While you might think broad shoulders can be altered with diet and exercise like other parts of your body (abdomen, arms, legs, etc.), the size of your shoulders is primarily based on genetics.
Unless you're very overweight or have been training those muscles for a long time, shrinking your shoulders is nearly impossible. But even if you lose weight and your body shrinks, the inverted triangle shape of your torso will likely remain, as your body loses weight proportionally.
However, once you're at a healthy weight, you can use some tricks to create the illusion of smaller shoulders. Additionally, if you've been doing lots of strenuous shoulder workouts, scaling back on those may help your deltoids appear less pronounced.
You can't exercise away a certain body part. But once you're at a healthy weight, create the illusion of smaller shoulders by emphasizing other body parts with muscle development and your clothing.
You Can't Spot Reduce Your Shoulders
You can't make a body body part smaller — be it your abs, legs or butt — by exercising it or eating certain foods. Fat covering muscles and bones doesn't melt away when you work the area.
A study published in an August 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that participants who did up to 1,000 leg presses on one leg three times per week for 12 weeks experienced no change in the fat on that leg compared to the one that wasn't exercised.
Where in your body fat is broken down and metabolized at any given moment varies. It's dependent on the genetically pre-determined way your body stores and loses fat. You can't direct your body to remove fat from your shoulders only.
1. Do Fewer Shoulder Isolation Exercises
The shoulders are mainly comprised of bones, which have a genetically determined size, as well as connective tissue and muscle. If your broad shoulders are due to large deltoids (the muscles covering your shoulders), you may want to scale back on certain exercises.
You can build broad shoulders by growing the muscles with exercises like lateral raises, military presses, push-ups, front raises and rear deltoid flyes. If you've built a lot of muscle mass in your shoulders, it will atrophy if you shift your workout program to lift lighter weights and less often.
Don't skip training your upper body for fear of making your shoulders larger, though. Overall body health requires you to strength train all the major muscle groups, including the chest, shoulders and back, at least twice a week with sets of greater than 12 reps, according to the American Council on Exercise.
2. Swap in More Lower-Body Exercises
Physically, you can do little to change the inverted triangle shape of your upper body. But you can focus on building muscle and definition in your lower body so that it balances out your physique.
As part of your comprehensive training plan, perform exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges to build the muscles in your legs and backside. When you fill this area out with healthy muscle mass, you create a solid physique so your shoulders don't appear out of balance.
Move 1: Squat
- Start standing, feet hip-width apart.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as low as you can go comfortably while maintaining good form. Your knees should be over your toes and your gaze should be straight ahead.
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
Move 2: Deadlift
- Fix the weight plates on your barbell and position it on the floor in front of you. If needed, position it on an elevated platform to allow for a reduced range of motion.
- Step up to the bar, shins almost against it, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
- Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink low enough to let you grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open, shoulders back.
- Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
- Finish the motion by lifting your chest and engaging your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
- Return the bar by reversing the motion, pushing your weight back into your hips and softening your knees, letting the bar travel in a controlled path back down to the floor along your body.
Move 3: Lunge
- Start standing, holding a dumbbell in each hand. The weights can hang at your sides or you can lift them up to your shoulders.
- Step a few feet forward with your left foot.
- Lower into a lunge until both knees are bent to 90 degrees. Your back knee should hover just above the ground, and your front knee should be stacked over your ankle.
- Hold for a beat before pushing through your front foot to return to standing.
- Repeat on the other leg.
If you don't weight train and are of a healthy weight, the size of your shoulders isn't due to extensive muscle mass or fat tissue, but to the bone structure in your upper body. And you can't change your bones.
3. Lose Weight for Smaller Shoulders
Though your shoulders are mainly bone, muscles and connective tissue, there is some subcutaneous fat that lies right under the skin, and when you lose weight, it may help your shoulders reduce in size along with the rest of your body.
If you need to lose fat to help your shoulders slim down along with the rest of your body, adopt a healthy, reduced-calorie meal plan along with regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
Determine your daily calorie burn by using an online calculator or an app like MyPlate that takes into account your size, age, gender and level of activity. Then, create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day by eating less and moving more; this daily deficit helps you lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, which is a healthy and realistic goal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A simple way to trim calories is to reduce your intake of sugary soft drinks and refined grains, such as white bread or pasta. These foods offer little nutritional value and lots of extra calories. Design your meals and snacks so they contain moderate portions of lean proteins, whole grains and vegetables instead. Choose yogurt, fresh fruit and nuts as snacks instead of processed foods.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Regional Fat Changes Induced By Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- American Council on Exercise: 'How Many Reps Should You Be Doing?'
- Mayo Clinic: 'Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics'