Who doesn't want broad, well-developed shoulders? For men and women alike, they tend to make the waist look smaller and telegraph an air of self-assurance. The appearance of broad shoulders comes from a combination of things: the mass of the deltoid muscles, the size and width of the shoulder blades they envelop and an open posture that unfolds the chest.
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Of course, if you're fully grown, your shoulder blades, or scapulae, are part of your skeleton and short of sci fi experiments with growth hormones, they're not going to get any larger. But the muscles and the posture are definitely things you can work on.
Building Broad Shoulders
Deltoids are the muscles that pad the region of the arms we call shoulders, and they're activated in almost everything we do. The deltoids, are comprised of three different muscles strands: the anterior, lateral and posterior regions.
In general, people tend to focus on the anterior deltoids at the front of the shoulders to the exclusion of the others. That makes perfect sense because they're the most visible, but overemphasizing them can result in postural problems as well as injuries leading to problems with rotation and flexion. When these are over worked, they can pull you forward, contributing to a hunched appearance -- rather than the broad shoulders you're after.
Work the posterior and middle deltoids in addition to the "Latissimus dorsi," or "lats." They're the large, flat muscles under the shoulder blades that give you that tapered V-shaped look and contribute greatly to the appearance of broad shoulders. In addition to the shoulder exercises mentioned below, lat pull-downs, pull-ups and bent-over rows help contribute to broad-looking shoulders by building the lats.
How Much is Enough?
If you're new to resistance training, it's best to start with one to two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each exercise. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Guidelines for Resistance Training, working at a weight that causes brief muscle fatigue after one set should bring noticeable increases in strength pretty quickly.
How often should you work out? While the conventional wisdom says that you should alternate work-out days with recovery days, the American Council on Exercise suggests letting your muscles be your guide and waiting until soreness subsides. While a little soreness is good and necessary, a lot of soreness that lingers is counterproductive. So if your muscles allow you to work out every other day or so, you're probably on the right track.
Read More: Free Weight Shoulder Exercises
Exercises for the Shoulders
A study by the American Council on Exercise reviewed the top 10 most popular shoulder exercises and ranked them according to effectiveness in muscle activation. Here are the top three:
No. 1: Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Stand with your feet at hip-width and your knees slightly bent, holding a the dumbbell in each hand.
With your grip facing forward, raise your upper arms up until they are level with the sides of your shoulders.
Push the dumbbells upward so that your arms are extended straight up.
Lower the dumbbells back down to where your upper arms are perpendicular to your torso.
No. 2: 45-Degree Incline Row
Rest forward on a bench set to a 45-degree incline (not quite vertical) while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should hang straight down.
Squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly pull your upper arms back so that they're level with your shoulders.
To complete, gradually lower the dumbbells back to original position. [REF 1]
No. 3: Dumbbell Lateral Raise
In a standing position, hold the dumbbells slightly in front of your thighs, your elbows slightly bent. Lean forward a little, with a slight bend in your knees and hips.
Lift your upper arms out to the sides until your elbows are at shoulder height. Your elbows should be at equal or greater height as your wrists.
Lower the dumbbells and repeat.
A Word About Posture
Posture is more than just remembering to stand up straight. It affects how you look and how you carry yourself. You can build great shoulder muscles, but if your posture is slumpy or saggy, you'll still look like a sad sack. Push-ups not only build shoulder muscle, but they also work the chest and upper back muscles, both of which contribute to good posture.
Also, try a chest expansion pose to keep your shoulders open and broad as possible. Intertwine your hands behind your back below your waist. If you're really tight, hold onto a strap or belt. Lift your arms behind you, pulling up from your lower back and thrusting your chest skyward. Open your pectoral muscles, taking deep breaths into the abdomen. Do this several times during the day.
Read More: Upper Body Exercises