how do you get big shoulders

Ask the Experts: How Do You Get Big Shoulders

Everyone looks great with wide shoulders.  It shows dominance and adds to a tapered physique. I asked 11 fitness experts “How do you get big shoulders?”
These were their answers:

how do you get big shouldersMike Samuels

Don’t neglect lateral and rear delt training.

If you could only pick one exercise, it’d be the overhead press. But fortunately, you DON’T just have to pick one exercise. Focusing more on your side and rear delts will make your entire shoulder muscle look a hell of a lot bigger.

how do you get big shouldersAnthony Dexmier

For big shoulders, you need a variety of rep ranges and exercises.

Few people can actually do side raises properly. Make sure to depress your shoulders as you raise the dumbbells, and also make sure your elbows are always above your hands. I would stick to high reps (15 to 20) with those.

The overhead press gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You can use it with heavy weights or for endurance, or both.

Weightlifting inspired exercises such as the clean and press and the snatch grip high pull are also a great addition to your sessions, although they’re more technical.  Stick to moderate weights, low reps (up to 6) and high bar speed with those.

If you combine high reps on isolation exercises, do strength work on the overhead press, and do power sets with weightlifting variations, you have all the ingredients to build 3D shoulders.

how do you get big shouldersAdam Ali

Train them more.



how do you get big shouldersNick Shaw

Shoulders are a smaller muscle group and tend to handle a ton of volume, so I like to train them several times each week. The front delts get hit a lot with pressing movements, so I like to train the medial/rear delts several times a week with movements like upright rows, side raises, etc.


how do you get big shouldersLee Boyce

Nothing beats the strict barbell press for me. I had great success doing sets of 3 one week and sets of 8 to 10 the next. I got up to a 215 pound triple (a 25-pound improvement) and my shoulders and  traps blew up!


how do you get big shouldersJohn Meadows

Ironically I see the best hypertrophy with less pressing and more isolation lateral-type movements, especially those focusing on posterior deltoids.

This muscle can make your shoulders look massive, especially when viewed from the side, but most are too lazy to do it as it isn’t as manly as an overhead press. Increase frequency as well. Your shoulders will recover well from lateral variations, which means you can hit them more often. The other nice thing about this approach is that it’s very good for longevity. Your joints will thank you.

how do you get big shouldersTim Berzins

When it comes to getting big shoulders, the old standby advice of “get stronger in a variety of rep ranges” still holds true.

Shoulders tend to respond best to heavy weight, followed by some lighter, higher rep training.

For heavy lifting, stick to the 4 to 6 rep range on compound movements like the overhead press or upright rows.

Note: Upright row can cause impingement issues for some people (especially when going heavy) so I recommend using single-arm dumbbell upright rows, which help eliminate that problem. Of course most compound chest and back exercises will also work your shoulders, so make sure not to overdo it.

A lot of people find that they’re overhead pressing strength goes to crap after benching (and vice versa), so it’s a good idea to work them on separate days. If you’re using heavy upright rows, the same would be true for rowing and pulling.

For the higher rep stuff, stick to the 10 to 15 rep range using isolation exercises like lateral raises. You really want to maximize the size of the lateral delts to give your shoulders a wider appearance, and lateral raises do a great job of this.

Front raises and rear delt flyes are other great isolation moves that target the anterior and posterior heads, respectively. The anterior head typically doesn’t need any extra work, so prioritize the lateral and posterior heads.

Finally, make sure to take care of your rotator cuff muscles with very light, very high rep shoulder stability exercises like external rotations, internal rotations, face pulls, etc. Also be sure to include plenty of mobility work for any tight areas (usually the anterior delts).

The shoulder is a complex joint that can be highly susceptible to injury, and you won’t be able to train for big shoulders if you can’t even lift your water bottle.

Finally, just to reiterate: If you want big shoulders, you MUST get stronger. Make strength gains a priority and you’ll be happy with the results.

how do you get big shouldersAnthony Mychal

For shoulders, I look to gymnasts – live on your hands as if they were feet.

Do lots of stuff where the shoulder girdle is your lone point of connection to the ground or to an object.

Handstands are obvious. Dips help. Chin-ups. I’m a fan of daily bodyweight training like this for big shoulders. I think the shoulders do well with high frequency bodyweight work. Daily handstand practice.

Get yourself some parallettes and some rings. They will also serve you well.

Lastly, don’t forget about your upper back. Building your rear shoulders and upper back will help.

Finish your deadlifts with shrugs. Do some muscle snatches.

Variety is key. Ido Portal has a little mantra I’ve found to be true:  The hips do well with intensity, the shoulders do well with complexity.

Use your shoulders a bunch of different ways. But I think there’s something to the lone point of contact thing I mentioned first.

how do you get big shouldersDr. Spencer Nadolsky

I do standard military press but always multiple sets of side raises with varying weights and reps during each shoulder day.



how do you get big shouldersGreg Nuckols


The muscles of the shoulder girdle (delts, traps, pecs) have a higher density of androgen receptors than muscles in the rest of the body.  It’s no mistake that large shoulders and traps have been interpreted as signs of virility in most cultures throughout time (before lifting, the men with more testosterone had more impressive shoulder musculature than their counterparts).  

The higher AR density in shoulder girdle muscles is also the main reason there’s a bigger male/female split in upper body muscle mass (men have about twice as much) than in lower body muscle mass (men only have about 35% more). Throw some extra androgens into the mix, and peoples’ shoulders explode.

Of course, most people reading this probably don’t use steroids, and don’t want to use steroids (good call – I hear prison isn’t too fun).  Your next best bet is reps.  And reps.  And reps.  The delts may have a higher proportion of type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers compared to the rest of your muscles. The average is about 50%, and various studies have pegged the delts between 50 and 75%, so they’re on the high end of average.  There’s some evidence that type I fibers grow best with high rep lifting.

So, like any other muscle, heavy sets of 5 to 10 with 70 to 85% of your max should be the bedrock of your shoulder training.  However, you’d be well served to throw in sets of 20+ to ensure you’re getting a good stimulus for those type I fibers as well.

how do you get big shouldersMitch Calvert

Be smart about your shoulder training.

An injured shoulder is not going to grow.

When you train shoulders, don’t move right into your heavy barbell pressing movements as soon as you step foot in the gym.

Start with a machine press or dumbbell movement that allows you to really feel the target muscle working, preparing the muscle, joint, ligament and tendons for the heavier work to follow.

Increase the weight as you go, pay special attention to shoulder mobility between exercises, and only lift heavy when you’re properly warmed up and ready for it.

how do you get big shouldersJason Maxwell

If you really want big shoulders, you’ll need to focus on the medial delts, and the rear delts.  

You can neglect the anterior delts, as these get worked enough via horizontal pressing such as pushups and bench press. The medial delts provide width, while the rear delts provide that “3D look” that rounds out the shoulder.

Pick one exercise for medial delts, and one exercise for rear delts.

Medial Delt Exercises

-Barbell Military Press

-Dumbbell Overhead Press

-Barbell Behind the Neck Press (one of my personal favourites)

-Lateral raises (use sparingly)

Rear Delt Exercises

-Dumbbell Hang & Swings (my personal favourite)

-Face pulls

-Rear delt machine

For medial delt exercises, you’ll want to do about 10 sets of 5 to 12 reps per week.  Maybe split it up into 4 sets of 5, 3 sets of 8 to 10, and 3 sets of 10 to 12.

For rear delt exercises, you’ll want to do 300 total reps per week using sets of 15 to 100.

This may sound crazy, but give it a try for a month and your shoulders will be popping in no time.