Exercises You Should Be Doing: Half Kneeling Band Overhead Shrug
Sometimes as coaches and trainers we need to take a step back and really think about why we do things. Why do we prescribe “x” exercise? What purpose does it serve? How will it help any given client become bigger, faster, stronger, or more sexifed? Not only that, why for “x” number of sets and reps? Why does it matter if it’s done as the first movement of the day rather than the third? Is there a specific tempo involved? What type of rest periods are we talking about? Are there any other intricate things to consider like foot stance, hand placement or grip variation?
I mean, these are all important questions, and the list could easily go on and on.
Shirt optional, right?
More to the point, as a coach or trainer, you should be able to explain, definitively, the rationale as to why you programmed what you programmed. What purpose does it serve?
In a like manner, you should also be objective about your programming and not be afraid to admit when you’re wrong or that you possibly overlooked something.
Unfortunately, we all like to think we’re perfect and infallible, but we’re not. We all like to think we’re open minded and adaptable, but really, many of us our set in our ways.
ESPECIALLY, as coaches.
Take for example today’s exercise you should be doing. If you happened to have a few ounces of plutonium on hand (and a Flux Capacitor), and decided for shits and giggles to go back in time two years to ask me whether or not I’d include any direct upper trap work into my programs, you’d more than likely find me laughing in your face.
Given most people are walking around with FUBAR’d shoulders as it is, and that recent research has shown that upper trapezius dominance plays a significant role in subacromial impingement, it makes sense. It’s dumb.
The last thing you want to do with a muscle that’s already jacked up or overactive is to target it even more. This is almost always the case when you’re dealing with someone who spends the majority of their time sitting in front of a computer all day and then heads to the gym, grabs a barbell, and shrugs their face off.
In this instance, they’ll undoubtedly play into the dysfunction (upper cross syndrome, among others), and probably have a pissed off shoulder to boot.
There are cases where some direct upper trap work is warranted.
See what I just did there? I blew your mind.
With regards to shoulder function we all know that of “stuff” goes down in that area.
The shoulder complex can partake in: flexion/extension, internal/external rotation, abduction/adduction, horizontal abduction/adduction, elevation/depression, and of course, (scapular) upward/downward rotation.
The latter (upward/downward rotation) is what will be highlighted here.
Sadly, due to any number of factors – namely, the ungodly number of hours people spend sitting playing Angry Birds, poor programming choices, flawed technique, etc – we don’t move very well as a society. Further still, we just get in our own way and end up hurting ourselves.
Using an easy example: I remember watching Eric assess an older client once who came to the facility with a litany of shoulder issue. To put it bluntly, the guy couldn’t even extend his arms straight over his head. Yet, the very first question right out of the gate was, “so, when do you think I’ll be able to add snatches and shrugs into my program?”
See what I mean? We get in our own way.
However, given we train a fair share of baseball players at Cressey Performance, and it’s kind of a big deal that they have the ability to throw a baseball (which entails going over the head) without compromising the shoulder, doing some upper trap work may indeed be a crucial component to overall shoulder performance and health.
Up until recently, we’ve done little (if any) upper trap work. Again, as noted above, it’s readily apparent that the upper traps are overly dominant in most individuals (compared to the lower traps and serratus anterior), and haphazardly throwing in exercises like shrugs may only make the issue worse.
That said, we can’t neglect the fact that the upper traps DO play a role in scapular upward rotation, and that optimizing their function is worth some of our time.
Here’s what we noticed, which has been a paradigm shift for us – especially as it relates to our baseball guys (and even some of our general population clients): we are constantly (like, all the time) telling athletes and clients to retract and depress their scapulae. Normally this isn’t a bad thing, as it targets the lower traps more and will help offset upper trap dominance. But sometimes, it can be to the detriment of the shoulder.
Take the following exercises and how we typically like to cue them:
Seated rows: pull the shoulder blades together and down.
Chin-Ups: keep the shoulder blades in your back pocket (depressed).
Deadlifts: shoulder blades “locked” and set (and subsequently the upper traps are on stretch)
Farmer Carries: don’t shrug, set the shoulders (again, upper traps are on stretch).
Those are just a few examples, but hopefully you get the idea. And just so we’re clear: I am in no way saying that these are bad cues to use. Just that, sometimes, we need to be objective. Anyhoo……..
Soon you may notice a downwardly rotated scapula due to a lengthened upper trapezius. In this scenario, the excessive length makes the upper trap weak and a less than effective upward rotator of the scapula. And, I don’t think I need to reiterate that less than optimal upward rotation is a going to be a massive monkey wrench when it comes to shoulder health and performance.
Take me for example. Other than that being the coolest t-shirt ever, what else do you notice about the picture to the right?
See those sloped shoulders? Definitely not ideal, and sets the shoulder girdle a little too low for optimal function. Now, thankfully, my baseball career is long over, and I don’t suffer from any long-term shoulder issues. But needless to say, some dedicated upper trap work would be in high order for someone like me.
Likewise, this is exactly the type of shoulder symmetry (or, more appropriately, asymmetry) we’re more cognizant of at the facility when dealing with overhead athletes.
The key, though, is to step away from the stupid and not hightail it for the barbell shrugs. As both Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman have noted on numerous occasions:
A shrug with the arms at the sides will certainly activate the upper trapezius, however it also strongly recruits the levator scapulae and the rhomboids, the downward scapular rotators. This feeds the imbalance causing the downward scapular rotation dominance.
The key, then, is to perform a movement where the scapulae is already in an upwardly rotated position which places a larger activation of the upper traps, which in turn will help offset the pull of the downward rotators (rhomboids and levator).
Half Kneeling Band Overhead Shrugs
This was a video I took while I was down in Florida last week at the commercial gym I was training at (so you may see some exercises you SHOULDN’T be doing in the background). In it, you’ll see how I use a regular ol’ exercise band and place it underneath my knee.
From there, with my arm fully extended, I shrug and hold for a 1-2 second count. I reset my scapulae and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Ideally, I’d shoot for anywhere from 8-12 reps per side.
Key Coaching Cues: Squeeze the glute of the kneeling leg to gain more of an active stretch in the hip flexors. Wrist should be neutral. And, you may need to play around with the band tension. I was pretty limited with what I had available at the time, but suffice it to say, you may need to finagle a bit with how much of the band you place underneath your knee.
Additionally, this isn’t the type of exercise where I’m looking to overload the traps, so don’t be too concerned with using a monster band or anything like that. Rather, it’s more of an activation and it’s imperative that you focus on the QUALITY of reps (feeling the actual muscle do its job).
Try it out today, and let me know what you think!