David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
Build Wide, Powerful Shoulders
When you are wearing clothes, a good pair of shoulders is probably the most impressive part of any physique. They will make you look wide and powerful from all angles, and a pair of broad shoulders will also accentuate the appearance of a small waist. In this article, I’ll tell you how to build wide round shoulders in the fastest and most efficient way possible.
But first, you should know a bit about the structure of the shoulders (or deltoids as they are more properly named). Deltoids are made up of three distinct heads:
- Front (anterior)
- Side (lateral)
- Rear (posterior)
So for maximum size and thickness, all three heads need to be developed. However, it’s the side head that needs the most emphasis if you are looking to create the appearance of width. To properly develop the shoulders from all angles you need two types of movements—overhead pressing movements and lateral raises.
The first and most important movement required to build really big powerful shoulders is an overhead pressing movement. This can be done with either a barbell or with dumbbells. I usually recommend a barbell for beginners, but the problem with this is it puts more emphasis on the front deltoid than the side.
Once you are a bit more advanced it’s a good idea to switch to the dumbbell overhead press (or you could do both of course). These can be done either standing or seated, but I prefer seated.
The dumbbell overhead press is superior for developing width as it puts more of an emphasis on the side deltoid than a barbell press does. This is because the position of the arms is more out to the side, whereas the natural position for a barbell press is with the arms coming forward. Also using dumbbells allows each arm to move independently, which helps to give a more even development.
It is important to use a full range of motion when doing overhead presses. You'll see many people at the gym only going halfway down, but by doing this you are again putting most of the emphasis on the front deltoids (as well as the triceps). To engage the side delts more fully you need to bring your hands all the way down, close to shoulder level.
The standing side lateral raise is a fantastic exercise that really brings out the side head of the deltoids and creates truly wide shoulders. It can be done with either dumbbells or cables. Cables have the advantage of keeping constant tension on the muscles, but dumbbells are excellent too.
Lateral raises can also be done bending forwards, which targets the rear deltoids more. Or alternatively, you could do face pulls to target this area. Face pulls provide a good level of stimulation to many of the muscles of the upper back as well, and they are an excellent if somewhat underrated exercise.
It is important to get your technique right with these exercises if you want to get the maximum benefit though. So when doing side lateral raises don’t go too heavy—use a weight that you can control at all times. Lean slightly forward and brace your abs hard (this takes the stress off your lower back).
Then as you start to lift, lead with the elbows and keep your little fingers high, so that this finger is at least as high as the rest of your hand when you reach the top position. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor, as going higher than this only takes the tension off the shoulders and puts it onto the trapezius.
Sean Nalewanyj demonstrates the bent-over lateral raise:
Note: You will also see people doing raises to the front in order to target the anterior deltoids more. But these are unnecessary as the front shoulder gets plenty of stimulation, not only from your overhead presses but from other pressing movements such as the bench press, as well as parallel bar dips, and a number of other exercises.
Sets, Reps, and Frequency
- When doing overhead barbell presses work up to 1–2 top weight sets of 5–8 reps most of the time.
- For dumbbell presses do 2–3 sets of 6–10 reps.
- For lateral raises and face pulls do 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
Train your shoulders twice per week for best results, but once every 5 days or so will work great too. So you might do standing barbell presses and lateral raises in one workout and seated dumbbell presses and bent-over laterals (or face pulls) in the other. That's all you need to build a really great pair of shoulders—wide, round, and powerful looking.
Focus on Progression
Progressive overload is the most important factor required to gain muscle mass, and training your shoulders is no different. So focus on increasing the weights you are using over time. Of course, you can’t keep increasing them indefinitely, and trying to do so will only lead to setbacks.
You will need to back off occasionally and build back up again. But by this time next year, you should be using significantly more weight than you are at the moment—especially on your overhead press, which is your main compound shoulder movement.
Eat Right and Rest
You’ll also need to ensure you are eating a good muscle-building diet, consisting of a moderate calorie surplus, plenty of protein, some carbohydrates, good fats, and lots of fruit and vegetables. Assess the results you are getting and adjust accordingly.
If you are not gaining muscle size, eat more. But if you are gaining too much fat you'll need to cut down a bit. Get sufficient rest and sleep too. Remember you grow when you are resting, not when you are training.
So that's how you build wide, round shoulders in the fastest, most efficient way possible. It isn’t that difficult, and if you put in the required amount of effort you will see the results you want. Best of luck.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.