Narrow Shoulders? What’s the Best Training to Make Them Look More Defined?

Narrow Shoulders? What’s the Best Training to Make Them Look More Defined?

(Last Updated On: April 5, 2019)

Narrow Shoulders? What's the Best Training to Make Them Look More Defined?

Do you feel like you’re “stuck” with narrow shoulders? You can’t change the bone structure you were born with but you CAN change the shape of the muscles that cover your shoulders. When the muscles are larger and more defined, your shoulders look broader.

The problem with having narrow shoulders is it throws off the symmetry of the rest of your figure. When your shoulders are narrow, your waist looks larger, whereas if you build up your shoulders through weight training, your waistline will look smaller in contrast. Broader shoulders also give the illusion of smaller hips and a smaller lower body.

Fortunately, super broad shoulders are no longer the rage from a fashion standpoint. You might remember when blouses and coats had added shoulder pads to give that wide-shouldered look. That might have been a bit extreme. Is it really attractive to look like a football player?  Plus, it’s better to get those strong, wide shoulders naturally through weight training than to “cheat” with shoulder pads. Yes, it is possible to change the shape of your shoulders with hard work and focused training. Training your shoulders against resistance helps correct sloping shoulders as well.

Narrow Shoulders: Training for Stronger Shoulders

The main muscles that give your shoulders shape are the deltoid muscles. These are the muscles to develop to get broader, more defined shoulders. The key is to train your shoulders in a balanced manner. The deltoid muscle has three main parts: anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids. Too often, people focus on training the anterior deltoids since that’s the part you see when you look in the mirror.

In reality, you’ll get better shoulder development if you work all three portions of your deltoid muscles rather than spending all of your time on exercises that target only the front of your shoulders. You can’t specifically isolate each head of the deltoid independently of the others but there are exercises that place more emphasis on one part over the others.

Narrow Shoulders: Anterior Deltoid Work

The anterior deltoid is the portion of the deltoid that flexes your shoulder and lifts your arm above your head. Some of the best exercises to target these muscles are barbell and dumbbell overhead presses, Arnold presses military presses. Dumbbell front raises is another effective exercise that aisn’tas popular as they should be. How many of these exercises are you doing?

Narrow Shoulders: Lateral Deltoid Training

The main function of the lateral deltoids is to abduct your arm or move it away from the center of your body. Chances are your lateral deltoids aren’t getting as much work as your anterior ones. Maybe it’s time to balance things out by hitting your lateral delts as much as your anterior and posterior ones. Remember, it’s about balance. Training your lateral delts is particularly important since a small increase in size laterally means shoulders that are visibly wider.

One of the best exercises to target the lateral deltoids are lateral raises holding dumbbells. You also work your lateral deltoids to some degree when you do upright rows but lateral raises should definitely be part of your routine when you’re trying to broaden your shoulders. As you’ll see below, 45-degree incline rows are another “must do” exercise to target your lateral delts.

Narrow Shoulders: Posterior Deltoids

On to your posterior deltoid muscles. This part of the shoulder is responsible for shoulder extension. What it does is lower your arm and bring it back behind your body. If you’re working your back hard, you’re hitting these muscles with movements like bent-over rows. To give them even more stimulation, lie face down on an incline bench and do a set of dumbbell flies. You can also sit on a bench, bend over with your palms facing down and do lateral raises. Both of these approaches effectively target the posterior deltoids. If you aren’t doing back exercises that hit the posterior deltoids or specifically targeting your posterior delts with focused exercises, this is likely the weakest portion of your shoulders. So, show them some love.

Narrow Shoulders: The Best Shoulder Exercises

Although varying the shoulder exercises you do and targeting all three parts or heads of the deltoids is best, what if you could only choose one exercise for each? Based on EMG studies, a technique that measures how much muscle activation you get with various exercises, the following are the top shoulder exercise for each part of the deltoid based on EMG results:

.   Anterior deltoids – Seated front dumbbell press

.   Other effective options: dumbbell front raises, battling ropes, push-ups, dips, upright rows

.   Middle deltoids – 45-degree incline row

.   Other effective options: bent arm lateral raise, barbell upright rows, seated rear lateral raises

.   Posterior deltoids – Seated rear lateral raise

.   Other effective options: 45-degree incline rows, battling ropes, cable diagonal raises, bent arm lateral raises

Narrow Shoulders: Training for Growth

If you’re trying to broaden your shoulders, the only way to do it is to enhance the size of your deltoid muscles. So, you need to train for muscle growth. To hypertrophy, your shoulders, use a load that’s 60% to 80% of your one-rep max and aim for 8 to 12 reps for each set. It should be difficult to complete the final rep. More sets are better for muscle growth. Do a minimum of 3 sets per exercise and 4 or 5 sets is best if you’re trying to get your shoulders to grow. If you’re using a weight that you can complete more than 12 reps, it’s too light. In this case, you’re building muscle endurance rather than size.

You’ll also need to use progressive overload. As the resistance becomes easier to lift, increase the weight. One of the biggest mistakes people make when building any muscle is to let their workout get stagnant. You have to increase the challenge over time. At some point, you’ll need to mix things up to get your deltoids to grow further. One way to do that is to do supersets. You can also adjust other training variables. For example, slowing the tempo of your reps increases the time under tension, which is a good stimulus for muscle growth.

The Bottom Line

It takes work to build stronger, broader, more defined shoulders – but it can be done! Make sure your shoulder workouts are balanced and you’re targeting all three heads or parts of the deltoid muscle. Train for hypertrophy, use progressive overload and don’t be afraid to adjust your training variables to work your deltoid muscles in a different way. Make sure you’re consuming enough calories too. You can’t build more defined shoulders in a calorie deficit. Finally, be patient. It takes time to build broader shoulders.



Oxygen Magazine. July 2011. “Make Your Shoulders Pop”

Blade Nutrition. “Best Shoulder Exercises Based on Scientific Research”


Related Articles By Cathe:

The Best Exercises for Broader Shoulders

Weight Training and Shoulder Injuries: The Importance of Strengthening Your Rotator Cuff

Building Strong and Beautiful Shoulders: is Your Shoulder Workout Balanced?

Is a Weak Upper Back Making You Look and Feel Older?

Is Muscle Damage Necessary for Muscle Growth?


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