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Shoulder Shurg Exercise

By John Paul Catanzaro

Calf Machine Shoulder Shrugs

Unfortunately, this exercise isn't used much. In fact, the name itself causes people to shrug! It's great for rehab as it completely isolates the upper trapezius fibers without involving the arms.

For those of you who have problems with grip during conventional barbell or dumbbell movements (i.e. you can't hold on any longer because your forearms feel like they're on fire) and/or find your elbows constantly bending and absorbing some of the load, take a step back and try this exercise on for size. This will help focus your concentration on your shoulders—the proximal joint—and not your arms.

Also, the machine restricts you to one plane of motion—straight up and straight down. It won't allow you to waste time and energy by rolling your shoulders. Remember, gravity acts vertically, not horizontally.

To do this movement, position yourself underneath the pad of a standing calf machine as if you are about to do a set for your calves. Raise your shoulders as high as you can and pause at the top. Then control the pads as they lower—don't just drop the weight down!

Three sets of 10-12 reps at a 2220 tempo with a one-minute rest interval should do the trick.

It's very important to maintain proper form and perfect posture for this exercise, so keep your abdominals braced with a neutral spine to dissipate some of the weight from your back and onto your slightly bent legs. Also, keep the chest up and head straight—not poked forward!

Aim for full range of motion with your shoulders. Go as high as you can at the top, and get a good stretch at the bottom. Visualize Q-tips attached to your shoulders on an angle, then try to poke out your eardrums.

When you've finished this and any other exercise that causes spinal compression, i.e. squats or military presses, try hanging on a chin-up bar for a while at the end of your workout. This will help increase the intervertebral space of your spine and instantly add a foot to your height. Caught your attention? Okay, maybe not a foot, but it'll help.

As Charles Poliquin has mentioned in the past, shrugs will also help to realign the position of the C5/C6 vertebrae, thus improving your arm strength as the upper traps stabilize the scapula when curling. Give this exercise a shot for at least three weeks, then reassess your curling poundages. If all goes well, you should also be able to curl more weight.

So now, when people ask you about calf machine shoulder shrugs, you can let them know what they are by shrugging your shoulders in the classic "I dunno" fashion.

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About the Author

John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., P.F.L.C., is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private gym in Toronto, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. For additional information, visit his websites at and or call 416-292-4356.