Do you have broad shoulders on your Amazon wish list? You’re not alone – every guy wishes for this ultimate mark of masculinity. Increasing your shoulder width makes your overall frame look beastly, while giving your waist a more fit, trim look. Stop wishing and arm yourself with these 4 exercises for broad shoulders.
Anatomy of the Shoulder
Before we get started, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of the shoulder. You have one big deltoid muscle in each shoulder that rounds out its shape. This muscle is separated into three sets of muscle fibers (or heads) – the anterior (front) delts, medial (side delts), and posterior (rear) delts.
While it’s important to target each of these heads, you’ll want to really focus in on the front and side delts to build bigger, broader shoulders.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching your shoulder training routine.
I recommend using free weights whenever possible because balancing free weights adds an extra challenge and makes your muscles work harder. Dumbbells can also benefit your training because they isolate each shoulder independently.
But there are also some benefits to changing things up on occasion, so jump on a machine or try different variations of these exercises every now and then to train your shoulders from all different angles.
To build the biggest, broadest shoulders, you need to target your deltoids 2 to 3 days a week and aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. You can find specifics on a few mass-building shoulder routines here, and it includes all 4 of the exercises in this guide.
Now, let’s get into the four best exercises for broad shoulders.
The overhead press (or military press) is a big compound lift, and it forms the basis of any solid workout routine for your shoulders. This exercise engages all three heads of your deltoids and gives you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to building broad shoulders. As a bonus, it works your triceps, too.
The overhead press is typically done while standing, but as a variation, you can do seated overhead presses to give your back a little extra support.
To perform this exercise, take the bar from the rack (or clean it to your shoulders) and let it rest across your front delts. Your grip should be a little wider than your shoulders, with feet planted slightly wider than your shoulders as well (if you are standing). Make sure you keep your elbows tucked in and perpendicular to the ground.
Tighten your glutes and core and press the bar upward (you’ll have to move your head back out of the bar’s path). Remember, you’re doing a strict press, so don’t use any momentum from your knees or hips to get the bar moving – this lift is all about raw shoulder power.
Lockout at the top before letting the bar come back down to rest on your shoulders again.
When performing this lift, it’s important to keep your hips tucked and your glutes and core engaged the entire time. Otherwise, you’ll put unwanted stress and tension on your lower back.
Upright rows sometimes get a bad rap, but if you use proper technique, this exercise is great for all three heads of your delts, as well as your traps. Where many people go wrong with this movement is the height they bring the bar – don’t go any higher than your chin or you risk injury to your shoulders.
To perform this exercise, choose a narrower grip than usual – this will make your delts do more of the work rather than your back.
Stand up straight and pull the bar up toward your chin, letting your elbows flare out wide. Make sure to keep the bar in close to your body as it comes up.
Remember – stop at your chin! There are no real benefits to going any higher, and you may hurt your shoulders if you push your range of motion too far.
Then, lower the bar back down with a smooth, controlled motion.
The side lateral raise is excellent for isolating and strengthening your medial (side) delts, which increase the width of your shoulders big time. The more mass you pack onto your side delts, the wider and rounder your shoulders will look.
To perform this exercise, plant your feet shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbells just in front of your waist with thumbs pointing forward.
Keep a slight bend in your elbows and raise the dumbbells out to each side until they’re just above your shoulders. You can either have your palms facing the floor during this movement or point your thumbs down to the ground to really hit those side delts.
Then, slowly (slowly!) lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Negative contractions are important so keep strict control going up and going down.
Let’s focus in on the front and side delts one more time with front raises. This isn’t an exercise where you want to go as heavy as possible – keep the weight light enough to do the lift with perfect form. You can even use exercise bands for this one.
You can do several different variations of the front raise. For example, try doing seated front raises (like in the tutorial video below) or alternating single-arm raises.
To perform this exercise, hold the dumbbells down at your sides with an overhand grip, palms facing down.
Tighten your core and pull your shoulders blades back and together. Then, lift the dumbbells up in an arc motion until they’re shoulder height. Your arms should stay straight throughout the movement.
Make sure you don’t use any momentum to swing the dumbbells out and up – front raises should be done strict, with your shoulders doing all the work.
Lower the dumbbells slowly (again, pay attention to slow, controlled movements during negative contractions) back down.
Be consistent in using these four lifts to train your delts, and you’ll be well on your way to sculpting the masculine, broad shoulders you’ve been wishing for.