Background: Specific strength training at a high intensity is effective in reducing work related neck/shoulder pain. However, it remains to be documented as to which exercises most specifically target neck and shoulder muscles at high activation level while using simple equipment as e.g., elastic bands. We hypothezised that selected exercises would specifically target the respective muscles, as follows: (1) shrugs and reverse flyes: the upper trapezius muscle, (2) cervical extension and lateral flexion: the upper neck extensor muscle, and (3) cervical flexion and rotation: the sternocleidomastoideus muscle. Methods: Eleven healthy males (25.9 ± 1.4 years, BMI 24.3 ± 1.4) with no neck/shoulder pain (VAS = 0) performed the six exercises with elastic bands at 12RM (repetition maximum) and 20RM in a randomized order. Electromyography was bilaterally recorded from the three muscles and it was normalized to maximal voluntary activation (%MVE). Exercises that evoke more than 60%MVE were considered as high intensity activation. Results: High muscle activation level was attained during 12RM in the upper trapezius muscle during shrugs (100.3 ± 29.8%MVE) and reverse flyes (91.6 ± 32.8%MVE) and in the upper neck extensor muscle during cervical extension (67.6 ± 29.8%MVE) and shrugs (61.9 ± 16.8%MVE). In the sternocleidomastoideus muscle, the highest activity was recorded during cervical flexion (51.7 ± 16.4%MVE) but it did not exceed 60%MVE. The overall activity was ~10% higher during 12RM when compared to 20RM. Conclusion: The simple exercises shrugs and reverse flyes resulted in high intensity activation of both the upper trapezius and neck extensors, while no exercises activated sternocleidomastoideus at high intensity.
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