Shrugs, Posture and Scapular Dysfunction: Does adding Shrugs to your Program Make Sense? - FITNESS PAIN FREE

Shrugs, Posture and Scapular Dysfunction: Does adding Shrugs to your Program Make Sense?

Rob practicing what he preaches.

I’m very excited to be posting this article from Rob Rowland.  I met Rob about 3-4 years ago at my very first strongman competition.  This was before I even had an inkling that I’d be headed to physical therapy school a few short years later.  I was lucky because Rob missed weight and wasn’t competing in the same weight class as I was.  Luckily I didn’t have to compete against him.  This man is a beast to say the least.  What I’m most excited about is that Rob is a physical therapist who practices what he preaches.  He isn’t afraid of heavy weights and has some excellent ideas on how to compete and train pain and injury free.  For more information about Rob I’ve attached his bio at the end of this article.  Without further ado, here is the first of a series of articles.  This one is about shrugs, posture and scapular dysfunction.


When you are working with a trainer, therapist, or strength coach, it’s important to understand not only what you are doing but why you are doing it. Any knowledgeable professional can give you a sound reason why you may be doing a specific exercise or why they are using a specific manual technique. In my experience in the fitness industry and rehab setting, I have noticed some techniques used by others that just do not make sense. And when I inquire (respectfully of course), there usually just isn’t a good reason why they do things the way they do. This article series identifies some of those exercises/techniques and why they don’t make sense (at least to me).

Now I understand that big traps look intimidating, but if you find yourself in a rehab setting being given shrugs as a corrective exercise you need to question why. I spend a lot of time teaching cervical patients and shoulder patients to turn off their upper trapezius. Adding a shrug into their program will just feed into a upper trapezius-dominant movement pattern and likely negate any work to improve scapulo-humeral mechanics. Yet, I still see shrugs given as a rehab exercise.

He made shrugs cool

A shrug moves the axis of rotation for the humerus superiorly, which will lead to a closing down of the sub-acromial space if the shrug is paired with humeral elevation. If you are already having shoulder problems, adding shrugs will likely end up exacerbating that issue. Instead of working the upper trapezius, focus should be placed on the lower traps and other scapular muscles. Once you can properly “set” the scapula, it will allow the shoulder joint to move properly.


Classic shrug compensation

Exercises like rows with scapular retraction, IYTW’s, no-moneys, and dynamic hugs will help to decrease upper trap activity and encourage proper scapulo-humeral movement. In a rehab setting, the focus on the upper trapezius should be for soft tissue work as there can be trigger points, and decreasing the overall activity with biofeedback or taping. Janda’s upper crossed syndrome gives us another reason why shrugs aren’t necessary as they are typically already tight along with the muscles that pull us into a rounded-shoulder posture. Now while you might like shrugs for aesthetic reasons, they might be putting you in more of a forward-head, rounded-shoulder posture.


Janda’s Upper Crossed Syndrome

If you have a good reason for shrugs in a rehabilitation capacity please share. If not, leave them for Goldberg.

Rob earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Delaware and now practices in MD specializing in orthopedics and sports medicine. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. He is a competitive strongman athlete and who has qualified for the NAS national championships several times.  He can be contacted at

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