October 01, 2015 | John Paul Catanzaro
Here’s an exercise that isn’t used much in the gym – in fact, the name itself causes people to shrug – but this movement may be just what you need to boost the development of your upper traps and the strength of your elbow flexors.
Doing shoulder shrugs on a standing calf raise machine is a great way to isolate the upper trapezius fibers without involving the arms. It’s useful during situations where grip is fatigued toward the end of a workout, when rehabilitating from an arm injury, or simply as a variation from the way you’ve been shrugging for years.
Often, there’s a tendency to bend the elbows during conventional shrugs. The calf machine shoulder shrug will help you focus your concentration on your shoulders (the proximal joint) and not your elbows or wrists (the distal joints). As a result, you’re able to direct more work to the upper traps and away from the muscles of the arms… yet the muscles of the upper arms will benefit indirectly.
You see, the elbow flexors are innervated by the musculocutaneous nerve, which exits the spine at C5 and C6, two vertebrae of the neck. If these vertebrae are out of alignment, strength will be affected. Shrugs can help to realign the position of the C5/C6 vertebrae, thus improving the strength of your elbow flexors since the upper traps stabilize the scapula when curling.
To do this movement, position yourself underneath the pads of a standing calf raise machine with your feet planted firmly on the platform. Raise your shoulders as high as you can, pause at the top, and then control the pads back down to the initial position. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps with a 2-second pause at the top (contracted) position.
It’s important to maintain proper form and perfect posture during this exercise, so keep your core tight and braced, chest up and chin tucked in, 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. The machine restricts you to one plane of motion, straight up and straight down. It won’t allow you to roll your shoulders, which is counterproductive during a shoulder shrug. Remember, gravity acts vertically, not horizontally.
When you’ve finished this and any other exercise that causes spinal compression like squats or military presses, try hanging on a chin-up bar for a short period of time at the end of your workout. Whether it helps increase the intervertebral space of your spine or not, it feels good!
Give the calf machine shoulder shrug a shot for a good month. If all goes well, you should be able to curl more weight while sporting a bigger set of upper traps.