Your shoulder width is determined by your bone structure, muscle size and how much body fat you carry in your upper body. No exercise for shoulder reduction will change your bone structure, but you can choose workouts that limit muscle growth and help slim away any excess body fat.
Weightlifting to Reduce Shoulder Broadness
If you're concerned about developing big, bulky muscles from weightlifting, take heart: Although a tough resistance-training workout is one way of encouraging your muscles to grow, or hypertrophy, touching a set of weights won't automatically turn you into the Hulk. That goes double if you're a woman, because most women's bodies don't have the hormones it takes to create that kind of muscular bulk.
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And when you get right down to it, a certain amount of resistance training is important to stay healthy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults should strength-train all their major muscle groups at least twice a week.
Ultimately, how you lift weights is a major determining factor in how your body responds, and which workouts will make your shoulders wider (or not).
As noted in a meta-analysis published in the June 2017 issue of Journal of Sports Sciences, the more sets of strength-training exercises you do per week, the more your muscles grow. So consider starting with the minimum one set of eight to 12 repetitions for each exercise, as recommended in the physical activity guidelines from the HHS.
If you're happy with how your body looks and feels at that level of strength training, consider adding another set or introducing another new exercise for each muscle group, then watching how your body responds.
You can also minimize the number of sets that work your shoulder muscles, and thus their hypertrophy, by doing compound exercises for your chest and back. These exercises, such as chest presses and back rows or push-ups and lat pulldowns, work your shoulders too — so you don't need to train your shoulders on their own.
Will increasing the number of repetitions you do in each set help reduce shoulder broadness? The idea of "low weight, high repetitions" for endurance remains an acknowledged cornerstone of strength-training principles.
However, a systematic review published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when study subjects worked to the point of momentary muscular failure, both low weights (at high repetitions) and high weights (at low repetitions) created similar muscle growth.
As the American Council on Exercise points out, that moment of muscular failure — also known as metabolic fatigue — is an acknowledged technique for triggering muscular hypertrophy. So go ahead and increase your repetitions — 15 to 18 reps is a common target — and do choose a weight heavy enough that your last repetition is challenging. But don't work yourself to the point of momentary failure.
What About Shoulder Fat?
If you're carrying excess fat in other parts of your body, you may have a little extra padding around your shoulders too. Unfortunately, the idea of spot reduction is a myth — exercising one body part doesn't make you lose fat from that body part. But you can lose body fat from all over your body, including your shoulders, if you establish what's known as a calorie deficit — burning more calories than you take in.
According to the National Weight Control Registry, the vast majority of people who've lost weight and kept it off have done so by both adjusting their diet and their physical activity. If you make these healthy changes part of your ongoing lifestyle, you can slim down your entire body, including your shoulders.
Here's a little more food for thought: Losing weight, and working out in general, are about a lot more than aesthetics. As the Obesity Action Coalition points out, even a modest 5 to 10 percent weight loss can greatly improve your health by improving your cholesterol profile, reducing inflammation and controlling high blood pressure, diabetes and insulin resistance.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "Dose-Response Relationship Between Weekly Resistance Training Volume and Increases in Muscle Mass"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"
- The National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- Obesity Action Coalition: "Benefits of 5-10 Percent Weight-Loss"