Friday, November 10, 2006

Atlas Shrugged (But "How" Is The Question)

I trained inside last night for only the second time in the last ten or twelve weeks. I actually even used some machines; the EFS Power Squat and a Magnum seated row, which are pretty good as far as machines go and I had several plates on each side so as not to feel like a total pussy. I will admit that my last sets on each were true 5RM's with questionable form but I had to push it.

Surprisingly my strength on these two machines was not far from what it was the last time I used them. People told me that with my bodyweight/strongman outdoor workouts I would probably lose a lot of top end strength. I didn't think it would be the case and last night proved it to me.

I've broken my right wrist three times and thus need a wrap to do most exercises that involve holding a weight in my hand. Rows with a parallel grip are the rare exception. Anyway, I couldn't do any kind of Olympic pulling movement or deadlift which I was really looking forward to. So I was left with nothing else to do for traps than shrugs on the power squat.

Which got me to thinking...

The shrug is one of the most confusing exercises there is. I know what you're thinking, "It's the easiest fucking exercise on the planet, how could there possibly be any confusion?!"

Let me explain. On one hand you have the camp that says you need to go heavy as balls and do partial reps, just heaving the weight up. On the other hand you have the camp that says you need to go light and get a full range of motion, trying to get your shoulders as close to touching your ears as possible and hold it there for a second.

To understand where the answer truly lies lets look at the athletes with the biggest traps: Olympic lifters and power lifters.

Olympic lifters lift relatively lighter weights (while I know that some Olympic lifter is going to email and tell me that he clean and jerks 768lbs and that is not light fucking weight, please note that I said RELATIVELY LIGHTER as I am comparing it to the next lift, the deadlift) explosively and with a range of motion that does indeed have them bringing their traps to their ears.

Powerlifters have huge traps because of all the deadlifts they do. Deadlifts are heavy, period. There is no shrugging movement at all, in fact.

Looking at these two groups, what does this tell us about shrugs and the proper way to do them?

Quite simply: they suck and the best way to do them is to not do them. The best way to get huge traps is to deadlift and Olympic lift. Bottom line.

BUT... what if you can not do either of those exercises due to back or shoulder problems or a misplaced wrist wrap? Then you have no choice but to shrug. Traps are the most important bodypart there is and you can't walk around with none.

So then, exactly how do you do shrugs and which camp is right? They both are. If shrugs are the only exercise you can do for your traps you need to hit them with as much variety as possible. Go heavy for low reps, cheat the weight up and don't worry about getting an extreme contraction at the top. Then on another day of the week go lighter for higher reps with a complete range of motion and exaggerated contraction and hold at the top.

Another option is to do what I did last night; do both variations in one workout. I started with a lighter weight and did 15 reps on the first set, bringing my shoulders as high as they could go. With each set I added more weight and worked my way down to five reps by the fifth set and was cheating the reps up with a little calf raise and getting a partial range. You could start with the heavier ones and work your way down if you want as well.

Deadlifts and Olympic lifts should always be your first choice in the quest to look like Goldberg but if they are not possible hit the shrugs as many different ways as you can. Just make sure to go up and down and don't roll forwards and backwards; that's for douchebags who don't understand gravity.

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