What exercises do you recommend, if one's main target is broad shoulders (and chest too, but less priority)? Does reducing exercises for other muscle group help? Any other tips?


5 Answers 5


Wide pull-ups

Wide pull-up

Source: This blog.

I can't believe nobody has mentioned this yet. The muscle that gives the overall appearance of 'broad shoulders' is the 'Latissimus dorsi' or your 'lats'. Wide pull-ups are a great exercise for targeting this region as well as your shoulders (deltoids), arms (both biceps and triceps), and forearms (from gripping the bar).

For proper form be sure to cross your legs and lock your knees to prevent swinging or cheating by using momentum (no frog kicking for 'just one more' allowed). Raise and lower yourself in a slow/controlled manner. I can't stress how important it is to maximize both the raising and lowering during the exercise. Forget about the number of reps you can do (this isn't an exercise to impress the 'how much can you bench?' guys at the gym). If you do them 'right' you'll feel it.

Note: If you don't have the strength to pull yourself up to the bar yet, grip the bar and start by jumping up the position where your eyes are level with the bar, then lower yourself down slowly. This will help you build up the strength needed to be able to do the full motion.

Latissimus dorsi

Source: Wikipedia.

If you're going for more of the 'thick neck' or 'no neck' look, or what I like to dub the 'meat head' look you'll want to target your 'Trapezius muscle' or 'traps'.

Trapezuis muscle

Source: Wikipedia.

The exercises that exclusively target your traps are:

  • 'shoulder shrugs' - done with either dumbbells or a barbell
  • 'upright row' - done with either dumbbells, a barbell, or using a bar attached to a weighted cable.

It may surprise you but the 'broad shoulder' look has little to do with your shoulders and more to do with upper/lower body proportions.

Update: Added some more specifics about the wide pull-up exercise including tips on proper form and and easier variation for those who don't have sufficient strength to do the full motion yet.

  • Nice explanations @Evan
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 18:05
  • @Ivo Thanks, I didn't even realize that I forgot to add the description for wide pullups until I saw your comment. Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 18:38
  • Hi, can you give source to the assertion that it is those muscles which give the broad shoulder look?
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 6:51
  • @Louis Rhys Aside from themusclebuildingcoach.com/how-to-get-broad-shoulders.html. I can cite personal experience as lats are one of the key regions I target. There are a few reasons it gives an impression of broader shoulders. First, strengthening your upper back will pull your posture back into alignment and give you that 'shoulder back' look (which pulls your shoulders wider. Second, when your lats get sufficiently big your back will look a lot broader and start to take on a 'V' or 'cobra' shape. Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 15:01
  • 1
    (cont) When it comes to the appearance of 'broad shoulders', it's not so much about the actual width of your shoulders as much as how your upper body (back/shoulders/chest) is proportioned to your lower body (hips). Increasing the size of your lats until you can see them from the front can make a dramatic difference. A slim toned waist will improve the appearance even more. Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 15:15

Taken from here:

Standing Military Press

enter image description here

The military press is in league with squats, deadlifts, and bench presses as one of the mandatory exercises for all serious weight lifter. If you are not overhead pressing you are not really lifting. This is the ultimate compound pressing exercise for your shoulders.



Another option for building your shoulders is the Shoulder Press.

enter image description here

Front Raises will also help build your shoulders.

enter image description here

To build any muscles, it's important to do a variety of different exercises that target different muscles in the same area.

As @Adam pointed out, military presses and exercises that target large muscle groups is critical to building mass. However, make sure you don't neglect the exercises that help target and strengthen supporting tissues.

  • are you sure your last sentence is correct? Don't you mean that military pressures do neglect the exercises that help strengthen supporting tissues?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 18:43
  • @Ivo - I modified the last sentence so it makes better sense. I can see how you misinterpreted it before. Thank you!
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 5:12
  • @Kronos - Thanks for editing and adding the drawings!
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 5:13
  • While these forms do specifically target your deltoids they don't really do much to give you a 'broad shoulder' look. Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 17:07

Join a dragon boat team! Seriously, if there is a dragon boat paddling team in your area, consider joining it. I paddled for several years, and every person who started paddling and came to practices regularly grew broad shoulders, even if they started scrawny. It's an amazing full-body workout, and results in much stronger shoulders, abs, lats, and other parts of the body.




In addition to being an excellent workout and good way to grow broader shoulders, paddling can also be great stress relief, a fun way to get outside in nature, and the team dynamic is rewarding as well. Paddling on a dragon boat team was one of the best experiences of my life, and I miss it every day. (I'm at a college where there isn't a team and there's no good body of water to start one on.)

If you think this might be a good experience, feel free to ask me questions. If you live in the US, the US Dragon Boat Federation has a listing of many of the teams in the US, and you can always try just searching on Google for teams in your area.

  • 2
    Wouldn't rowing only build the posterior deltoid?
    – JoJo
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 17:13
  • There's no such thing as only building one muscle @Jojo, except perhaps in body building. Most other exercises, like this one, work the rotational muscles around your core/abs, both arms both for extending and flexing it, the entire shoulder girdle. So I'd so no, not just the deltoids.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 18:44
  • 1
    @JoJo, first off, paddling is not rowing. Have you ever watched somebody row or paddle though, let alone try it yourself? It's a full-body workout.
    – nhinkle
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 21:38

One unexpected thing that worked very well for my trapeziums was carrying a heavy backpack during my University days.

I had a business-styled backpack with a flat back, with firm, comfortable and thin belts that would use the clavicle as hook and place all the weight from the backpack on the shoulder, which I believe wasn't designed for the heavy load I had to carry around. I generally carried around ~15kg/~33lbs: my 17'' laptop, it's AC adapter and a lot of heavy books. Every day, I would stand for several hours and spend an hour or two walking in a fast pace.

I would consider this as a supplement to your shoulder exercises. I had sore muscles the first month, but afterwards I wouldn't ever even notice the load I was carrying and it felt I could go for much much more before I'd feel any strain.

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