Machine Shoulder Shrug Exercise Guide
You can target the trapezius muscle with the shrug exercise, using a barbell (barbell shrug), dumbbells (dumbbell shrug), or machine (leverage shrug). In this post you will learn how to perform machine shrug safely and effectively to achieve maximum results from this great isolation exercise for the trapezius muscle.
Some machine manufacturers like Hammer Strength and Nautilus have special machines designed to replicate this movement. If your facility does not have these specialized machines, you may use any machine that allows you to hold a bar at a level just below waist height (i.e., universal bench press station, low pulley, etc.).
What are the main advantages of using shrug machines?
Shrug machines combine the advantages of bars and dumbbells without any disadvantages by allowing you to do the following:
- Keep your arms perfectly straight along the sides of your body, which puts the trapezius muscles in their best working position. When you use a long bar, you have to put it in front of your body or behind your body. Dumbbells let you pull the weight perfectly in line with the upper-trapezius muscles, but they rub against your thighs, which can be irritating;
- Use very heavy weights. You can put any amount of weight on a long bar, but dumbbells are rarely heavy enough to give appropriate resistance;
- Vary your hand position. Of course, your choices are more limited than if you were using dumbbells, but they are still better than when using a bar;
- Perform the exercise more easily. The handles are almost at the right height. There is no need to pick up the weight from off the ground as with dumbbells or to step backwards as you must do when pulling a bar from the rack;
- Increase the range of motion. You get a larger stretch down low and a better contraction up high when the machine converges.
Machine Shrug Exercise Technique
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Stand facing the machine and hold the handles with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width, or if the machine allows, with the palms facing each other (neutral grip).
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Shrug your shoulders straight up toward your ears, keeping your arms straight and your head still. Pause for a moment when your shoulders are as high as they can do. Then slowly return the handles to the starting position. Complete the desired number of repetitions.
Additional Tips For Machine Shrugs
There are tips that will help you get even more out of these already amazing trapezius exercise.
- When performing machine shrugs (or shrugs of any type) don’t stick your head forward and downward because this can easily set you up for injury and it also prevents the traps from achieving optimal development. When doing shrugs, keep your head neutral – look straight ahead into a mirror. Check to be sure that your head and neck are in alignment with the rest of your spine.
- Bring your shoulders up as high as you possibly can when you shrug, as if trying to touch them to your ears.
- The machine handles are shrugged straight up and lowered under control without rolling the shoulders or pulling to the rear. Some bodybuilders rotate the shoulders as far forward as possible while shrugging them; then, when lowering the shoulders, they circle them as far backward as possible. We advise you not to do so. Rotating your shoulders backwards at the top of the movement increases the risk of injury to the shoulder and places no further work on the trapezius.
- Keep your arms straight. Most trainees bend their arms as they shrug. Your arms do no more than hold the weights.
Machine Shrug Variations
- If you do not have a shrug machine, then a horizontal bench press machine for the chest can be a good substitute. Another option is to use a trap bar, which provides many of the advantages of dumbbells without any of the disadvantages.
- Calf machine shrugs. For the calf machine shrug (not illustrated here), the resistance rests against the actual musculature that is primarily worked in the movement. So when the musculature contracts, the contraction is distorted due to the compression from the weight bearing down on it. Such an obstruction produces a skewed effect on the musculature, leading to possible damage in the tissue. The musculature being worked should be free of compressive impediment to its contraction and relaxation. Because the calf machine shrug takes the grip out of the exercise, it enables greater resistance to be used than in the regular shrug. This further exaggerates the compressive effect on the traps, and the potential for harm.
Muscles Involved in Machine Shrug
The primary and secondary muscles used during each movement of the shoulder shrug:
- Main muscles: trapezius (upper), levator scapulae
- Secondary muscles: rhomboids, trapezius (middle), deltoid, supraspinatus
- Antagonists: pectoralis minor, trapezius (lower), pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi
Machine Shrug Replacement Exercises – Substitutes
To add variety to your trapezius workout, replace the machine shrug with a different exercise that works the same muscles (trapezius, levator scapulae). Use the barbell, dumbbells, or even a cables to perform the shrugging motion without the machine.
- Barbell shrug
- Smith machine shrug
- Cable shrug
- Retracting shrug
- Behind-the-back barbell shrug (rear shrug)
- Prone incline dumbbell shrug
- Barbell upright row
- Cable upright row
- Smith-machine upright row
If an older Nautilus Shrug machine is available use that for this exercise as that machine is fantastic at isolating the traps and working them hard. If you don’t have access to that machine then a horizontal bench press machine for the chest can be a good substitute or you can use a barbell or a pair of heavy dumbbells.
The traps need heavy weights to develop any kind of size. A lot of men can easily shrug 400 to 500 pounds using shrug machine. You won’t be starting at that point, of course, but plan on moving serious weight. It’s the only way to stimulate new muscle growth. So really load the machine up with lot of weight to thicken the trap muscles.