How To Get Wider Shoulders (Best Exercises & Workout)

February 8, 2023

The most effective way to overhaul your physique is by creating width. Wide shoulders with upper back muscles and a lean waist are how a powerful figure looks. But how do you get wider shoulders, and what are the best exercises?

Shoulder Anatomy

To maximize the size of the shoulders, you need to target all three muscles. These are:

  • Anterior deltoid (front)
  • Medial deltoid (side)
  • Posterior deltoid (rear)
How To Get Bigger Shoulders Fast

Each muscle supports a different movement of the shoulder. The anterior or front deltoid is primarily responsible for shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction. That is raising your arm in front of you (e.g., front raise) and performing a chest fly motion [1,2].

The side delts are responsible for shoulder abduction, which is the arm raised to the body's side [1]. This muscle creates a broader look of the upper body and is the main focus for wide shoulders.

The rear deltoid provides a 3D look and will make your physique pop when looking from the side. Rear delts are responsible for shoulder extension and horizontal abduction [1].

5 Tips To Get Wider Shoulders

Specialize On The Side Delts

Popping side delts creates the wide-shoulder look. But they are often undercooked in muscle-building programs with the front delts over-emphasized. Instead, start your upper body sessions by hitting the side and rear delts.

This means you hit them when fresh providing the greatest muscle-building stimulus. For example, lateral raises and rear delt fly before overhead pressing. It also acts as a perfect shoulder warm-up before heavy pressing.

Lose Body Fat To Thin Your Waist

Using this trick can give the illusion of having wide shoulders. It’s also known as the V taper, X body shape, or mesomorph somatotype. A thinner waist makes the shoulders look wider because of the drastic angle from your shoulders to your waist.

If you’re already skinny, don’t focus on this. You need to build upper body muscle. But if you’re larger, this can be a simple and effective way to create the illusion of wide shoulders.

Target Your Lats

Capped delts are part of the equation for broad shoulders. But having wings will widen your physique, especially from behind. This will fill out your V taper, creating a powerful wide look. You want to target the upper portion of your lats through pulldowns and pull-ups.

Smash Your Upper Back

Like the lats, your upper back will round out the wide powerful look. Capped wide delts with no meat surrounding them make you look skinny and weak. Slabs of muscle around the traps, upper back, and lats with the shoulders will make the wide shoulder physique more prominent even without a tiny waist.

Wish For Different Parents

I jest. But it serves the point there are genetic factors at play. Some people are blessed with wide bone structures giving them broad shoulders with no training. Add training with those physiques, and it becomes accentuated.

Best Exercises For Wide Shoulders

Lateral Raise

The staple side delt exercise is the lateral raise. The dumbbell lateral raise is the most common and accessible exercise that will light your side delts up, giving you shoulders so wide you need to walk through doors sideways.

You’re loading the exact movement the side delts are responsible for. Due to the strength curve, the hardest part of the exercise is when your arms are raised to 90°.

When we dive into the research, we see the most significant activation of the side delts is during the lateral raise exercise compared to any other exercise [1,2].

Here is how to do the perfect lateral raise:

  • Stand with the dumbbells at your side or in front of your body. Have a soft elbow, so it is slightly bent. You’ll get a better side delt contraction with a slight arm bend vs. a straight arm.
  • Lead with the elbows as you raise your arms to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  • This means your elbows should be higher than your wrists through the movement. To do this, as you raise the dumbbells, think about pouring two drinks so you’re rotating your thumbs down slightly.

When lateral raising, one big mistake is focusing on the hands above the elbows. This won’t give you the same feeling.

Lu Raise

One of the most popular Chinese Olympic Weightlifters, Lu Xiaojun, made these famous a few years ago. You can see why by his massive shoulders. These are full range of motion lateral raises where the dumbbells or plates finish overhead.

You’ve probably heard the argument not to go past horizontal because the upper traps take over. But who cares. You probably want big traps too, to go along with your wide shoulders! So, nail them both with this exercise. The execution of the Lu raise is quite different from the traditional lateral raise, so here’s how to do it:

  • Start with dumbbells or plates at your side.
  • Initiate the lateral raise with straight arms. As you raise your arms, slowly rotate your hands so your thumb is facing up (palms facing forward) when you’re in the horizontal position.
  • Continue until your arms are overhead.

Upright Row

The upright row makes a terrific lateral raise alternative to trash the side delts. In fact, using a clean grip width reduces the involvement of the biceps and increases the muscle activation of the side delts [3].

While the barbell is the obvious equipment choice, it can cause pain in the front of the shoulder for some lifters. Using dumbbells, kettlebells, or an EZ bar are better equipment alternatives to reduce this sensation.

Here’s how to do the upright row:

  • Hold the implement in front of your body with your arms straight.
  • Pull the implement vertically as close to your body as possible. It should be almost brushing your shirt. To do this, your elbows must point up and back.
  • Once you reach approximately nipple height, lower the implement slowly to the starting position.

Seated Bent Over Reverse Fly

The seated bent-over reverse fly is a rear delt exercise to target the mid and upper traps. This will build the upper back shelf to add some beef to your wide shoulders. This version is lower back-friendly if you have lower back problems that prevent you from doing the bent-over variation.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on an incline bench, hold two dumbbells hanging by your side.
  • Initiate the reverse fly by raising them to your side with your arms slightly bent. Slowly lower them back to the starting position.

This is a hard exercise to get wrong, so it is excellent for beginners to get extra upper back volume.

Overhead Press

The overhead press is also known as the press, military press, or shoulder press and is a staple exercise for big shoulders. The front and side delts are the main shoulder muscles worked during the overhead press [4] and elicit the highest front delt activation among compound exercises [1].

Often you won’t find this exercise within a typical bodybuilding program. You may find seated variations as the load is lighter and targeted to your shoulders. But overall, bodybuilders prefer isolation exercises that target certain heads of the shoulder and don’t cause as much fatigue.

Here’s how to do the overhead press:

  • Unrack the barbell with a slightly outside shoulder-width group. Have your elbows slightly in front so your triceps are "resting" on your lats.
  • Create a big chest and press the barbell vertically. As you get past your forehead, push your head and body through.
  • Finish with the straight arms overhead so your biceps align with your ears.

1-Arm DB Press

For overall shoulder development, this is one of my favorites. The 1-arm DB press feels better on the shoulders than the 2-arm variation, in my experience. You can also load it much heavier because you're limited to how much load you can get to your shoulders, whereas you can use 2 hands on 1 DB with this version. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hoist the dumbbell, so the end sits on your shoulder. Point your elbow approximately 30° from pointing to the side.
  • Press the dumbbell overhead and finish so your bicep is in line with your ear.


Pull-ups are a staple mass builder for the lats for a good reason. They elicit the greatest activation of the lats compared to any other back exercise [5]. When you can pump out 10 bodyweight reps, add weight and watch your wings grow!

Regarding pull-up grip width, a medium grip width is the best grip width for maximizing back development as it allows you to lift the most weight and is the perfect trade-off between weight lifted and lat range of motion [6]. Here’s how to do them:

  • Use a thumbless grip when holding the bar. This will allow you to pull with your pinky and ring fingers, helping further engage the lats.
  • Drive your elbows to your ribs while maintaining a big chest. Slowly lower yourself until your arms are straight.

Lat Pulldown

If you can’t do many pull-ups or you need to add more volume, the pulldown is the choice. For sets over 10 reps, you’ll also need to use the pulldown. To blast the lats, I prefer the neutral grip handle. It puts the largest stretch on the lats, and you can squeeze them at the bottom. Here’s how to do it:

  • Grip the handle and let it stretch your lats. Initiate the pull by bringing the elbows to your ribs, maintaining a big chest.
  • Slowly extend your arms, keeping the tension on your lats.

Snatch Grip High Pull From Blocks

This is the upright row on steroids. In my experience, nothing will grow your upper back like the snatch grip high pull from the blocks. This will give you a powerful wide-shoulder look.

Even if you train your traps regularly and heavily with shrugs and deadlifts, one session of these and you’ll have sore traps for days. The stimulus is like no other. Here’s how to do it:

  • Elevate the bar on blocks to knee height. Take a snatch grip (use straps for this exercise) and pull yourself into the starting position with a big chest, tight lats, and head and eyes forward.
  • Push through your legs into the ground and once you are standing up tall, extend onto your toes and perform a big shrug of your shoulders while pulling the barbell as high as you can, similar to an upright row.

Clean Pull

Clean pulls are the meat and potatoes for upper back development. You get heavier loading than a snatch grip with a violent shrug to stress the traps further. Here’s how to do it:

  • Setup in the clean position with your weight through the middle of your foot and shoulders over the bar.
  • Initiate the pull driving with your legs. Your back should maintain the same angle until the bar passes your knees.
  • As you pass the knee, stand up tall and continue pushing with your legs. The bar will brush up your legs as you simultaneously extend your hips, knees, and ankles. End with a violent shrug.

Best Wide Shoulder Workout




A1) Snatch Grip High Pull

3 x 4


B1) 1-Arm DB Press

3 x 8


C1) Lateral Raise

4 x 12


D1) Seated Bent Over Reverse Fly

3 x 15


E1) Lat Pulldown

4 x 10



Lifting to get wider shoulders requires attacking the side delts. But don’t become short-sighted on one body part. The broad physique is a combination of a large upper back and lats with a smaller waist through reduced body fat.


1. Campos, Y. A., Vianna, J. M., Guimarães, M. P., Oliveira, J. L., Hernández-Mosqueira, C., da Silva, S. F., & Marchetti, P. H. (2020). Different shoulder exercises affect the activation of deltoid portions in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics, 75(1), 5-14.

2. Franke, A. R., Botton, C. E., Rodrigues, R., Pinto, R., & Lima, C. (2015). Analysis of anterior, middle, and posterior deltoid activation during single and multijoint exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 55, 714-721.

3. McAllister, M. J., Schilling, B. K., Hammond, K. G., Weiss, L. W., & Farney, T. M. (2013). Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(1), 181-187.

4. Kroell, J., & Mike, J. (2017). Exploring the standing barbell overhead press. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 39(6), 70-75.

5. Hewit, J. K., Jaffe, D. A., & Crowder, T. (2018). A comparison of muscle activation during the pull-up and three alternative pulling exercises. J. Phys. Fitness, Med. Treat. Sport, 5(4), 1-7.

6. Andersen, V., Fimland, M. S., Wiik, E., Skoglund, A., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2014). Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pulldown. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(4), 1135-1142.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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