Exercises & Workout for Developing Wide Shoulders for Men & Girls

Wide Shoulders

Train Smarter for Greater Results

Once noted for his phenomenal shoulders, which at the time were second to none, Scott "Mr. USA" Wilson, in an advice forum revealed a shocker: "The side head of the deltoid is the part least worked in upper- body movements. The front delt gets all kinds of indirect work from chest and other exercises." Wilson went onto say he emphasized lateral movements almost exclusively and only periodically used bent laterals for rear deltoids. Although that was then, and this is now, unfortunately Scott's observation remains fact.

Even in these days of enlightenment basic tried tested and true width-builders are too often overlooked. Did the elite big men of the '80s know something about delt-building that is now lost? No, but if the exercise works, don't ignore it! Another champ of the last decade, Mr. America Tony Pearson, also boasted ultra-developed shoulders, His take on training mirrored Wilson's philosophy. So it's not only what this dynamic deltoid duo included in their programs that bolstered success, but also what they omitted. That is, they did no front shoulder isolation and little rear shoulder isolation.


Was Mr. USA right about upper-body exercises activating the anterior deltoids? You judge. Regular bench presses, close grip bench presses, incline presses, standing presses, upright rows, high pulls and pullovers stimulate front delts dynamically. Flys provide ample stimulation as well.

Here's another surprise. Consider the many basic exercises that strongly affect posterior deltoids: bent, seated and upright rows, lat pull-downs (lying), chins to chest, cleans, and the counter- motion of flys. Deadlifts, triceps kickbacks and shrugs also contribute to back shoulder detail.

Wilson was absolutely right about the side (or lateral) deltoid head being starved of direct involvement in the overall scheme of upper-body building. Only secondary results can be cultivated from the synergistic movement in bar dips, chins, pulldowns and pec-dec flys with negative (or return) motion the most productive in all these except dips.

You can gather from all this that extra isolation exercises are not crucial to front and back shoulder development, whereas isolation exercises for the middle heads of the deltoids are crucial. Before a discussion of movements that isolate the shoulder's lateral heads, two other considerations are worthy of mention.

First, do stress chins or pulldowns with a wide grip. The ligaments binding the shoulder joints can be stretched, helping the shoulder girdle to broaden. Be careful, however, about the width of your grip. Too wide a hand spacing lessens muscle control at the midpoint, and so makes joints vulnerable to injury. The best spacing is also the most natural one. When elbows bend, hands and forearms should be at right angles to upper arms, forming an L. Second, since few of us can hope to duplicate the magnificent shoulders of Arnold, Haney, Yates, Dillett, Coleman, Priest and others, a couple of innovative principles have been incorporated into the mix to assist you in your quest.


After many weeks of retaining an exercise and adding resistance monthly, sticking points inevitably occur. If this barrier can't be broken after three or four workouts, one of two changes usually happens to shake up the routine. Either the old exercise is dropped in favor of a new one or the exercise continues with sets of forced reps added to pre-existing sets.

Shaving pounds and then gutting out innumerable extra counts to muscular exhaustion can cause overtraining and, perhaps, invite injury. Why enslave with forcing when user-friendly alternatives exist?

When you hit the wall, rather than repeatedly lowering the weight and suffering the drudgery of countless repetitions, continue gradually increasing the resistance each month, but only after you have reduced the number of reps per set. This is periodic drop down. If you've been doing 3 sets of 8 reps, when the sticking point hits you, maintain your set count but adjust the reps to 7. Each month add more resistance just as you have all along. When you hit the next barrier, drop reps to 6. After that go to the next innovation - backtracks.

With backtracking you retain the same exercise (e.g. lateral presses) but now you retrace your steps and lower the dumbbell to its original starting weight. Set and rep count will increase. Instead of doing 3 sets of 8 reps, do 4 sets of 9 reps. Once again increase poundages monthly and, when sticking occurs, return to the periodic drop-down technique. Repeating the same exercise for several additional months with a dozen more reps, which equates to another one and a half sets, stimulates muscles differently than before. The size and details of your shoulders should inspire you.


To build the lateral heads of the shoulders, you must do lateral movements. Although that certainly simplifies the course, it also greatly limits it. Incorporating drop-downs and backtracks will help dramatically, but proper form is equally important for getting the most out of the three lateral exercises at your command.

Before spelling out the "how to" and "how much" as they relate to lateral presses, standing lateral raises and lying laterals, let's lay some groundwork.

1. dumbbells, rather than a barbell, will be used in presses.

2. You'll exercise one shoulder at a time, in alternating sets, so that you can frilly concentrate on execution.

3. Use only one exercise at a time in your delt program. In other words, milk presses as long as possible for x number of months before doing the same with standing laterals, etc. Using more than one lateral per routine may not only overtrain the side shoulder, but will also quickly deplete optional exercises.

4. Lateral presses should make up your first deli program, standing laterals the second, and lying laterals the third, This is the most natural order.

5. For all exercises increase the dumbbell two and a half pounds each month.

Barbell presses behind the neck remain highly popular because they pack size and power into traps, triceps and delts. There is a large drawback, however, housing barbells and isokinetic stations designed for overhead presses. With hands and wrists set in an immobile grip, where palms face frontward, anterior (front) shoulders share equally with lateral sections in the action of the press. To achieve desired stress on the lateral heads, use dumbbells. They allow proper turning of the wrists so that lateral sections of shoulders become more activated. For a long time bodybuilders have recognized this wrist adjustment as more effective for lateral raises, and it's time to duplicate the action in lateral presses.

Dumbbell Lateral Presses

Starting weight: approximately one-fifth (20 percent) of your bodyweight.

Execution: Start with dumbbell lined directly with side of shoulder, the elbow held low as comfortably possible. As soon as you begin extending your arm, twist your wrist so that the palm of your hand faces away from the side of your shoulder. (As a reminder, do presses for as many months as possible, getting the most from them with drops and backtracks before relinquishing them in favor of lateral raises.)

Sets and reps: 3 x 8 (7, periodic drop-down; 6, second drop). Backtrack variation: 4 x 9 (8, periodic drop).

Standing Lateral Raises

Starting weight: about 10 pounds less than starting weight for lateral presses.

Execution: While in the hammer grip, allow your hands to rest on the side and to the front of your thighs with elbows slightly bent. Keeping your arm frozen in this position, lead with elbow, raising it into a direct line with the lateral head of your shoulder. This method will not only provide proper form for the raise, but it will also prevent elbow injury, which can cost many months of valuable training.

Sets and reps: 4 x 9 (8, periodic drop-down). Backtrack: 5 x 10 (9, drop).

Lying Lateral Raises

This version of the lateral raise ensures better isolation because sway from assisting muscles is minimized.

Starting weight: about 10 pounds less than starting weight for standing laterals. Execution: Lie on your side upon a carpet or bench. While one arm works, the other bends to support your torso on the elbow. The forearm of your working arm will be at right angle with your upper arm. Your hand, with knuckles facing up, will start just below your waist. Keeping your forearm locked, lead with your elbow and raise your arm as far as possible in a straight line with your shoulder. Compared to standing laterals, the elbow will rise higher above shoulder.

Sets and reps: 5 x 10 (9, periodic drop-down). 6 x 12 (first drop; 10, second drop).


Assess your traps somewhere along the line. If they are lacking, don't sink into the soft notion that underdeveloped traps will make your shoulders look broader. Puny calves and forearms make thighs and upper arms appear larger too, but would you compromise the lagging parts for illusions? The truth is, overdeveloped and underdeveloped traps both flaw symmetry.

Shrugs done with a shoulder-width grip mold upper traps perfectly so that they flow gradually from the base of the neck to the tops of the scapulae. Shrugs also influence posterior delts to a good degree.

If, after sticking to the program for barn-door shoulders, you feel you need a little extra, try lateral raises with cables. They work the muscles a bit more strongly toward completion of movements. All in all you should end up with wider, fuller, better detailed shoulders.

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