The part of your body people see the most, especially in the summer, are your arms and shoulders. When you put on a tank top, do you like the way your shoulders look? Many women, especially those that don’t weight train, have narrow shoulders that lack definition. Narrow shoulders make you look weak and it makes your waistline look larger. However, when you have broad, defined shoulders, it creates a taper that makes your waist appear smaller than it actually is. Plus, narrow shoulders also make your hips look wider, thereby throwing off the symmetry of your physique. Broad shoulders, by creating symmetry, can give your physique an hourglass appearance.
You might feel that your shoulders are limited by the size of your bone structure. Some people have a frame that’s naturally narrow or broad at the shoulders. You can’t change your bone structure – but don’t forget, there is muscle overlying the shoulder bones. You can build the size of your shoulders by hypertrophying the muscle. By enlarging the muscles, you can broaden your shoulders and correct problems like sloping shoulders as well.
Training to Broaden Your Shoulders
The muscles to focus on when you’re training your shoulders are the deltoids – but, remember, the deltoid is divided into three parts: the anterior, lateral, and posterior delts. Of course, you want to train each of these portions of the muscle, but if you’re trying to broaden your shoulders, devote a bit more time to your lateral delts. Since this is the portion of the deltoids that are on the sides of your shoulders, hypertrophying them will increase the width of the shoulders most effectively.
So, what’s the best way to train the lateral delts? The lateral part of the deltoids abducts or raises your arm away from the center of your body. One of the best exercises for targeting this portion of the delts are lateral raises. You probably do this exercise using dumbbells but you can alter the stimulus on the muscle by using cables or resistance bands as an alternative.
When you do lateral raises with dumbbells, you might be tempted to use a heavy weight. For this exercise, stick to lighter weights, at least until you’ve mastered proper form. You’ll find that even with lighter weights, the burn comes quickly. Use a weight that you can do 10 to 15 reps before fatiguing and focus on using the best form possible. Once you’ve mastered the form using lighter weights, increase the resistance you use until you can only do 8 to 10 reps before thoroughly fatiguing the muscle. When you raise the dumbbells, don’t move them higher than parallel. Doing so shifts the focus of the exercise to your upper trapezius muscle.
Other Exercises that Target the Lateral Deltoid
Another exercise that hones in on the lateral portion of the deltoid is upright rows. To maximize recruitment of muscle fibers in the lateral delts, widen your grip. Use a barbell and shift your hand position laterally until your hands are shoulder-width apart. This wider grip shifts the focus laterally.
Finally, add 45-degree incline rows to your routine. The American Council on Exercise conducted a study. In the study, they measured muscle activation with various shoulder exercises. For the lateral deltoids, 34-degree incline rows and bent arm lateral raises were most effective for targeting the lateral delts with cable diagonal raises being almost as effective as bent arm lateral raises. So, when you do lateral raises, do them both with straight and bent arms and throw in some cable raises as well for variety.
If building wider shoulders is a priority, train your shoulders before focusing on bicep work so you can maximize the effort you put into lateral delt work. Focus on form, especially as you advance the weight you use.
Other Benefits of Building Broader Shoulders
A balanced shoulder workout will help you avoid strength imbalances that can lead to injury. Think about how many times you use your shoulders every day, especially when you lift things. But they also come into play when you play almost any sport, especially racket sports and swimming. So, train your shoulders not just for aesthetics but to build strong shoulders that are resistant to injury. To further lower the risk of injury, include exercises that target the rotator cuffs as well. Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Strengthening these smaller muscles will help you avoid injury. Don’t forget to warm-up before grabbing weights to further lower your risk of a shoulder strain, rotator cuff tear, or other injury.
If you sit in a chair much of the day or flex your neck forward to look at your smartphone, you’re creating alignment issues that can lead to rounded shoulders. Rounded shoulders are not only not aesthetically pleasing, they increase the risk for orthopedic issues, including neck pain and headaches. To correct rounded shoulders, strengthen your upper back and stretch the muscles in the front of your chest Do chest stretches when you’re at the office and be aware of your posture at all times.
The Bottom Line
It takes time and consistent training to broaden your shoulders and get that tapered appearance – but it’s worth the effort! Broad shoulders are a mark of strength and power and that’ just as important for women as it is for men. So, if you want broader shoulders too, shift more focus to your lateral deltoids but continue to work the anterior and posterior deltoids with overhead presses, Arnold presses etc. Most of us work the anterior portion of the shoulder more than the anterior or posterior delts. Focusing on the exercises discussed will help you balance out your training and get wider and more defined shoulders over time.
ACE Fitness. “Dynamite Delts: ACE Research Identifies Top Shoulder Exercise
OrthoInfo. “Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problem
Oxygen Magazine. July 2011. “Make Your Shoulders Po
IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “Repositioning Poor Postur
OnFitness Magazine. September.October 2010. “The Y Factor: The Benefits of Broad Shoulders”