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 to get broader shoulders.
- What is considered broad shoulders?
- Broad Shoulders Is A Ratio Of Shoulder-Span-To Pelvis
- Estimating The Shoulder-Span-To-Pelvis Ratio
- Are Broad Shoulders Genetic? The Mystery of Bone Changes
- How do you know if you have broad shoulders?
- Why are men’s broad shoulders attractive?
- How do You Get Broader shoulders?
- What are the best exercises for Building Broader, Bigger shoulders?
- A Sample Shoulder Workout
What is considered broad shoulders?
Having broad shoulders means that your clavicle, otherwise known as your collarbone, is long when compared to how wide your waist is. The clavicle is a bone that lies horizontally that connects your chest (sternum) to your shoulder blade.
So you can be skinny with broad shoulders if you have long clavicle bones but a narrow pelvis in terms of bone structure.
Broad Shoulders Versus Narrow Shoulders
My business partner Shane Duquette is a good example of what broad shoulders looks like. Here is he is the photo below on the left. When Shane was skinny—he still had broad but bony shoulders. You can see how when his arm goes straight down, and there’s still space between his elbow and his body. On the right is myself when I was skinny. I had narrow shoulders in terms of bone structure. My elbow actually collides with my pelvis as my bone structure is so narrow.
But bodyfat matters too when it comes to the visual part of broad shoulders. A guy could have very long clavicles and a narrow pelvis, like Shane does, but if they are too fat, especially around the waist and the belly, then it will remove the look of having broad bone structure. This is because the narrow bone structure around the waist will still be large—but from fat. So holding onto too much fat can ruin the broad shoulders look.
So the good news is that even if your clavicles are not very wide compared to your pelvis, you can fix a big part of the problem by improving the visual look by building up more shoulder mass with muscle and keeping your waist lean.
Celebrity Examples of Narrow Shoulders But Still Looking Great
For example, Brad Pitt has broader shoulders than Ryan Gosling, but once they both built up lots of lean mass, especially around the shoulders—they both look great.
Broad Shoulders Is A Ratio Of Shoulder-Span-To Pelvis
The “look” of having broad shoulders is not just having an objectively wide clavicle. For example, you could have a guy like Yao Ming, the tallest All-Star NBA player at 7’6 feet tall. He might objectively have a very long clavicle, but when compared to his pelvis, he has a normal shoulder width.
On the flip side, you could have a very short man, who is 5’0 foot tall, but be broad-shouldered looking, at least in photographs, because he has an even smaller pelvis.
So the look of having broad shoulders is having a solid shoulder-span-clavicle-to-pelvis ratio.
What is an optimal shoulder-span-to-pelvis ratio? I haven’t found anything official published in research. (If you know of something, please drop a link in the comments!)
Estimating The Shoulder-Span-To-Pelvis Ratio
Statue of David Shoulder Span
The statue of David from Michelangelo is known to be a picture of optimal health and form. When I lay some measurements on him, he has a ratio of 1.39.
Steve Reeves Broad Shoulder Span
Steve Reeves was famous for walking on the beach and having people follow him because they had never seen anyone look like this before. He was extremely broad-shouldered in both bone structure and in mass. Reeves has a shoulder-span-to-pelvis ratio of 1.47.
In his era, the saying was to “train wide to get wide” and it certainly worked for him.
My Narrow Shoulder Span
Here is a photo of me when I was skinny and about 40 pounds lighter than I am now. My shoulder-span-to-pelvis ratio is 1.27.
Shoulder-Span-To-Pelvis Ratio Guide
So I propose, maybe it’s something like:
- Narrow Shoulders: 1.27 and below
- Normal Shoulders: 1.32
- Broad Shoulders: 1.38
- Head-Turning Broad Shoulders: 1.42
- Crowd-Gathering Broad Shoulders: 1.47+
Are Broad Shoulders Genetic? The Mystery of Bone Changes
It is largely accepted that once bone is grown and “ossified,” it is set. However, there are some interesting cases to think about. The first is that Eric Cressey, one of the most famous trainers and now works with the New York Yankees, has noticed the collarbone differences in swimmers versus pitchers. Take a look:
Now we are presented with the chicken and egg scenario. Did someone get into swimming because they were broad-shouldered, and it was easy for them to excel? Or did getting into swimming develop broad shoulders?
My business partner Shane Duquette, while skinny was still broad-shouldered. He was a lifeguard as a teenager and pratically lived in the pool. I am not a good swimmer.
Am I a bad swimmer because I have narrow shoulders? Or did my shoulders not grow wide because I wasn’t swimming?
And similarly, we see many people who want the swimmer’s physique, like Michael Phelps. When you look at swimmer’s they all, tend to have broad shoulders.
Can You Change Your Bone Shape?
Can we manipulate bone? In an extreme case, there in Joseph Merrick in the 19th century. Scientists still don’t know what disease he had, but his replica bones are on display at the Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives.
There’s also the case of Stephen Hawking’s changing facial bones due to his disease, and the way it affected his muscles pulling on his bones.
As far as I can see, muscles pulling on bones have some sort of influence on their shape. Ask most scientists and researchers and I’d wager they’d say that bone is set in shape.
But bodybuilders like Steve Reeves said that you should “train wide to get wide.” Perhaps if you want the swimmer’s body, you should try doing a lot of swimming. If you want wide shoulders, try training wide. Maybe nothing happens, but that’s sort of the fun of being in the dark and trying to discover new things.
How do you know if you have broad shoulders?
Generally, the ratio that everyone cares about with broad shoulders is called the Golden Ratio. The golden ratio is seen throughout nature and it has to do with aesthetic beauty and health. The golden ratio 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 all the way around your shoulders and around your back. Keep the tape over your nipples. Take note of the measurement.
Next, 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 and expert on attraction says that the reason why men’s broad shoulders are attractive is because it shows upper body strength, which would be used to protect and defend others. Throughout most of human history, we’ve lived in very violent times, and it was necessary to be able to protect yourself and those who you were with.
When women look at men, they are judging who would be able to protect them from violence from another tribe or just to evaluate his level of strength. She could take a quick look at his shoulders to see how strong he is and look at his waist to see how healthy and fit he is.
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 women 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—which means, that the strongest men were also the most attractive.
Men evaluate women with their body as well. We look at how wide her hips are to see how healthy she is and look at her stomach to see if she is healthy (no parasites) or to see if she is pregnant. For women this is known as the waist-to-hip ratio, which the World Health Organization has found 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 structure and 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 is. The tricky part is that you have to build up this muscle 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 You Get Broader shoulders?
We can’t really change the bone structure, but we can make your shoulders look broad through muscle mass.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 three-dimensional 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. 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 shoulder exercises.
Gaining 5.5 inches On my Shoulder Measurement in 3 Months
Here is me gaining 5.5 inches on my shoulders in just 90 days:
What are the best exercises for Building Broader, Bigger 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 (weekly sets) for your shoulders. But if you’re not getting stronger on the other lifts, that is 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 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.
- Heavy—Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press—Rest time 3 minutes
- 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
- Set 5—12 reps
- Light—Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press—Rest time 30 seconds STRICT
- Set 1—10–12 reps
- Set 2—10–12 reps
- Set 3—10–12 reps
- Light—Lateral Raises—Rest time 30 seconds STRICT
- Set 1—10–15 reps
- Set 2—10–15 reps
- Set 3—10–15 reps
- Light—Cable Facepull (Or Bent Over Dumbbell Facepull)—Rest time 30 seconds STRICT
- Set 1—10–15 reps
- Set 2—10–15 reps
- Set 3—10–15 reps
14 total sets. You lifted heavy, moderate, and light. You did a mix of compound and isolation movements for the shoulders—working them through a large range of motion.
A good sign of oncoming results is a pump after your workout, and a bit of muscle soreness in your shoulders in the next day or two.
If you found this guide on building bigger, broader houlders helpful, then you’d love our programs. You can check them out here.
I teach the same techniques in these programs that Jason and Abiel used to become their strongest yet, building bigger shoulders, all while losing the gut and becoming healthier.