Narrow Shoulders

What Is Considered Broad Shoulders?

What do most people consider broad shoulders? First, we to distinguish the difference between bone structure and muscle, then the ratio of the shoulder span to the pelvis, and then we can look at some sample numbers.

Bone Structure Versus Muscle Mass

There are ways to improve your overall shoulder measurement through building up shoulder muscle mass (anterior/lateral/posterior deltoids).

But first, we’re going to be looking at the bone structure and the shoulders.

The clavicle is a bone that lies horizontally that connects your chest (sternum) to your shoulder blade. It’s shown in red in the image below.

Clavicle Bone Structure

This is what people are talking about when discussing if someone is broad-shouldered or not. 

You can be skinny and broad-shouldered, like my business partner Shane Duquette. Here he is during a bulk to gain more muscle mass.

Shane added 4.75" inches to his shoulders

Even before he gained a lot of muscle, you can see how his elbows are away from his pelvis due to long clavicles. And you can be muscular with narrow-boned shoulders.

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.

Objectively Wide Clavicle

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 by 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.

David Broad Shoulders Statue

Steve Reeves 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.

Steve Reeves Broad Shoulders

In his era, the saying was to “train wide to get wide” and it certainly worked for him.

My Shoulder Span

Jared Polowick 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+

What do you think?

The Mystery of Bone Changes

Can you change bone width or length?

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:

Photo from Eric Cressey

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 a big swimmer.

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.

Michael Phelps Broad Shoulders

Workouts To Broaden And Widen 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.

Joseph Merrick Bone Elephant

There’s also the case of Stephen Hawking’s facial bones changing due to his disease.

As far as I can see, muscles pulling on bones have some sort of influence on their shape. Perhaps if you want the swimmer’s body, you should try doing a lot of swimming. Perhaps doing some wide-grip pronated hangs might do something. If you experience any success, drop us a line in the comments!

Next Best Thing: Improving The Shoulder-To-Waist Ratio

Using Shoulder Muscle Mass To Reach The Golden Ratio

If you don’t have a wide bone structure, the next best thing is building up muscle mass to give the appearance of having broad shoulders.

There is something called the shoulder-to-waist ratio, and the golden ratio is 1.618.

That means if you have a 32″ waist, you will need a shoulder circumference of at least 52″ to beat that ratio.

Many researchers believe that men want upper body strength and wide shoulders is because it signals strength. Being more muscular and heavier, particularly with strong arms and a thick neck, then you will look more capable of violence because you would better able to defend yourself.

This is why someone with a narrow bone structure, like myself, will still want to build muscle mass. People see us in 3D, and getting stronger and heavier will help in a fight.

5.5 Inches Of Shoulder Mass Gained In Three Months

Here I am gaining over 5.5 inches on my shoulder circumference in just three months.

Building Muscle Made Me Healthier

And here I am more recently after spending a lot of time building up muscle mass in my upper body, now gaining over 6.25+ inches on my shoulder measurements. It does give the impression of being wider without changing the bone width.

Jared Polowick Skinny Ectomorph Transformation Before and After

If you want help learning how to build up muscle mass in your upper body, like your shoulders and your neck, check out my article on building up shoulder mass.

Burn Stubborn Fat, Gain Muscle