There is an old proverb that says, “clothes make the man.” This expression was used and popularized by William Shakespeare, but its origins are much older and can be traced back to Homer’s writings in 7 or 8 B.C.!
However, while the clothes you wear DO have a big impact on how you look and feel, what those clothes hang from on is just as important. It could even be said, “shoulders make the man.”
So, you probably want to know how to get wide shoulders, right? After all, even the most well-made coat, short, or jacket won’t fit properly if you have slender, shapeless shoulders.
In the 1980s, big shoulder pads were all the rage, which hid any scrawny shoulders away from the world. That trend has long gone, so you’ll have to sculpt your very own shoulder pads by building up your muscles.
In this article, we’re going to reveal the ten best exercises for bigger, broader shoulders.
How To Get Wide Shoulders
Your body is made up of over 200 bones and more than 600 muscles. But, when it comes to shoulder width, the muscles that matter most are your deltoids. There are three deltoid muscles: anterior (front), posterior (rear), and medial (middle). These muscles wrap around your shoulder joint like meaty shoulder pads.
There is nothing you can do to widen your underlying skeleton – bones stop growing when you hit your mid-twenties – but exercising can make your muscles significantly bigger. By preferentially targeting your deltoids, you can add width to your shoulders.
This is a process called hypertrophy and involves training with weights or other forms of resistance.
Reasons to Build Shoulder Strength
Bigger shoulders are shapelier shoulders and can have a big impact on how you look, both in and out of your clothes. But there is more than one reason to spend time developing what is essentially quite a small muscle group.
Those reasons include:
Increased functionality – your shoulders are involved in every upper body movement. It’s all but impossible to move your arms without also moving your shoulders. Strong shoulders make the strenuous tasks of the day much easier, from lifting an object off the floor to pressing it overhead to put on a high shelf. Even easier tasks like washing your car or gardening involve your shoulders. Stronger shoulders will help take the stress out of these everyday movements and activities.
Injury resistance – your shoulders are the most mobile joint in your body. They’re capable of 360-degree movement. However, this mobility comes at a cost: instability. The more unstable a joint is, the more prone it is to injury.
Strong shoulder muscles will increase shoulder joint stability. This means less uncontrolled movement, less joint strain, and less joint wear and tear. Strong shoulders are healthy shoulders!
Better posture – posture is the alignment of your joints, and it can be good or bad. Sitting at a computer all day can cause your shoulder joints to roll inward, which is properly called medial rotation. This postural abnormality can lead to a rounded upper back, forward head carry, and shoulder, neck, and upper back pain. The exercises that can build bigger, broader shoulders are also good for shoulder posture.
10 Best Exercises for Shoulders
If you are serious about building bigger, more muscular shoulders, these are the exercises you should use. Don’t try and do them all – that’s a recipe for soreness and injury. Instead, use just 2-3 for a month, and then switch things up by choosing a different set of exercises next month. That will keep your workouts fresh and interesting and ensure your shoulders keep growing.
- Barbell shoulder press
If you want shoulders that are big AND strong, this is the exercise for you. It’s probably the best exercise for lifting heavy weights, and that means it’s especially productive.
To do it, grip a barbell with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Sitting or standing, press the bar straight up and over your head. Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat. If you do this exercise standing, make sure you keep your core braced, and do not cheat by pushing with your legs.
Only do this exercise to the front of your neck, and not behind. Behind the neck presses are a good way to injure your shoulder joints, and any benefits are far outweighed by the risks.
- Dumbbell shoulder press
Dumbbells allow you to work each arm independently. This is useful for identifying and fixing left to right strength imbalances. A lot of people also find dumbbell exercises more comfortable than the same move done with a barbell.
For this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders. Seated or standing, press the weights up and overhead, so they meet. Lower them back to your shoulders and repeat. You can also do this exercise using an alternating arm action.
- Pike push-ups
No weights? No problem! You can also build and strengthen your shoulders using nothing more than your body weight for resistance. This push-up variation is challenging, but it’s also a very useful shoulder exercise.
Squat down and place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back and into the push-up position, with your arms, body, and legs straight. Next, lift your hips, so your body resembles an inverted V. Bend your arms and lower your head down to the floor. Make sure you keep your butt in the air. Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Dumbbell side raises
Side raises are one of the best ways to target your medial or side deltoid. It’s not such a good exercise for building strength, but it’s one of the best for widening your shoulders. To do it, hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Starting with the dumbbells next to your legs, lift your arms out to your sides and up to shoulder-level. Lower your arms back down to your sides and repeat.
- Cable side raises
If freeweight (barbell and dumbbell) exercises have a disadvantage, it is that the tension on your muscles changes depending on the position of your limbs. The weight feels REALLY heavy at some joint angles, but there is hardly any resistance in others.
Using a cable machine keeps constant tension on your muscles, providing a useful alternative to freeweights. If dumbbell side raises (ex. #4) aren’t doing for you, try doing the same exercise using a cable machine instead.
- Shoulder press machine
A lot of fitness coaches and trainers avoid using strength training machines because they lock you into a fixed range of motion, which, they say, is not natural. While that is true, if you want to build bigger shoulders, this is actually an advantage.
With no need to waste energy balancing your weights, you can focus 100% on working your shoulders. Plus, if you are unable to complete a rep, you don’t have to worry about dropping a weight on your head!
Sit on the shoulder press machine and adjust the seat, so your shoulders are level with the handles. Grab the handles and press them up and overhead. Bend your arms, lower the weights, and repeat.
- Band pull-aparts
This exercise doesn’t work the muscles responsible for the width of your shoulders, but it can still make your shoulders look broader. How? By pulling your shoulders back and into good posture. Better yet, you can do this exercise at home or even at work as all you need is a resistance band.
Hold your resistance band with a shoulder-width grip. Raise your arms up in front of you to shoulder-height. Open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest. Make sure you pull your shoulders down and back. Return to the starting position and repeat.
- Barbell upright rows
This is a slightly controversial exercise because some people find that it causes wrist, elbow, and even shoulder joint discomfort. But, if you try it and find that you feel okay, it’s a useful exercise for building bigger, broader shoulders.
Hold a barbell with an overhand grip and your hands about 12” apart. Stand with the bar in front of your legs, knees slightly bent for balance. Bend your arms and pull the bar up the front of your body. Keep your elbows above the bar. Pull the weight up to your chest and then lower it again. Don’t cheat by using your legs. This may allow you to lift more weight, but it actually makes this exercise less productive and more likely to cause aches and pains.
If this exercise DOES make your shoulders sore, try doing it with dumbbells. A lot of exercisers find using dumbbells much more comfortable.
- Bus drivers
This low-tech exercise is surprisingly challenging! All you need is a weight plate to do it. It’s an excellent exercise to do at the end of a workout when you just want to finish off your shoulders but don’t have the energy for anything more complicated.
To do it, grip a weight plate, so your hands are directly opposite one another – the quarter to three position. Raise your arms in front of you, so your arms are parallel to the floor. Keeping your arms straight, turn the weight to the left and to the right, just like you are steering a bus. Keep going until you are no longer able to keep your arms up.
- Face pulls
This cable exercise is excellent for building your shoulders and improving your posture. It also works the muscles between your shoulder blades, and even your biceps get a workout too.
Adjust a cable machine to about chest height. Attach a rope handle to the cable. Grab one end of the handle in each hand and, with your arms straight, step back and into a staggered stance for balance. Next, bend your arms and pull the handles into either side of your head. Imagine you are trying to put your thumbs in your ears. Extend your arms and repeat.
Bigger, broader shoulders can add a lot to your physique. Your clothes will fit better, and your posture will improve too. In addition, strong shoulders are usually healthier shoulders and less prone to injury. Considering that your shoulders are involved in every upper body movement, time spent developing your shoulders is time well-spent!
If you want to build your shoulders, you need to overload the relevant muscles. Muscles only grow and get stronger when you challenge them. Easy exercises and workouts won’t do much for strength or muscle growth.
Choose weights that fatigue your muscles somewhere between 6-12 reps. Rest 1-2 minutes, and then do another set. 2-3 sets of 2-3 exercises should be plenty to give your shoulders the workout they need to grow. 1-2 shoulder-specific workouts per week should be all you need if you work hard enough.
It will take time and energy to build bigger shoulders, but your efforts WILL be rewarded! Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for more expert reviews and advice.