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Bodybuilding Shoulder Shrugs & Trapezius Pain
The most effective exercise for a bodybuilder to build trapezius muscles is to perform shoulder shrugs. They target the upper trapezius muscles and enlist the lower and middle traps as assisting synergist muscles. When in the building phase of a bodybuilding regimen, it's easy to overwork a muscle group in an attempt to build muscle quicker. But in addition to improper form, overdoing the shoulder shrugs is a frequent cause of trapezius pain.
Injuries and Frequent, Repetitive Motion
When you perform shoulder shrugs, you're contracting your trapezius muscles to bring your shoulders up and then relaxing them to lower your shoulders back down. In her article on repetitive stress injury, physical therapist and personal trainer Catherine Logan reports that repetitive movements that stress a muscle over and over can cause injury or strain to muscles like the trapezius. That's why avoiding over training and allowing your muscles sufficient time for recuperation between workouts is vital. In adition, straining your trapezius can lead to other injuries. In their book "Sports Chiropractic" Robert D. Mootz and Kevin A. McCarthy write that forcefully contracting the trapezius muscles can overload your cervical disks and cause increased chance of cervical disk herniation.
Performing Shoulder Shrugs Correctly
Even if you allow your trapezius muscles at least 48 hours to rest before working them again, if you don't perform the exercise correctly you'll still run the risk of an injury. To execute dumbbell shoulder shrugs properly, stand with your back straight, your head up and your gaze straight ahead. Your arms will be down at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand. Shrug your shoulders bringing them as high as you can, then lower them back down to the starting position.
Some Common Errors
Although all bodybuilders know the importance of proper form during exercise, sometimes, it's easy to inadvertently drop from focusing on doing the movement correctly. One common error when doing shoulder shrugs is rolling the shoulders instead of moving them directly up and down. Rolling the shoulders won't activate additional muscles or even work your trapezius muscles in a different way and rolling them may actually irritate your rotator cuff. Another common mistake is moving your head back and forth in a bobbing motion during shoulder shrugs. If you inadvertently start moving your head, it can be an indication that you're trying to lift too much weight. Pushing your head forward while engaging in this exercise will increase your risk of sustaining an injury to your disks, so drop down a few pounds in weight and focus on keeping your head still and upright.
When Traps are Injured or Strained
If you've injured or strained your Trapezius muscles during a building phase of a bodybuilding routine you need to give them time to heal. This doesn't mean your bodybuilding dreams are down the tube. In his book on bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger advises readers not to let physical problems interfere with training. You can always work other muscle groups, work around your trapezius muscles or try different movements that involve the traps. Logan recommends movements like pinching your shoulder blades together, bending your neck to one side and holding it before bending to the other side, and rotating your neck to look over one of your shoulders, pausing and then rotating to look over the other shoulder. In the gym seated rows, lat pull-downs and prone shoulder flexions will allow you to work out with strained trapezius muscles and will help with your posture as a bonus.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Repetitive Stress Injury: The Upper Trapezius
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Sports Chiropractic; Robert D. Mootz and Kevin A. McCarthy
- Arnold's Bodybuilding for Men; Arnold Schwarzenegger
- ExRx.net: Shoulder Shrug Errors
- ExRx.net: Shoulder Shrugs
- ExRx.net: Back Exercises, Trapezius
- Weight Training for Dummies; Liz Neporent, et al.
- Ourieff J, Agarwal A. Anatomy, Back, Trapezius. [Updated 2018 Dec 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Updated December 6, 2018.
- Terson de paleville DG, Mckay WB, Folz RJ, Ovechkin AV. Respiratory motor control disrupted by spinal cord injury: mechanisms, evaluation, and restoration. Transl Stroke Res. 2011;2(4):463-73. doi:10.1007/s12975-011-0114-0
- Kamali F, Sinaei E, Morovati M. Comparison of Upper Trapezius and Infraspinatus Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy by Dry Needling in Overhead Athletes With Unilateral Shoulder Impingement Syndrome. J Sport Rehabil. 2019;28(3):243-249. doi:10.1123/jsr.2017-0207
- Kamali, F. Comparison of Upper Trapezius and Infraspinatus Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy by Dry Needling in Overhead Athletes With Unilateral Shoulder Impingement Syndrome. J Sport Rehabil. Jan 2018.
- Kendall, Florence, McCreary, Elizabeth Kendall, Provance, Patricia Geise. Muscles Testing and Function 4th ed. Williams and Wilkins. Baltimore, Maryland, 1993.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.