Let’s face it, shoulders make the man (and in some cases, the woman). Having a pair of wide, powerful shoulders instantly attracts respect and admiration from onlookers.
Men with broad shoulders seem to command more respect everyone else around them.
Women are often more attracted to men with broad shoulders than there narrow shouldered counterparts.
In fact, studies have shown that on average, women are attracted to men with a thin waist, a v-tapered torso and broad shoulders. According to a book entitled “Why Women Have Sex” by Psychologist Cindy Meston and David Buss, women are attracted to men who are physically fit. In particular,
“Studies of mate preferences reveal that women desire strong, muscular, athletic men for long-term partnerships as well as for sexual liaisons. Most women also show a distinct preference for a V-shaped torso – broad shoulders relative to hips.”
Men on the other hand, view other men with broad, powerful shoulders as a sign of respect. Men will often show more respect to other men with powerful and broad shoulders than others who do not possess these physical attributes.
According to an article in the daily mail:
“In fact, both sexes judge men with a high shoulder-to-hip ratio to be more physically and socially dominant. This may give a clue to its appeal, since women are not attracted to men who appear as though they could be easily dominated by other men.”
It’s only fair to conclude that men with broad, powerful shoulders command more attention from both sexes. It’s easy to see why men want to attain a pair of broad, powerful shoulders and a v-tapered torso.
This begs the question, “how does one attain this look?”
First off, unless you’re genetically gifted with a pair of broad shoulders, it’s going to take a lot commitment, hard work and a certain degree of learning. If you’re expecting to show up to the gym, do a few shoulder presses and laterals and presto, get big and powerful shoulders, it’s not going to work. Believe me, I tried and it doesn’t work.
Most of us (including yours truly) have average genetics with average shoulders, nothing special. Personally, I’ve had to re-program the way I looked at building shoulders. Here’s what you should remember.
Here’s the most important tip to remember. If you want big and powerful shoulders that look like they can move mountains, you MUST get strong using big, compound movements. There is no getting around this fact. The deltoids (Shoulders) are a big and powerful group of muscles and require heavy lifting.
Here are some examples of compound movements for the shoulders:
• Barbell presses
• Dumbbell presses
• Olympic snatch and press
Now this is very important – The compound exercise you choose will become the lifeblood of your entire routine. If you truly want to build big and powerful shoulders, your entire world must revolve around this compound movement. You MUST get strong in this compound movement and that means improving each and every week in your training cycle.
Here’s what I usually do for maximum effectiveness. I usually warm up with about 3 light sets of dumbbell laterals. I’ll do about 20 repetitions per set and I’ll only use very light weight. I’ll also throw in a couple of sets specifically designed to warm up my rotator cuffs. I strongly suggest you do a few rotator cuff exercises (to help avoid injuring these small but very important muscles).
Once that’s done, I’ll perform my compound movement using a pyramid style progression. I usually do seated barbell presses. My progression will be as follows:
Warm up: 1 set of 20 using 40% of my maximum. Rest a minute and a half
Set 1: 1 set of 10 using 50% of my maximum. Rest a minute and a half
Set 2: 1 set of 8 using 60% of my maximum. Rest a minute and a half
Set 3: 1 set of 8 using 70% of my maximum. Rest a minute and a half
Set 4 (Work set): 1 set of 8 using 80% of my maximum. Rest 40 seconds
Set 5 (Burn set): 1 set of 12 to 15 (near failure) using 60% of my maximum.
Sets 1 to 3 are more or less warm ups and I never exert maximum effort on these sets. My number one priority is my work set (set 4). I want to make sure I exert 100% maximum effort at attaining the prescribed number of repetitions with a certain weight. Once I can perform 8 unassisted plus repetitions using a certain weight, it’s time to add either more repetitions or weight for my next workout.
For my next workout, I’ll keep everything the same (including weight and sets) except for my work set which I’ll either add more weight or repetitions. For more information on this type of progression, see this page here.
I’ll always follow up with two secondary shoulder exercises:
You may be asking yourself why another pressing exercise? There are two main reasons why. First, dumbbells allow for a complete range of motion and secondly, each arm works independently. If you have a weak arm, it has no choice but to keep up. Personally, dumbbells allow me to “fill in the gaps” and take my shoulder development that much further. I’ll usually perform 3 sets and keep my repetition range to 12. I’ll always keep my weight moderate to light heavy.
Bent over laterals help fill in the backs of my shoulders. I’ll perform 3 sets of 12 to 15 with minimal rest in between sets (15 to 25 seconds). This keeps the intensity levels high and flushes the muscle with maximum blood levels.
If you can remember to stick to the basics and give it everything you have, you’ll be well on your way to big, powerful shoulders. This is where you build big shoulders. This leads into my second point….
There is really no point in trying to get big shoulders if you aren’t improving with each passing workout. My training cycle is about 15 weeks and in this time, my number one goal is to improve in my compound movements, each and every week.
In point number one, I mentioned that my concentrated effort was on set number 4, my work set. This is the magical set that will build big and powerful shoulders. It is this set which you should be concentrating your efforts on. Ideally, you want to make sure that with passing workout, you are trying to attain 8 plus repetitions with a certain weight. Once you are able to perform 8 unassisted repetitions, add 15% more weight. For example, let’s say this week, I was able to perform 8 unassisted repetitions with a 150 pounds. For my next workout, I’ll add an additional 25 pounds and aim to perform 8 unassisted repetitions for my work set.
I won’t add any additional weight until I am able to perform 8 unassisted repetitions. This is your number one goal. For more information on this technique, see this page here .
Always strive to improve on that magical “growth” set and you’ll be well on your way to big shoulders. However, in order to make the biggest improvements, you must always…
If you truly want to build big, powerful shoulders, you must make it your priority. This means training shoulders first in your routine and training cycle. When I really want to add some serious beef to my shoulders, I’ll train shoulders alone with no other muscle groups. I’ll kick off my week by training shoulders on day one and will usually train them alone.
This allows me to go into my workout jacked up and ready to hit my shoulders with everything I have. Remember, I want to strive to improve my work set on my main compound movement. By training shoulders first, they will have the necessary energy to lift heavy.
Let me ask you a question. What would happen if you trained my shoulders after training triceps? Yep, you would have a poor shoulder workout if you’re main exercises are compound pressing movements. The main reason is that your triceps play a huge role in pressing the weight upwards. If your triceps give out before your shoulders do, your shoulders won’t receive the necessary stimulation to grow.
Sure, your triceps will get a great workout but if your goal is to build big shoulders it is counterproductive to train in this manner. Triceps will play a huge role in pressing the weight but remember, they will always play a secondary role when it comes to building big and powerful shoulders.
Remember, prioritize your shoulders and you’ll have the energy to lift the big weight.
Your shoulders will never have that wide, powerful look without building your upper back, trapezius, and chest muscles. You just can’t do it. In addition, these muscles will help stabilize your entire upper torso so you’ll have a balanced look without hunching (you don’t want this).
Think about it. Your shoulders basically sit on top of your back and chest muscles. Why build a foundation of shoulder muscle atop a poorly developed back and chest? Ever see a person with wide shoulders with no chest or back development? They look more or less like a circus act. It’s not attractive at all. By building your back and chest muscles, you’ll be rounding out your shoulder development. In fact, wide shoulders can be greatly enhanced by building a nice wide “v-tapered” back. In addition, your shoulders will look much more powerful sitting atop powerful chest muscles.
I suggest you concentrate on those exercises that compliment your shoulder building routine. For the back, you want to concentrate on:
Bent over barbell rows – Adds thickness to the mid back including the back of the shoulders
For the chest, concentrate on:
Incline pressing – Adds thickness to the upper chest region
Incline dumbbell flyes – Add additional development to the upper chest region
The trapezius (traps) muscles sit atop your shoulders and extend to the back of your neck. Building big thick traps adds emphasis to the shoulders and it gives your entire upper torso that “powerhouse” look. It’s essential that you build big, thick traps to balance out your shoulder development.
You want to give your traps a lot of attention so I suggest performing your exercises after your shoulder workout. Try doing 4 sets of heavy barbell shrugs followed by 3 sets of down the rack dumbbell shrugs. Try this trap routine here.
Remember, your main priority when it comes to building big and powerful shoulders is to improve in your main compound shoulder exercise. You can’t do this if your shoulders are sore and weak. Ideally, you want to give your shoulders at least a few days rest from direct and indirect exercises. Performing a chest workout the day before your supposed to do shoulders is a bad idea. Why? Most likely, your chest workout will include some form of pressing movement. The bench press directly exercises the chest muscles but indirectly hits the front shoulders. In fact, most chest exercises will indirectly hit the shoulders.
Ideally, you want to hit your shoulders two times per week. However, this is not written in stone and you will have to gauge whether or not this is optimal.
Give your shoulders ample time to recover from exercising and you’ll be better prepared to optimize your shoulder workouts. For more information, click here.
Consuming enough calories to support and maintain positive muscle growth is an absolute must. Building muscle requires a lot of calories and if you really want to build big, powerful shoulders, you need to eat a lot of quality food.
I suggest starting to eat about 20 calories per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should start eating about 3,000 calories per day (20 x 150). Why so much food? You need to always keep your body in a positive nitrogen state. This will ensure your body is constantly adding nutrients to your starving muscles. Keep your body in a positive growth state and you can expect to build muscle.
If you can eat a lot of clean muscle building foods on a daily basis, you’ll ensure maximum shoulder development and strength. For more information on eating to build muscle, click here.
There’s no secret to building broad powerful shoulders. If you can remember to:
You’ll reach your goals. For a mass building shoulder workout, click here.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.