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SPECIAL EXERCISES SERIES – No.2 Power shrugs from the hang

rant

In Olympic lifting, the power shrug from the hang is also known as the “clean extension from the hang”. Essentially, it is the explosion phase of the clean: from above the knees to the position where you are standing up on your toes with your traps shrugged.

I have always valued this exercise as it has given me a lot more traps growth than regular shrugs. I used to do tons of it; even working up to 8 plates per side (765lbs) from pins when I competed in weightlifting. I remember because my straps gave out on the 5th rep and the bar crashed down onto the power rack, bending the bar and scaring most of the gym members!

What is it good for?

  1. Getting jacked traps. As my friend Paul Carter says “Traps are the new abs”
  1. Getting jacked calves (for those who like that sort of thing)
  1. Learning the proper timing in the second pull/explosion phase of the power clean (legs/hips, calves, traps, in that order)
  1. Building postural stability in the key position in the power clean (and power snatch)

How is it done?

  1. Bring the barbell to the finish position of a deadlift using a double overhand (pronated) grip. That is your starting position.
  1. Lower the barbell to the lower third of your upper leg (about 1-2” above the knees), by pushing your hips back, not by bending forward. The forward bend is only a reaction to pushing the hips back. Keep your upper back tight so that the barbell stays close to you (even brushing the thighs). It is important to keep your weight on the midfoot, or even on your heels but not on your toes!
  1. From that position stand up explosively and complete the upward movement with a shrug. It is very important that you shrug only at the end of the movement, when the upper leg/hips and calves have created a lot of speed. If you generate a lot of upward momentum, it is possible that your arms will bend at the elbow, but you should not be actively pulling with the arms. Rather, you want to focus on your traps, and keep the arms as straight as possible.
  1. After the shrug stay standing up and absorb the barbell with the traps, stay tight. Pause for a second to reset and begin your next rep.

Are there any different variations?

The execution from the hang is the one I prefer both for building muscle and having a positive transfer on the power (or squat) clean, but you can also use the variation where the barbell starts on pins (or blocks).

That allows you to use more weight which can help you build more strength in the traps and calves, but there is a lot less positive transfer to the performance in the clean. Both can be used, you just need to choose depending on your main goal.

You can also use the wider snatch grip for both variations and for better transfer to the execution of the power snatch.

For hypertrophy, you can also add small bands attached to the bar (and to the bottom of a power rack).

This doesn’t increase the difficulty of the pull because the bands will only kick in when the momentum has been transferred to the bar, BUT it speeds up the downward movement, which means that your traps have to work extra hard to stop the barbell on the way down.

This puts a lot of tension on the traps in a loaded stretch position, which is a very powerful growth stimulus.

What do you need to avoid?

  1. Do not lose upper back tightness, dropping the shoulders down and forward.
  1. Do not let your weight shift to the toes when you lower the weight to the knees.
  1. Do not let your weight shift to the toes before you explode with the calves.
  1. Keep the core tight throughout the movement.
  1. Do not let the bar move away from your body either during the eccentric or the pull.
  1. Do not pull with your arms. If you create enough acceleration, they may need to bend to let the bar travel up, but you aren’t actively pulling with them.

What are the best loading parameters?

The power shrug from the hang is mostly a size & strength movement. It should not be trained to failure because of the technical and speed component. As such sets of 3 to 5 reps are ideal. 4-6 sets of 3 to 5 reps not to failure.

When to use it?

It can be done as an assistance exercise for the power clean (or power snatch if you use a snatch grip) to automatize the proper timing of the pull. For that purpose you can use it three ways, depending on your problem and skill level on the power clean/power snatch:

If you are beginning to learn the power clean or if you tend to do more of an “explosive reverse curl” than a true power clean where the bar is kept close to you, you can use the power shrug from the hang before doing your power cleans. In that case the weight should be moderate. You are doing the power shrug first to engrain/program the proper pulling pattern and then try to copy the feeling of it during the clean.

If you have been doing the power clean for a while and have automatized the bad habit of pulling with your arms and/or doing the aforementioned “reverse curl” then you might want to complex the power shrug and power clean:

A1. Power shrug from the hang x 3 reps

30-45 sec of rest

A2. Power clean from the hang x 3 reps

2-3 minutes of rest; do 4 sets

That’s even more effective to feel the proper pulling pattern and transfer it to the power clean. This method is aimed more at motor pattern correction and in both cases, you use a very conservative weight; see it as practice not heavy lifting.

The third approach is to do the power shrug after your sets of power clean. That is the best option if your technique is fine but you need to make those traps stronger. Since technique is not your main issue if you pick this method, you would use a heavier weight (as long as proper form is maintained).

If you are strictly using the power shrug as a muscle-builder and are not interested in the Olympic lifts then it doesn’t really matter where you put it. If you are using a body part split I would put it on your back day and since it’s heavy and explosive, I would do it early in your session.

– CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…