Shoulders aren't a typical trouble spot on women, because most women store fat in their hips, thighs or midsection rather than their upper body — but broad shoulders are sometimes determined by genetics. If that sounds like your body, you can make some lifestyle adjustments that might slightly reduce the size of your shoulders, especially if you're currently carrying excess weight. You can also reduce their appearance through tweaking your fitness routine and making some style adjustments.
Lower Your Calorie Intake
Your shoulders are primarily made up of muscles, bones and connective tissues — but they might have excess fat if you're overweight. If that's the case, reducing your body fat percentage will help remove fat all over. It's impossible to target weight loss to your shoulders, but by lowering your body fat percentage, you'll make your shoulders smaller as well. Women can generally slim down safely by eating between 1,200 and 1,500 calories daily to lose roughly 1 to 1.5 pounds of fat each week, notes the National Institutes of Health.
Stick to lower-calorie, unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nonfat dairy and lean protein, including beans, chicken, turkey, tofu and fish, to adhere to a restricted-calorie diet without feeling deprived. These foods offer either dietary fiber and/or protein — two nutrients that help you feel full, so you're less likely to overeat out of hunger.
Measure your portions and write down the foods you eat each day to keep track of your calorie intake — if you find you're losing weight too fast or too slow, you can adjust your calorie intake accordingly. As a woman, however, you should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories, or you'll risk slowing your metabolism by going into "starvation mode."
Introduce Cardiovascular Exercise
Slim down all over — including your shoulders — by boosting your calorie burn with cardio. Aerobic exercise makes it easier to create the calorie deficit needed for overall fat loss, which will slim down your shoulders if you're overweight. According to estimates from Harvard Health Publishing, a 155-pound person will burn roughly 300 calories in an hour-long water aerobics class, 520 calories in a 60-minute low-impact step aerobics class or 670 calories in an hour on the elliptical.
If you weigh less than 155 pounds, you'll burn slightly less. A 125-pound person will burn 240 calories in an hour of water aerobics and 420 calories or 540 calories in an hour doing low-impact step aerobics or the elliptical, respectively.
That calorie burn adds up over time. If you're burning 540 calories per workout, three times per week, that's enough to lose roughly half a pound of fat per week. Exercising three times weekly also boosts your metabolism the rest of the time, notes Harvard Health Publishing, and this further helps you lose weight.
Switching your choice of cardio exercises might also help shrink muscular shoulders. If your shoulders are well-developed from using swimming or rowing as your primary cardio workout, for example, consider switching to lower-body intensive exercises such as running, the elliptical or a step or dance class.
Strength Training for Slimmer Shoulders
Use exercise to build muscle in your lower body to make your shoulders look better-proportioned to your frame. Use barbells, dumbbells or kettle bells as resistance as you perform lunges, step-ups, squats, deadlifts and kettle bell swings to build up the muscles in your buttocks, thighs and hips. More targeted exercises, like glute kickbacks, glute bridges and hamstring curls, can also build up your legs to give the appearance of a proportioned physique.
Don't ignore your upper body entirely, though. Keep your arms and back toned with exercises using body weight or lighter weights, including arm slides, bent-over flies and bent-over rows, recommends Chatalaine. These exercises will keep your shoulder and back muscles taught and toned and improve your posture, but they won't add bulk to your frame.
Tips for Smaller-Appearing Shoulders
Even if you have naturally broad shoulders that don't shrink significantly with diet and exercise, you can minimize their appearance with your clothing. Balance larger shoulders by creating more volume at your hips with an A-line or skater skirt or dress, or wide leg pants. Use patterns or bright fabric to draw attention away from your shoulders, and avoid clothing with shoulder embellishments.
Go for slightly looser jackets and blazers that hit at your hips rather than your waist, instead of a tight, structured blazer that accentuates your shoulders. Avoid tops and dresses with spaghetti straps or halter necklines, and instead go for a classic V-neck look or a top with raglan sleeves to minimize broader shoulders.
- National Institutes of Health: "Healthy Eating Plan"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Protein, Carbs and Weight Loss"
- Chatalaine: "4 Proven Exercises to Slim Shoulders and Back"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Exercise and Weight Loss: The Importance of Resting Energy Expenditure"