The cable side shrug is a variation of the shoulder shrug that is utilized to build the trapezius muscle of the upper back. It’s one of the best exercises for isolating the traps and offers versatility to further improve development. But it’s important to note that there are many variations of the cable side shrug, from using different attachments to utilizing different body angles to vary the degree of contraction in the muscle. In this guide, we’ve provided key details about this exercise that you can utilize and maximize its effectiveness.
Here’s a guide to the cable side shrug…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Trapezius
- Type: Strength/hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Cable machine
- Difficulty: Beginner
Shrugs build the trapezius or traps, which is a muscle that spans across the upper back starting from the occipital bone and ending at the lower thoracic vertebrae and laterally to the spine of the scapula. The traps consist of upper, middle, and lower muscle fibers that each contribute separately to stabilize and move the scapula. The traps are very important for supporting posture.
Trapezius Upper Fibers
The trapezius upper fibers elevate and upwardly rotate the scapula, and extend the neck.
Trapezius Middle Fibers
The trapezius middle fibers adduct (retract) the scapula.
Trapezius Lower Fibers
The trapezius fibers may not be as emphasized as the upper and middle fibers during the cable side shrug but they are still engaged. The lower fibers are responsible for the depression of the scapula and they also assist the upper fibers to upwardly rotate the scapula.
How To Do The Cable Side Shrug
Ideally, for the cable side shrug, you’ll have access to a cable machine with two pulleys positioned close together, although a standard cable setup will work.
- Attach two single-grip handles to a low point on both pulleys.
- Grip the handles and stand between the pulleys with shoulders neutral. Your arms should be abducted about 30 degrees although slightly more is fine.
- Take a small step back so that your hands are positioned more in line with the front side of your body. This allows you to get a better stretch and contraction.
- Shrug the weight up and back squeezing the traps for a second.
- Lower the shoulders back down until you feel a stretch in your traps and repeat.
Here’s a video example…
Cable Side Shrug Tips
- Start with light weights and focus on developing a good mind/muscle connection before increasing the weight. Squeeze for at least one second at the top to really engage the traps.
- If you’re not feeling a proper contraction, lower the weight, and continue.
- Ensure that your arms are abducted away from the body to at least 30 degrees. If using a cable machine where the pulleys are positioned close together, you might have to intentionally abduct your arms at a 30-degree angle to the body.
- Do not use momentum from the lower body to get the weight up unless you’re doing power shrugs.
- Feel free to use a straight or EZ bar to replicate the barbell shrug.
Related article: 12 Best Exercises For Monster Traps
The cable side shrug is an excellent variation to build mountainous traps. However, there are many more variations of this exercise that are great to include as well.
Single-arm cable side shrug
This is an obvious one. The single-arm side shrug is a very good variation for training one side at a time which is also known as unilateral training (affecting one side). This exercise is great for identifying a weaker side of which you can also correct using this same variation. It’s also great for forcing the core muscle to engage and helps to develop stability. Some people may even feel a better contraction in the traps using this variation.
The barbell shrug is the most legendary trap-building exercise that was used by old-school bodybuilders to build huge traps. Well, nothing has changed as it’s still every bit as effective and will probably never go out of style. This variation allows you to use the most amount of weight possible but we only recommend advanced lifters utilize this movement with maximum loads. But it’s definitely a viable option for beginners that can learn to do it safely.
Many prefer the dumbbell shrug over the barbell shrug because it places the arms in an ideal position for maximizing the contraction of the traps and the hands are neutrally positioned. You also don’t necessarily need to go very heavy with this variation. Use moderate weight and focus on the mind/muscle connection.
Trap bar shrug
The trap bar is a better variation than the barbell shrug for many lifters because like with dumbbells and the cable shrug variation explained above, the arms are at the sides in a more natural position, making it easier to maintain good posture and possibly getting a better contraction. Not to mention, you can still load it heavy.
How To Incorporate The Cable Side Shrug Into Your Trap Training Regime
Whether you do the cable side shrug after or separate from your free weight trap exercises really doesn’t matter. That’s because when done correctly, the cable side shrug is a phenomenal exercise that’ll build muscle just the same.
But to maximize your overall development, we definitely recommended mixing free weights, cables, and even machines that offer many of the same benefits as well. But how often and many sets and reps for traps training will depend on your workout structure. Not to mention, the traps do get worked heavily during back exercises and deadlift variations.
But, in general, we recommend two to three exercises for traps that maximize the stimulation of the upper, middle, and lower traps. Training volume (sets/reps) will depend on how frequently you work traps but once or twice a week is plenty if you’re training with good intensity, especially since, as mentioned, the traps are activated during back training.
As for sets and reps, 3-4 sets x 8-20 reps is ideal for building muscle and strength. You should vary up your reps from workout to workout as well.
But ultimately, you have to experiment a little to see what works best for you because the shrug can be a hit or miss exercise meaning, you have to find the right technique and training volume that gives you results. This is just a guideline and general information that applies to most people.
The cable side shrug should be a staple in your trap training workouts. It offers something that free weights don’t, which is more versatility. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a superior variation but we recommend including it with your other exercises to maximize your trap development. Make sure to use good form and start light to improve your mind/muscle connection, then increase the poundages to implement progressive overload and watch your traps grow!
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