So a few months ago I asked my girlfriend:
“If there was 1 muscle I could grow to enhance my physique, what would you pick?”
Here’s what she said…
“Wider shoulders. Something about them just makes a man look more confident and powerful.”
But, there’s a problem.
You know how some guys are just naturally blessed with a broad frame? Yeah, that wasn’t me.
I’m not trying to blame it on genetics, but how many Filipinos have you seen with a superhero frame? We’re small-boned and thin. So I knew getting wider shoulders would be a challenge.
But with 5 simple tweaks to my training, here’s where I’m at now.
I’ll be honest, my shoulders have never looked better. They have a lot more width to them, and they really pop out when I wear long sleeves or even oversized shirts. A lot of you guys have noticed the gains as well!
Want wider shoulders yourself? Here’s exactly what I did.
To get wider shoulders, the first tweak I made to my training has to do with exercise selection.
While the front delts and rear delts are helpful to build overall shoulder mass, the key to getting wider shoulders from the front and back view is to grow the side delts.
And there’s a lot of new exciting research I used to help pick the best side delt exercises.
For example, as some of you may have seen in my past shoulder experiment article, we tested 17 shoulder exercises to see which ones best activated the 3 different regions of the shoulder (i.e., which exercises are best for building bigger shoulders).
Although shoulder presses did activate the side delts quite well, they mainly activate and grow the front delts.
What I needed was an exercise that activated only the side delts really well and wasn’t as fatiguing on the body. What came out on top? Lateral raises.
But I didn’t just do your typical lateral raise.
You see, there’s been a lot of new research on “muscle stretch” and how it can help you build muscle faster. I’ve covered this in a past article that dives deep into the research on stretch-focused training (so do check it out if you're interested!)
Basically, some muscles seem to grow faster during exercises that challenge them the most when they’re fully stretched. Examples include:
Although it hasn’t been shown with the delts yet, it seems likely they would benefit.
The problem with your typical dumbbell lateral raise, however, is they’re hardest at the top when the shoulder is fully contracted.
The opposite of what we’re looking for. This doesn't make it a horrible exercise, it just means that there may be some other options we'll want to mix in.
My “secret” weapon for bigger side delts — and, thus wider shoulders, was this exercise: behind-the-body cable lateral raises.
I stand in front and slightly to the side, so my delt is fully stretched and challenged the most when in this position.
Next up, training volume.
The shoulders seem to recover really fast. Some research also suggests they don’t get sore as easily as other muscles like the chest, legs, and arms do.
Despite that (and your burning enthusiasm for getting wider shoulders), there is still s limit to how much you should train them.
Generally, research suggests it takes muscles around 36-48 hours to fully recover.
This would mean if you wanted to maximize growth, you could train the same muscle up to a max of about 3 or 4 times a week before it would likely become too much to recover from.
What did I do?
While I definitely could have bumped it up to 3 times a week, twice a week fit my workout routine better and still worked incredibly well in getting me wider shoulders because of the other tweaks you’ll learn about.
As for actual volume?
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
Only 8 sets a week?
While I could’ve done a lot more, 8 sets were honestly all it took to for me to get wider shoulders, but only because of the next tips I applied.
The next tip for getting wider shoulders has to do with weight.
There’s a unique feature about lateral raises that most people overlook. You see, the further away a weight is from the joint that is moving it, the heavier it will feel.
This is what makes even a really lightweight feel extremely heavy during lateral raises.
For me, personally, as soon as I try to go above 35 lb dumbbells, I start to cheat way too much.
To avoid this, I took advantage of the fact that research suggests you can use a light weight and do up to 30 reps with it before it becomes too light and less effective for growth.
To apply this, I’d stick with the same weight, and only once I could do at least 15-20 reps with good, controlled form on all of my sets would I then jump up by 5 lbs and repeat the process.
But guys, it’s crucial you don’t rush this process.
In the past 3 months of working toward (and successfully getting) wider shoulders, my lateral raises have increased only by about 5 lbs and just 1 notch heavier on the cable machine.
Now, although it doesn’t sound like much, that's almost a 20% jump in weight.
It's the equivalent of adding over 20 pounds to the average person’s bench press!
And if you don’t sacrifice form, you can be fairly confident that the increase in strength is indeed from bigger shoulders.
In fact, take a look at Mashhood here, one of our Built With Science program members who applied a similar plan. You can see just how much wider his shoulders are after just 3 months.
So, take it slow, and if you're interested in joining one of our fitness programs, just take our analysis quiz below to find the best plan for you:
Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:
Next, intensity. Honestly, this is the tweak I think made the biggest difference.
I’m not gonna lie, as much as I love wider shoulders, I hate lateral raises. The burn is disgusting and very uncomfortable. But here’s the thing.
One study from back in 2012 showed that in order for the side delts to reach full muscle activation during lateral raises, subjects had to push to at least within around 3-5 reps short of complete failure.
And guess what? That’s just activation.
Problem is, I guarantee that during your lateral raises many of you are stopping well short of this.
Heck, that applied to even me — and I've been training for years.
But as soon as I told myself I was going to start really pushing through my mental limits, I was instantly able to get about 5 more reps on lateral raises compared to when I’d usually stop.
Trust me, even if you think you’re done, and even when your shoulders are burning, you’ve still got more.
As Mohammed Ali once said “I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count. That's what makes you a champion”, that couldn’t be more true here.
The last piece of advice for getting wider shoulders is the most important.
It has to do with my diet.
While some people might be able to build a little bit of muscle when in a calorie deficit or even at their maintenance calories, a recent meta-analysis suggests that a calorie surplus is likely necessary to maximize growth.
And for those following me on Instagram (@jeremyethier), you know I’ve been bulking for almost a year now.
I’ve been eating a lot of pasta, potatoes, beef, and high-calorie foods, in general, to make sure I’m consistently eating in a calorie surplus.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s been mentally tough seeing more and more fat gain over the months.
But I’ve noticed a big difference in my muscle size.
And, of course, my girlfriend has definitely noticed my wider shoulders, too.
If I applied all the training tweaks I went through yet wasn’t in a surplus, I’m sure I might’ve seen some improved definition but no big difference in new muscle size or strength.
And, once I diet to lose the excess fat I put on during this bulk, I guarantee that the shoulder gains I’ve made will become even more noticeable.
So if you truly want to get wider shoulders and make noticeable new muscle gains, make sure you’re eating enough.
Congratulations! You now know how to get wider shoulders. But, guys, in your quest to get wider shoulders, don’t forget to grow your front delts and rear delts as well.
These are key to balancing out your shoulders and giving them that 3D look.
Once again, you can read this article where we tested 17 shoulder exercises to learn which we found were best at targeting these areas, so you can build your own big shoulders workout.