Are you struggling to get that wide-shoulder look? Having wider shoulders makes you appear stronger and more confident! Plus, you ARE stronger when you strengthen your upper body. At one time, it was popular to wear shoulder pads to get that broad-shouldered look, but that’s an illusion. The best way to get them for real is to weight train in a way that hypertrophies your shoulder muscles. Since you can’t change your bones, the only way to get them is to increase the size of the muscles that lie over your shoulder bones.
Building wider shoulders has some limitations. How wide your shoulders are depends partly on the structure of your bones, but you can still hypertrophy the muscles that lie over the bones and create some shoulder width through strength training.
What are the most effective exercises for getting broader shoulders? You’ll get the most bang for your buck by doing exercises that hypertrophy the lateral deltoids. As you know, your shoulders are divided into three parts: the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids. Most exercises target the anterior shoulders and, to a lesser degree, the lateral shoulders. The posterior shoulders get the least emphasis when you do common weight training exercises.
Which exercises should you include in your shoulder-broadening routine? Certain exercises are better than others for targeting the lateral shoulders. Here are three exercises you should include in your routine if you want wider shoulders.
The Lateral Raise
The lateral raise is one of the best exercises for targeting your lateral deltoids. You can do the movement using dumbbells or kettlebells, although you shouldn’t go too heavy. The key with this exercise is to use good form and move the weights through a full range-of-motion rather than trying to use too much weight.
When you raise the weights out to your side and bring them back down, the lowering, or eccentric, portion of the movement should be slow and controlled. Don’t let the weight drop, as it reduces the work your shoulders have to do, and that decreases the effectiveness of the exercise.
The lateral raise is the closest exercise to a movement that isolates the lateral deltoids but it’s not a true isolation movement since your upper trapezius does some of the work too. However, developing your upper traps will also give your shoulders a more defined look. Since you use lighter weights for this exercise, aim for 10 to 20 repetitions and do 3 sets.
The Overhead Press
What shoulder workout would be complete without a few sets of overhead presses? The overhead press works all the muscles in the shoulder, deltoids, but it targets the anterior delts the most and the posterior the least. Right in the middle is the lateral shoulder, the portion you’re trying to hypertrophy for wider shoulders. However, overhead presses provide enough stimulus to get your lateral shoulders to grow.
Bodybuilders do lots of overhead presses since it targets all the muscles in the shoulder and, to a lesser degree, the upper trapezius and chest. If you’re trying to broaden your shoulders by hypertrophying the lateral deltoids, stick to an intermediate rep range and, as with the lateral raise, do 10 to 15 repetitions and 3 sets.
Upright rows are another upper body exercise that works the shoulders, particularly the lateral and posterior deltoids, making them a beneficial exercise for wider shoulders. They also work the trapezius muscles that give the upper back a wider, more defined look. However, upright rows are a controversial exercise because of the risk of shoulder impingement from doing this exercise incorrectly. That’s why technique is so important when you do this exercise.
The first rule of safely doing upright rows is to keep your hands hip-width apart. If you hold them closer, your shoulders will turn inward as you raise the bar and this increases the risk of impingement. Second, don’t raise the bar too high. When you lift the bar, raise it no higher than your shoulders. Be sure to pull your shoulders back as you lift the bar.
Use pain as your guide. If you feel discomfort when you do an upright row, make sure you’re using good form and not making the mistakes mentioned above. If you still feel discomfort, this exercise may not be for you. Here are some other ways to stay safe and prevent injury when doing shoulder exercises:
Ways to Lower the Risk of Shoulder Injury
- Warm-up beforehand by doing arms swings, punches, and other dynamic movements to get your muscles ready to work.
- Start with light weights before grabbing heavier ones.
- Include exercises in your routine that strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.
- Balance your training by also including exercises that work the anterior and posterior deltoid. The posterior deltoids often get neglected.
- If you have shoulder discomfort that persists after a workout, don’t ignore it. Get it evaluated.
- Don’t train your shoulders more than 2-3 times per week and give your shoulders 48 hours rest between workouts.
The Bottom Line
These are three of the best exercises for building wider shoulders because they hypertrophy the lateral deltoid, the muscle along the side of your shoulder. For best results, include all three exercises and use progressive overload to stimulate greater muscle growth over time. If you experience shoulder pain with any of these exercises, lighten up on the weight and do higher repetitions. If it persists after making this change, stop that exercise and consider getting a shoulder evaluation.
The greater mobility of the shoulder makes it susceptible to injury, but the upside is strengthening your deltoids will lower the risk of a shoulder injury. You can best do that by including a variety of shoulder exercises in your strength-training routine and using proper form.
- Electromyographic analysis pf the deltoid muscle during various shoulder exercises. Samantha P. Sweeney.
- com. “Strengthen Your Deltoids to Help Prevent Shoulder Injuries”
- Campos, Yuri & Vianna, Jeferson & Guimaraes, Miller & Oliveira, Jorge & Hernández-Mosqueira, Claudio & Silva, Sandro & Marchetti, Paulo. (2020). Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. Journal of human kinetics. 75. 10.2478/hukin-2020-0033.
- “How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries”
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