The complete guide to what broad shoulders are, why they matter for men, and what we can (and can’t) do to change them, and a free workout.
What does it mean to have broad shoulders?
Having broad shoulders means that your clavicle, otherwise known as your collarbone, is long when compared to how wide your waist is.
So you can be skinny with broad shoulders if you have long clavicle bones but a narrow pelvis. An example of this would be my business partner Shane. Here is he is on the left when he was skinny—he has broad bony shoulders. You can see how his arm goes straight down, and there’s space between his elbow and his body. On the right is myself when I was skinny. I had narrow bony shoulders. My elbow actually collides with my body as my bone structure is so narrow.
But bodyfat matters too. You could have somebody who has very long clavicles and a narrow pelvis, like Shane, but if they are too fat, especially around the waist, then it will remove the broad visual shoulders look because they’re fat. It’ll make it look like they don’t have broad shoulders.
So the good news is that even if your clavicles are not very wide or your pelvis is wide for being a man, you can fix a big part of the problem of the visual look because you can build up shoulders with muscle mass while staying lean. For example, Brad Pitt has wider shoulders than Ryan Gosling, but once they both built up lean mass—they both look great.
How do you know if you have broad shoulders?
Generally, the ratio that everyone is after is called the Golden Ratio. The golden ratio is seen throughout nature that has to do with aesthetic beauty and health, and the number is 1.618. So the goal is to get a shoulder-to-waist ratio of 1.618 or better to be considered broad shouldered.
Take a tailor’s measuring tape and measure around your shoulders by your nipples and around your back and take note of the measurement. Then we’ll measure your waist. Measure at the narrowest point, usually around your belly button. Then you’ll divide those numbers. For example, somebody with a shoulder circumference of 52 inches and a waist of 30 inches, they will have a ratio of 1.73. That is even bigger than the golden ratio, which makes for remarkably broad looking shoulders.
Why are men’s broad shoulders attractive?
A researcher on attraction says that the reason why men’s shoulders are attractive is that it shows upper body strength, which would be used to protect and defend others. Throughout most of human history, we’ve been in very violent times, and it was necessary to be able to protect yourself and those who you were with.
When women were looking at what man would be able to protect them from violence from another tribe or just to evaluate his strength, she could look at his shoulders to see how strong he was and look at his waist to see how healthy he was.
A 2017 paper titled: Cues of upper body strength account for most of the variance in men’s bodily attractiveness explains why.
- Upper body size is the main thing that predicts both a man’s genetic quality and formidability (for example, his ability to fight and defend his family).
- Modern women desire things that respond to ancestral cues of a man’s fighting ability.
- Photographs of men’s bodies were shown to raters who estimated their physical strength/attractiveness.
- Physical strength determined over 70% of men’s bodily attractiveness.
- Tallness and leanness were also favoured for attractiveness. When combined with with estimates of physical strength, this accounted for 80% of men’s bodily attractiveness.
- Contrary to popular theories of men’s physical attractiveness, there was no evidence of a nonlinear effect—the strongest men were the most attractive.
Men can evaluate women with their body as well. We will look at how wide her hips are, see how healthy she is and look at her stomach to see if she is healthy or even if she’s pregnant for women this is known as the waist-to-hip ratio, which the who has shown to be correlated with their actual health. (Here’s an article I wrote about the waist-to-hip ratio for women.)
So the good news is that the attraction comes more from upper body strength than bone shape. So even if you have narrow shoulders, you can build up your muscle mass in your shoulder girdle such as your back, shoulders and chest, and you will radically be able to change how attractive your body looks. The tricky part is that you have to build up this mass without building lots of fat because you need to keep your waist narrow to keep your shoulder-to-waist ratio better than 1.618.
How do I build big shoulders?
The best way to build big shoulders is to do a weight lifting routine combined with the nutrition and lifestyle needed to recover from those workouts. Muscle mass is almost perfectly correlated with strength, and so your goal would be to get strong in all the major exercises that hit your shoulders.
Your shoulders are made out of three parts:
- anterior deltoid / front part of the shoulder
- lateral deltoid / side part of the shoulder
- rear deltoid / back part of the shoulder
To get truly 3D shoulders, you will want to have all three of these parts of your shoulders developed and get stronger in every exercise that hits them.
By far, the easiest way to gain mass is by lifting heavier weights, not by doing more and more reps. So the goal is to continue to add weight to the exercises that you are doing, and as you do that, your muscles will respond by getting bigger to handle those workouts. This is known as progressive overload, and there are a lot of different ways to break plateaus and continue to get stronger but ultimately, having big shoulders comes down to getting really, really damn strong at the main exercises.
Here is how I gained 5.5 inches on my shoulders in just 90 days:
What are the best exercises for big shoulders?
You will want to get really strong at the main exercises for each part of your shoulders. Occasionally you will need to switch exercises for some variety to break through a plateau or in case you get naggy joints and so it’s good to have a few options to fall back on. Otherwise, we’ve found that most people can do one type of variation of an exercise for maybe 12 to 16 weeks before needing to swap it out for something new.
Gaining lean muscle mass in your shoulders is just as simple as getting stronger and all of these movements, so if you’re getting stronger, you can be sure that you’re on the right path. If you’re not getting stronger, then you will need to switch something. If you’re getting stronger on every other lift, known as a local plateau, then you will need more volume for your shoulders. But if you’re not getting stronger on other lists known as a systemic plateau, then you will need to look at your diet or lifestyle to see how you can recover better.
The very best exercises will be the exercises that allow you to add more weight easily. So it’s best to build your shoulder workouts based on heavy compound movements like the overhead press. And then you can follow up with lighter, more isolated movements to head the other areas of the shoulders like the face pulls for the rear delts and the lateral raises for the lateral delts.
Best Anterior Delt Exercises
- Barbell Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Barbell Incline Press
- Dumbbell Incline Press
- Landmine Press
Best Lateral Delt Exercises
- Barbell Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Unilateral Cable Lateral Raises
- Butterfly Lateral Raises
- Upright Row
Best Rear Delt Exercises
- Chin-Ups and lat pulldown will hit these a bit
- High Rows
- Face Pulls
- Reverse Bayesian Fly
- Rear Delt Fly
Best Shoulder Exercises If You Have Shoulder Pain
You also have to consider if you have bad posture or shoulder pain. Many people who have their neck sticking forward, which is called forward head syndrome I have their shoulders rounded forward, and this already puts a lot of pressure on the joint, and so when they go to do an overhead press with a barbell is going to cause a lot of joint pain. So they have to make sure that they can get their shoulders back to make more space for their joints, and so they can press the even if somebody is pulling your shoulders back. If they had bad posture that may not be enough to prevent pain at which point they may need to select an exercise that doesn’t cause pain.
The exercises that I found are best for shoulder pain are using dumbbells which allows your wrist and shoulders to move and staying seated so that you don’t have to arch your back to gain to get a little bit less overhead. These are my favourite shoulder exercises for those with shoulder pain, and bad posture who still want to build a big shoulders:
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Alternating Dumbbell Overhead Presss
- Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press
- Landmine Presses
Do push-ups work shoulders?
Push-ups to work your front shoulders. Push-ups are known as a compound exercise, so they hit your shoulders, chest and triceps all at once. Now for some people, a push-up may hit their chest more, and for some people, a push-up may hit their shoulders more, so if you find that the push-up is hitting your chest more, you will need another exercise to hit your shoulders well to make sure that they grow. Variety is really good for getting a 3D and well-rounded physique, and it’s no exception for your shoulders, so I would not rely exclusively on push-ups for good shoulders.
A Sample Shoulder Mass Gain Workout
Now, remember that I said that your shoulder-to-waist ratio included your back and your chest, so you will also want to make sure that you are hitting your back and chest during the week with great compound exercises like the weighted chin-ups and some sort of variation of the bench press or dip. But as for hitting the shoulders really hard in one workout, this could be good to experiment with. Make sure that you take care of your diet, eat lots of meat, and get lots of rest.
Barbell Standing Overhead Press
- Warm-up at 40% working weight for set 1
- Set 1—5 reps
- Set 2—7 reps
- Set 3—9 reps
- Set 4— 12 reps
- Superset—Lateral Raises x 15 reps
Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press
- Set 1—12 reps
- Set 2—12 reps
- Set 3—12 reps
- Set 1—12 reps
- Set 2—12 reps
- Set 3—12 reps
Modified Upright Row
- Set 1—15 reps
- Set 2—15 reps
- Set 3—15 reps
14 total sets for the week. If for some odd reason you don’t get sore, and you can handle a ton of volume, try adding one set to each exercise to get to 18 total sets for the week.
If you found this guide on building bigger, broader shoulders helpful, then we’d love to have you join our program called True Gains. You can ask me any questions in the community, and it will tell you in a step-by-step plan exactly what you need to do to become stronger, fitter, leaner, and healthier.
This is the same program that Jason and Abiel used to become their strongest yet, building big shoulders, all while becoming healthier.