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. So in this article I’ll tell you how to build big 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 referred to). They are made up of three distinct heads – the front (anterior), the side (lateral) and the rear (posterior) deltoids. So for maximum size and thickness all three heads need to be developed; but 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 dumbbells. I usually recommend a barbell for beginners, but the problem with this is that although it does build all three heads to an extent, it puts more emphasis on the front head than the side. So for more advanced people 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 half-way down, but by doing this you are still putting most of the emphasis on to the front deltoids (and also the triceps). To fully engage the side delts you need to bring the dumbbells all the way down to shoulder level. Or if using a barbell, bring it down to well below the chin.
The standing side lateral raise is a fantastic exercise which really brings out the lateral 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 the muscles of the upper back as well and are an excellent, but underrated exercise.
It is important to get your technique right on these exercises if you want to get the maximum benefit from them. 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 really hard (this takes the stress off your lower back). Bend your elbows slightly and as you start to lift lead with the elbows and keep your little fingers high, so that this finger is higher than 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.
You will also see people doing raises to the front in order to target the anterior deltoid 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 bench presses, as well as parallel bar dips and a number of other exercises.
Sets, Reps And Frequency
When doing overhead barbell presses work up to one or two top weight sets of 5 – 8 reps most of the time. For dumbbell presses do 2 – 3 sets of 6 – 12 reps. And 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.
Focus On Progression
Progressive overload is the most important factor required for muscle growth, and training your shoulders is no different. So focus on increasing the weights you are using over time. Of course you can’t increase indefinitely, and trying to do so will only lead to setbacks, so you will need to de-load occasionally and build back up again. But 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.
You’ll also need to ensure you are eating a good muscle building diet, with a slight calorie surplus, plenty of protein, properly timed carbs, some good fats and plenty of vegetables if you want to build your shoulders and other body parts up whist staying lean.
And get sufficient rest and sleep too. Remember you grow when you are resting, not when you are training.
So now you know how to build big shoulders in the fastest, most efficient way possible. It isn’t that difficult and if you put in the required effort you will see the results. Best of luck.
Photo credit: SSCusp, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr