Research shows that broad shoulders on men are a sign of strength and dominance.

Studies also show that wide shoulders are one of the most important traits women look for in a mate.

These facts likely explain why so many men relentlessly seek out how to get broader shoulders.

So, why aren’t all guys sporting a set of “3D delts?” 

The answer is simple: most make diet and training mistakes that hinder their shoulder development.

In this article, you’ll learn how to sidestep these common errors.

You’ll also discover what broad shoulders are (technically), why they’re advantageous, how to measure shoulder width and circumference correctly, how to get broader shoulders, including the best diet tips and exercises for broad shoulders, and more. 

What Are “Broad Shoulders?”

When most people describe a person as having “broad shoulders,” 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:

celebrities with broad shoulders

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Why Do Men Want Broad Shoulders?

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 people typically consider men with wide shoulders to be more physically attractive than men with narrower shoulders, especially when they also have a slim waist.

Specifically, studies on attractiveness show that 1.618 is the ideal shoulder-to-waist ratio for men. That means if you multiply your waist width by 1.618, you’ll arrive at your ideal shoulder width measurement for attracting the fair sex.

If you’ve already reached for the measuring tape and aren’t thrilled with 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—a target well within reach if you have a decent amount of muscle mass and a low body fat percentage.

How to Measure Shoulder Width and Circumference

To compare your current shoulder size to your “ideal” shoulder size, you have to know how to measure shoulder width and circumference.

Here’s how:

How to Measure Shoulder Width

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 your bone structure determines your biacromial breadth, you can’t alter it through diet or exercise, so it tells you nothing 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. 

How to Measure Shoulder Circumference

Shoulder circumference is the distance around the widest part of your shoulders, taking into account the muscles in your upper back (traps and rhomboids), chest, and shoulders (front, side, and rear delts), as well as any stored fat in this area.

You can manipulate shoulder circumference through diet and exercise—you can gain muscle or fat to increase your shoulder circumference or lose muscle or fat to decrease your shoulder circumference. Obviously, you want more muscle and less fat so that you also have defined muscles.

To measure your shoulder circumference, stand upright, relax your upper body, allowing your arms to hang at your sides, then have a friend wrap a tape measure around your body at shoulder height where your shoulders are widest. This is usually around the top of your armpits.

Note this measurement and track it every few weeks. Provided this measurement increases over time, you’re likely building bigger shoulders

That said, you shouldn’t get too wrapped up in this measurement since the size of your chest and upper back and your body fat percentage can also influence it. 

In other words, you could increase your shoulder circumference without gaining shoulder muscle by building bigger pecs and lats or decrease your shoulder circumference by losing fat on your chest and back.

Nevertheless, it’s still a valuable metric to monitor your progress. 

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How to Get Broader Shoulders

1. Diet to build muscle.

Exactly how this looks depends on your previous strength training experience:

  • New weightlifters: When new to strength training, your body is hyper-responsive to its effects, allowing you to build muscle even when you’re in a calorie deficit. Thus, if you’re a beginner weightlifter looking to build broader shoulders while losing fat, aim to eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day. Or, if you’re already lean but still want to grow your shoulders, aim to eat approximately the same number of calories as you burn daily.
  • Experienced weightlifters: After 6 months or more of consistent training, you must eat more calories than you burn to build muscle effectively. Aim for 110% of your total daily energy expenditure to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain.

In both scenarios, you also need to eat the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat. Here are some good guidelines:

  • Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
  • Get 20-to-30% of daily calories from fat.
  • Get the remainder of your calories from carbs.

If you’d like more specific information about how to eat to build wider shoulders, take the Legion Diet Quiz. In less than a minute, you’ll know how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach your goals. Click here to check it out.

2. Do the right exercises for broad shoulders.

To build broad shoulders, you have to do shoulder exercises that develop all three heads of the deltoids (shoulder muscles). Here’s what they look like and how to train each:

broad shoulder anatomy

For a strength training program that includes all the best exercises for broad shoulders, check out this article:

Hypertrophy Training: Best Workout Program for Hypertrophy

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3. Once you’ve gained shoulder muscle, get leaner.

You can gain all the shoulder muscle 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.

And that means your shoulders will never look as broad as you’d like.

That’s why it’s vital to switch your attention to getting lean once you’re happy with your shoulder size and width.

The key to this is following a fat-loss diet that has you eating fewer calories than you burn daily. 

For guidance on creating an effective weight loss diet, check out this article:

The Absolute Best Diet for Weight Loss