyday life while carrying bags, dog leash, etc, one could argue whether power cleans/shrugs are functional. Nonetheless a great exercise for power athletics.

I like ITY’s, scaption, prone trap raises and other scapulothoracic movements to improve mobility but would not use a traditional shoulder press. In fact lack of thoracic mobility hinders a fluid shoulder press. Try a cable shoulder press with the line of force positioned perpendicular to the body. An alternative to wall angels.

Derrick Price, May 26, 2010 at 7:24pm: Brent, my youtube account? //www.youtube.com/user/TheDerrickPrice

Marty Miller, May 26, 2010 at 9:16pm: Great discussion guys, but if we had to look at this in a very simple way. When cuing exercises what do we say more "lower your shoulders, or raise your shoulders up?" It seems to me most everyone has no problem elevating their traps during movements such as rows, presses, etc. Just simple food for thought.

Derrick Price, May 27, 2010 at 8:51am: No doubt double M, all I'm saying is lets not throw this exercise in the toilet because it still has its place in our library

Marty Miller, May 27, 2010 at 9:04am: DP, I agree 100%.

Brent Brookbush, May 27, 2010 at 9:38am: I'm going to stay extreme, and say no to shrugs. We're having a discussion about a single joint movement pattern, and I don't think any of us are huge fans of adding a ton of those to our routines. I think you can choose a half dozen exercises that are better for thoracic mobility, I think we can choose 100's of upper-body exercises that are better for your posture, but I am fine with including shrugs in an integrated movement pattern - for example Squat to Calve Raise to Shrug, or any power lifting movement (cleans, etc.)…. I must say this was one of the best discussions on my page yet. You cats are all awesome. Marty and Derrick, special thanks for all your input, I am sure the trainers who visit my page are very appreciative of hearing another voice. Please keep challenging me!!!

Marty Miller, May 27, 2010 at 10:07am: Ok how about this one….. I have been doing a lot of research on grip strength and rotator cuff stability. Hence why I love kettle bells

for rotator cuff rehab. Obviously not the 60# version. I have kb's as small as 5#. I have a theory of a very primitive movement pattern I

will discuss once we get this all started.

Brent Brookbush, May 27, 2010 at 12:30pm: That sounds good… We need to find some references, but I remember first hearing about this from Grey Cook in a weekend workshop for FMS…. I wonder what research he was referring to.

Derrick Price, May 27, 2010 at 12:48pm: Yes great stuff indeed, it's how we all become better professionals and friends! I think I'll have to create a quick video on alternative shrug strategies because Brent, I'm with ya, basic shrugs are very limiting and isolated.

MM - Yes, grip strength is HUGE with shoulder stability. The rotator cuff is myo-fascially connected to the ulnar collateral ligament and hypothenar muscles of the hand when the arm is extended out (in any plane). It's why they teach you in martial arts to stick your arms out and slap the floor when you fall to help distribute/absorb the load of the impact.

Marty Miller, May 28, 2010 at 7:40am: Ok let’s move this discussion over to my page, only because I believe people may not re open this one. DP and Brent I better see you on it!!

Eric Beard, May 28, 2010 at 1:29pm Good stuff fellas, what about the rotation of the scapulae? Often times you can find one or both downwardly rotated…thank you levator scap, lat and friends! So is Brent against barbell srhugs? dumbell shrugs? scapular elevation? upward rotation? nail it down for me BB!

Brent Brookbush, May 28, 2010 at 1:41pm: Just against the shrug exercise, in isolated fashion. Obviously elevation is a necessary and essential component of scapulo-thoracic and gleno-humeral rhythm. I think overall, we can pick a better exercise for our clients than this.

Stephen Holt, May 28, 2010 at 4:48pm: Thanks, Brent. I wrote an article called "Shrugging at Shrugs" several years ago yet had few supporters at the time.

© 2014 Brent Brookbush

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