Nothing oozes “alpha male” like a set of broad shoulders.
While I felt a little slimy writing that sentence, it’s supported by science. Not only do broad shoulders set you apart as stronger and more physically dominant than other men, they’re one of the most important traits women look for when choosing a mate.
This is why so many men work hammer and tongs to build bigger shoulders (and why many women try to avoid them for fear of looking “bulky” or too masculine).
So, why aren’t all guys sporting a pair of “3D delts?”
Well, many guys make a number of mistakes in their training, such as using suboptimal exercises, using too much or not enough weight, not resting enough between sets, and so forth.
In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to get broad shoulders, including:
- What broad shoulders are (technically) and why they’re worth aiming for
- How to measure shoulder width and circumference so you can calculate your ideal shoulder proportions
- What you need to do to get broad shoulders fast (with a list of the best exercises for broad shoulders)
- Tips on how to get rid of broad shoulders (if you’re a woman)
Table of Contents
When most people describe a person’s shoulders as “broad,” they mean their shoulders are considerably wider than the rest of their torso, particularly their waist.
Here are some pictures of celebrities with broad shoulders that illustrate this well:
Aside from being an integral part of a balanced upper body, the main reason men want broad shoulders is because . . . well . . . women want men with broad shoulders.
Research shows that men with broad shoulders are generally considered to be more physically attractive than men with a more average shoulder width, especially when their broad shoulders are coupled with a slim waist.
Specifically, studies on attractiveness show that 1.618 is the ideal shoulder-to-waist ratio for men. That means that if you multiply your waist width by 1.618, you’ll arrive at your ideal shoulder width measurement for attracting the fair sex.
Now, if you’ve already whipped out your measuring tape and are feeling disappointed in the results, remember that this ideal ratio is based on the visual width of your shoulder and waist, not their circumference. That is, if you stand in front of a mirror with your hands at your sides and have someone place a measuring stick in front of your shoulders and waist, you’d want the former measurement to be 1.618 times the latter.
For example, if you have a waist that’s 12 inches wide, you’d want your shoulders to be about 19 inches across, which isn’t too long of a row to hoe if you have a decent amount of muscle mass and a low body fat percentage.
If you want to know how your current shoulder size compares to your “ideal” shoulder size, you have to know how to measure them.
The two best shoulder measurements you can take are your shoulder width and your shoulder circumference.
Technically speaking, shoulder width—also known as biacromial breadth or biacromial diameter—is the distance between the two outermost bony points located on the back of your shoulders.
Since biacromial breadth is determined by the length of your bones and can’t be altered by diet or exercise, it doesn’t tell you anything about how you’re progressing in the gym.
That’s why for our purposes it’s better to measure shoulder width like this:
Stand upright with your arms at your sides and have a friend measure the distance between the two outermost points of your shoulder muscles using a tape measure.
Using this method to track changes in shoulder width over time will give you the best indication of whether you’re adding muscle, and thus width, to your shoulders.
Shoulder circumference—sometimes called shoulder girth—is the distance measured around the widest part of your shoulders.
Your shoulder circumference measurement takes into account the size of the muscles in your upper back, chest, and shoulders, as well as any fat you store in those areas. This means you can manipulate your shoulder circumference using diet and exercise—the more muscle or fat you gain, the larger your shoulder circumference will be, and the more muscle or fat you lose, the smaller your shoulder circumference will be. (Obviously, you want more muscle and less fat so that you also have good muscle definition).
To measure your shoulder circumference, stand upright with your arms at your sides (no flaring your elbows or spreading your lats you tricksy hobbit), and have a friend wrap a tape measure around your shoulders at their widest point. This is usually right around the top of your armpits.
Shoulder circumference is useful because it takes into account the size of many of your upper-body muscles. If your shoulder circumference measurement is increasing over time, it’s a good sign that you’re gaining muscle.
Don’t get too wrapped up (har har) in this measurement, though, as it’s also influenced by the size of your chest and upper back and increases or decreases in body fat. It’s possible that you could increase your shoulder circumference without actually making your deltoids (shoulder muscles) any bigger by boosting the size of your pecs and lats, or decrease your shoulder circumference by losing fat on your chest and back.
The first thing most people do when they want to get broad shoulders is try to add mass to their deltoids.
While they have their heart in the right place, this is a mistake.
You can do all the shoulder exercises you want, but if your body fat percentage is too high and your waist is too wide, you’ll never get close to the 1.618 ratio you learned about a moment ago. In other words, if you have a lot of fat to lose, you can decrease the width of your waist much faster than you can increase the width of your shoulders.
This is why the best way to make your shoulders look broader is to make your waist slimmer.
Losing bulk around your midsection accentuates the difference between your shoulder width and your midriff—what’s commonly known as the “V-taper” in bodybuilding—and prevents you looking like an amorphous blob.
So, before you do anything else, follow a fat loss diet and get your body fat percentage down to around 12% or lower. Once you’ve taken care of that, then . . .
Building broad shoulders isn’t complicated.
It mostly comes down to getting stronger at overhead, incline, and flat bench pressing and then using isolation exercises like side and rear lateral raises to round out your shoulder development.
If you want a science-based broad shoulder workout, check out this article:
Looking broad isn’t just about building big shoulders.
To get the balanced, 360-degree thickness most men want in their upper body, you need to develop your upper back and upper chest muscles, too.
The best exercises for training your upper back are the . . .
. . . and the best exercises for training your upper chest are the . . .
. . . and if your broad shoulder workout program doesn’t include the majority of these exercises, you’re leaving muscle growth on the table.
If you want to know how to fit these exercises into a workout program, check out this article:
There’s no getting around it: broad shoulders are synonymous with masculinity.
So much so, in fact, that it’s common for women to seek out ways to narrow their shoulders if they feel too wide up top.
The problem is, broad shoulders on females are rarely caused by having too much muscle in their upper body. This means that there’s very little you can do in the gym that’ll make a big difference in the width of your shoulders.
Instead, broad shoulders in women are almost always caused by having too much body fat. Thus, ironically, women with broad shoulders can make them narrower by doing the same thing men do to make theirs wider—getting lean.
Girls with broad shoulders should aim to get their body fat percentage down to around ~22% or so, which is lean enough that you won’t be storing much fat in your upper back, chest, or shoulders.
You can also balance the proportions of your upper and lower body by building a bigger butt.
Assuming you’re also already pretty lean and slim around the waist, adding size to your glutes and thighs will give your body the coveted “hourglass” shape that many women (and men) want.
+ Scientific References
- Singh, D., & Singh, D. (2006). Role of Body Fat and Body Shape on Judgment of Female Health and Attractiveness: An Evolutionary Perspective. In Psychological Topics (Vol. 15).
- Horvath, T. (1981). Physical attractiveness: The influence of selected torso parameters. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 10(1), 21–24. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01542671
- Singh, D. (1995). Female Judgment of Male Attractiveness and Desirability for Relationships: Role of Waist-to-Hip Ratio and Financial Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(6), 1089–1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1689
- Braun, M. F., & Bryan, A. (2006). Female waist-to-hip and male waist-to-shoulder ratios as determinants of romantic partner desirability. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23(5), 805–819. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407506068264
- Ehrenkranz, J., Bliss, E., & Sheard, M. H. (1974). Plasma testosterone: correlation with aggressive behavior and social dominance in man. Psychosomatic Medicine, 36(6), 469–475. https://doi.org/10.1097/00006842-197411000-00002
- Durkee, P. K., Polo, P., José, J. J., Muñ Oz-Reyes, A., Rodríguez-Ruiz, C., Losada-P ´ Erez, M., Fernández-Martínez, A. B., Turí Egano, E., Buss, D. M., & Pita, M. (n.d.). Men’s Bodily Attractiveness: Muscles as Fitness Indicators. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474704919852918