Illustration of a man getting his shoulders measured.

Is it possible for a skinny guy to build broader shoulders? If you’re a naturally thin “ectomorph,” chances are you have a thinner bone structure, which often includes having narrower shoulders. Perhaps that’s why you’re interested in finding out if you can build broader shoulders.

Wanting to build broader shoulders isn’t unique to us skinny guys. Lots of men are trying to make their shoulders broader. Lots of those men succeed. However, for those of us with shorter collarbones, the path there can see a little different.

Inside we’ll discuss why so many guys want bigger, broader shoulders, what we can control and what we can’t, and then we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to help you add a few inches to your shoulder circumference.

Interested?

Before and after illustration of a man building broader shoulders.

Why Do Men Want Broad Shoulders?

Both men and women find broad shoulders combined with a lean waist to be more attractive (study, study, study). This effect is so exaggerated that our shoulder-to-waist ratio is the most important aspect of our physique according to both women and other men. To understand why that is, we can try to understand what broad shoulders signal to others.

It’s clear that it’s a masculine trait to have wide shoulders. During puberty, testosterone causes shoulders to grow broader whereas estrogen causes hips to grow wider. Men have more testosterone and less estrogen than women, so this causes women to naturally develop more of an hourglass physique, whereas men naturally develop more of a V-tapered physique. This means that men have naturally wider shoulders than women on average, not only in terms of sheer size but also proportionally (study).

In addition to this, more masculine men naturally have more androgen receptors around their shoulder girdle, making them develop bigger muscles in their upper backs, chests and shoulders. And as we become stronger, this only becomes more and more pronounced. This means that in men, bigger and broader shoulders are also a symbol of full-body strength.

Finally, because men tend to store most of their fat in their stomachs, having broad shoulders compared to our waists means that we’re shaped more by muscle than by fat. This is a great signal that we’re healthy.

The Ideal Shoulder Circumference for Men

When we’re trying to improve our appearance, it pays to focus less on specific measurements and proportions, more on the underlying factors. In this case, the main factor that makes bigger shoulders more attractive is having more overall upper-body strength.

Illustration of a man with the ideal shoulder circumference measurements.

are our uIn this study, body proportions that signalled fitness and strength were the biggest indicators of attractiveness. Things like how big your waist was (to signal how lean you are), your waist-to-chest ratio (to signal how much muscle you have), and your weight-to-height ratio (again giving hints about leanness and strength).

This later study tested the same hypothesis using 3D models, again confirming that women preferred the men with more muscular upper bodies and smaller waists (study). They dubbed this v-tapered physique the “inverted triangle shape.”

The study continued by saying that this inverted triangle shape was so attractive because it signalled physical strength and muscle development in the upper body. So keeping a lean waist while building up your upper body is key.

So why do men want broader and bigger shoulders? Researchers believe that a V-shaped physique is considered so universally attractive because it signals masculinity, strength, health, and virility. So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that men want to be as strong, masculine, and healthy as possible. Or maybe we just want women to find us more attractive. In either case, learning how to build broader shoulders will help.

The good news for us narrow-framed guys is that these studies don’t measure shoulder width, they measure shoulder girth—shoulder circumference. These studies also mention how attractive it is to have a high chest-to-waist ratio. This means that more than anything, these results give evidence that it’s our upper body strength and mass that matters, not how long our collarbones are.

This is good news because we can build up our chest and shoulder circumference by gaining muscle in our chests, shoulders, and backs. This will make our shoulders look far wider and broader, but also thicker and rounder. We’ll look stronger, more masculine, and more attractive from every angle.

But more on that later.

Genetics: What We Can’t Control

Let’s first distinguish between having a broad bone structure and having heavily muscled shoulders. There’s a big difference between the two.

We Can’t Change Our Bone Structure

Bone structure is almost entirely determined by our genetics, and so there’s nothing that we can do to change it. Research shows that our clavicles (collarbones) are already ossifying at just five-and-a-half weeks old! There is steady growth from then up to about age twelve for boys. By then, boys have reached around 80% of their total clavicle length, and then the final growth picks up at an even faster pace. By eighteen years old, our clavicle growth has reached its final length. Our clavicles continue to ossify until around age 26, but our shoulders won’t grow any broader (study). This means that if we’re eighteen or older, the only way to build broader shoulders is to gain muscle in our upper bodies.

Some people are blessed with good genetics, naturally growing long clavicles and narrow hips. This can give them pleasantly broad shoulders without them needing to gain much muscle. Even so, our overall muscularity is seemingly more important than how long our collarbones are, so it’s unclear if that would even help.

There are plenty of ectomorphs who have broad shoulders compared to their waists once they start lifting weights. Here you can see the swimmer Michael Phelps, the Korean Actor RAIN, and Shane (one of the co-founders of Bony to Beastly). Once they built muscle, it’s clear that even though they’re naturally skinny, their clavicles are actually fairly long.

Comparison of people with naturally broader and narrower shoulders.

Now, where this gets interesting is if we look at Shane back when he was still skinny. Here’s a photo of Shane at 21, right before he started building muscle. Back then, because of how little overall muscle mass he had, it seemed like he had naturally very narrow shoulders:

Photo showing Shane Duquette before he bulked up from skinny to muscular.

So although you might think you have naturally narrow shoulders, it’s also possible that you just haven’t gained enough muscle around your shoulder girdle yet. By the time you gain 20–30 pounds of muscle, you may realize that you don’t need to give your shoulders any special attention.

Ectomorphs Have Genetic Advantages and Disadvantages

When it comes to our body type, ectomorphs have both genetic advantages and disadvantages when it comes to building broader shoulders. Mesomorphs tend to have broader shoulders and narrower hips (a v-shaped physique), endomorphs tend to have narrower shoulders and wider hips (a pear-shaped physique), and ectomorphs tend to be shaped like rectangles, without much shoulder muscle or fat around our waists. Since it’s our shoulder-to-waist ratio that matters most, we have the advantage of not needing to worry about shrinking our midsection. We can focus on simply building bigger shoulder muscles.

This means that we often need to build quite a lot of upper body muscle to build a v-tapered shape, but our bone structures will almost always allow it.

Wide Shoulders, Mesomorphs, Ectomorphs, and Endomorphs

Keep in mind that these are just generalizations. People like Shane, Phelps and Rain have longer clavicles but are still fairly classic ectomorphs (long limbs, very thin bones, fast metabolisms, etc.). If you’re curious about your own genetics, You can learn more about whether you have a thin bone structure here. Shane will teach you how to measure your bone structure so that you can see if you have naturally narrow or broad shoulders.

However, even you’ve got naturally narrow shoulders—as I do—our clavicle length is just one aspect of our physiques. We all struggle with different issues, and if we’re concerned about our attractiveness, it’s important to realize what an amazing gift it is that we even have healthy bodies that give us the opportunity to lift weights and build muscle. No, building muscle isn’t easy. But everyone, including the hardest of hardgainers, can build muscle if they learn how to lift for muscle growth, eat a good bulking diet, and get a good night’s sleep.

Building Muscle: What We Can Control

Even for us skinny guys with naturally narrow shoulders, the good news is that our shoulder muscles have a ton of growth potential—far more than most of our other muscles. 

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

It’s possible to build the fronts of your shoulders (anterior deltoids) up to 5 times the size of the average guy, and it’s possible to build the sides of your shoulders up to 3 times the size of the average guy. That’s enough growth potential that you can build up impressively broad shoulders even with extremely short clavicles.

Second, we live in a three-dimensional world where our overall upper-body width and size are considered. In addition to bulking up our shoulders, we can also change the shape of our bodies by building bigger chests and upper backs, and also making sure that our waists are lean.

Bulking Up Our Upper Bodies

Increasing our overall shoulder circumference means building muscle mass primarily in our upper bodies—and lots of it.

Consider this scenario: we have three ectomorphs, all with the exact same bone structure underneath. The first is skinny-fat and rounder in the mid-section, the second is a classically skinny ectomorph, and the last one has gained twenty pounds of muscle mass, with a bunch of that muscle around his shoulder girdle.

Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, Skinny Ectomorph, And Ripped Ectomorph
Building muscle can make a big difference.

The skinny-fat guy will have a high waist-to-chest ratio (pear shape), the skinny guy will have a neutral shape (rectangle), and the guy who’s gained twenty pounds will have a prominent V-taper. He’s still an ectomorph because of his bone structure, but most people will mistakenly assume that he’s a mesomorph because of his broader shoulders.

Why twenty pounds? We’ve found that, generally, gaining twenty pounds of lean mass will bump us up a shirt size. So if you’re wearing a size small right now, adding twenty pounds will get your t-shirt up to a medium.

When I was 23, I added 5.5 inches to my shoulder measurements during my first ninety days of bulking. This brought me from a small tee up to a medium.

Today I’m now 44 pounds heavier than when I first started (130 pounds to 174 pounds), and I’ve moved up to wearing a size large.

If you want help building muscle, I’d highly recommend checking out all of our full Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. In our experience, most skinny beginners are able to gain at least twenty pounds within their first three months of the five-month program. Because our program includes a fair amount of shoulder training, you can expect to gain several inches around your shoulders within that timeframe. In fact, our bulking program now has even more shoulder emphasis than when I tested it, so you can expect even more shoulder growth than I got.

If you choose to follow another program, just be careful to choose one that includes plenty of lifts for your shoulder muscles. Believe it or not, for better and worse, the vast majority of bulking programs aren’t designed to emphasize shoulder growth. In fact, many lifting programs are heavily weighted towards bulking up our lower bodies. Bulking down, so to speak.

This lower-body emphasis is especially common with strength-training programs, as the main strength lifts are the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. That’s already 66% lower body (depending on how we count the deadlift), and because most of the assistance exercises will be centred around improving our squat and deadlift, our lower bodies are prioritized all the more.

The same is true in many bodybuilding programs. Back in the “golden age” of bodybuilding, when guys like Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Frank Zane were the big icons, there was an emphasis on building V-taper physiques, with broad shoulders and strong but not bulky lower bodies. Nowadays, the “X-taper” physique is more popular with bodybuilders, where the lower body is supposed to be just as big as the upper body.

Our muscle mass will go to where it’s being told it’s needed, and if we start most of our workouts with squats, then we’ll build more muscle in our quads, glutes, and adductors. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it tends to line up more with the goals of powerlifters and modern bodybuilders, given the importance of squats in their sports. If we’re training for general strength, better health, or aesthetics, it’s generally better to have a more balanced approach. For example, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t put equal emphasis on the overhead press (which trains the fronts and sides of our shoulders) and the chin-up (which trains the back of our shoulders).

Illustration of a man doing the barbell overhead press.

Since our program isn’t designed for powerlifting or modern bodybuilding, it takes what we consider to be a more balanced approach, which means quite a bit more training volume for our upper bodies, which is actually where most of us need extra muscle the most. When we’re carrying furniture, carrying groceries, or even carrying people, we’re usually limited by our grip, back, biceps or shoulder strength.

When it comes to aesthetics, our attractiveness is almost perfectly linked to our overall strength. But what’s interesting is that because our overall strength is almost always limited by our upper-body strength, the muscles in our upper bodies contribute more to our overall attractiveness (study). The big three lifts—the squat, bench press, and deadlift—aren’t more functional than chin-ups and the overhead press, they just happen to be the three lifts that are tested in powerlifting.

Also, keep in mind that posture plays a big role in how broad our shoulders look. If our upper backs are rounding forward and our shoulders are caving inwards, our shoulders will look far narrower than they actually are. (We’ll cover that in a second.)

How to Build Bigger Shoulders

Our shoulders are made up of three different muscles: the front delts (anterior deltoids), middle delts (lateral deltoids), and rear delts (posterior deltoids):

Illustration of the anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and posterior deltoids.

. If we combine all of these together into one muscle group—our deltoids—then they become one of the largest muscle groups in our upper bodies. Our shoulders (400 cm³) are around 60% bigger than our chests (250 cm³) and 400% the size of our biceps (100 cm³). As a result, building bigger shoulders can have a large impact on our appearance and add quite a few inches to our shoulder circumferences. If you’re a skinny guy, you’ll probably be able to gain 5–10 inches in your shoulders. For example, Shane added 12″ around his shoulders in two years while gaining around fifty pounds overall.

However, unlike most other muscle groups, these three shoulder muscles have different functions. Our front delts push stuff away, our side delts lift stuff out to the side, and our rear delts pull stuff in. This means that building broader shoulders requires doing more than just the bench press and overhead press. That’s a good start, but at a minimum, it also helps to include lateral raises for the side delts and chin-ups for the rear delts.

Illustration of a man doing lateral raises to build wider shoulders.

Everyone has seen crazy-looking cannonball shoulders that look extremely round. And they look great because of what it signals: optimal shoulder health and strength. They have strength in all ranges of motion and that well-rounded strength leads to well-rounded shoulders. But most of us have terrible overhead mobility, often due to spending most of our days sitting and working at our desks. This causes our shoulders to cave forwards, making it far harder to press a barbell overhead and thus making it far more difficult to build broader shoulders.

To further complicate things, we often fall into the trap of only targeting the muscles we can see in the mirror, which in this case is our front and perhaps side delts. So keep in mind that we shouldn’t neglect our rear deltoids or the other postural muscles in our back, such as our external rotators.

Most of our shoulder size will come from our front delts, and most of our shoulder width will come from our side delts. These muscles can be trained with pressing both horizontally (e.g. push-ups, the bench press) and vertically (e.g. the overhead press). As we mentioned above, these are very strong, beefy muscles with a ton of growth potential, as you can see above. They grow the quickest when we combine heavy compound movements (such as the overhead press) with smaller isolation lifts (such as the lateral raise).

Our rear deltoids are smaller and have less growth potential, but they’re incredibly important as well. Not only will they make our shoulders much rounder, but once we get them strong enough, they can also help to hold our shoulders in the right place, making our shoulders look far better, improving our range of motion, and reducing our risk of injury. The rear delts work hard during bigger compound movements, such as rows and chin-ups. Then they can be targeted with the lighter assistance lifts, like face-pulls and rear-delt flyes.

Face-pulls are less common but incredibly effectiveso here’s how you can do the face-pull if you have access to a cable machine. What makes the face-pull so great is that it will help bring your shoulders back into a neutral position, which we discuss in the next section.

If you don’t have access to a cable machine or if you’re working out from home, you can do the bent-over face-pull as a dumbbell alternative:

Overall, the overhead press is the best exercise for building up your shoulders, provided there are no crazy compensations happening (such as bending your lower back). The idea is to move the most weight that you can with your muscles (muscle recruitment) with a heavy compound movement like the overhead press, then hit your muscles a bit more with some isolation work, adding more lifting volume.

Now, what’s interesting is that while the overhead barbell press is great, it’s actually the overhead dumbbell press that seems to stimulate your shoulder muscles the most effectively. Both are similarly effective, but don’t worry if you only have access to dumbbells—you can still build broader shoulders perfectly well.

If you’re someone who struggles with shoulder mobility, and you can’t do proper overhead presses without bending in your lower back, start with the landmine press instead. It’s great for building muscle safely, and it hardly requires any shoulder mobility. When combined with postural exercises, like the face-pull, soon you should be able to progress to a full overhead press.

Improving Our Shoulder Posture & Mobility

Because the modern lifestyle can involve so much time spent sitting at a desk, it’s common to adapt to that position, developing internally rotated shoulders. That may be just fine for typing, but it can limit our range of motion and shave inches off of our shoulder breadth. The best thing we can do to improve our shoulder posture is to develop the muscular strength to hold our bodies in the proper position. For more on that, we have an entire article about building a bigger and straighter upper back

Before/After illustration of a man improving his posture.

To make a long story short, though, it can help to start with diagonal pressing variations, get strong at them, and then gradually work our way more vertical:

  • The incline bench press or decline push-ups: especially if we use a narrow-to-moderate grip width, we can work our shoulders quite hard even though we aren’t pressing all the way overhead.
  • The landmine press: this makes the movement a bit more vertical, but is still within a comfortable range of motion for most of us, allowing our shoulders to get practice pushing things higher.
  • The half-kneeling one-arm dumbbell press: once we’re ready to start pressing overhead, it helps to start with one arm at a time. It also helps to get down into a half-kneeling position to help keep our lower backs from rounding.
  • The standing one-arm dumbbell press: once we comfortable pressing a single dumbbell overhead from a kneeling position, we can try it from a standing position.
  • The overhead press: once we’ve got the hang of pressing with one arm, we can start doing both arms at once, either with two dumbbells or a barbell.

Once we’re able to press weights overhead with a deep range of motion and good form, it becomes much easier to build broader shoulders. It still helps to use lighter isolation lifts, but our shoulders will get rounder and more aesthetic even just from continuing to get stronger at the overhead press.

If this still seems complicated, our bulking program will help walk you through the entire process of gaining muscle, improving posture, and building a strong overhead press.

Balancing Our Traps & Shoulders

Some people argue that we should limit the growth of our trapezius “trap” muscles. So, just to get on the same page about what that means, our traps are the muscles that connect our shoulders to our necks, allowing us to shrug our shoulders upwards. They doesn’t help us build a thicker neck, per se, but our traps do add a lot of muscle beside our necks, which can have a huge impact on our appearance.

Illustration of the upper trap muscles.

We don’t need to give our traps special attention because they’re trained with a tremendous load when we deadlift, they go through a large time under tension we do loaded carries, and they’re trained through a full range of motion when we overhead press and do lateral raises. Because our traps are worked with both overhead pressing and lateral raises, this means that as we build broader shoulders, we tend to build bigger traps as well. (It’s common to have sore traps when doing shoulder lifts, too.)

The rub is that some guys argue that having proportionally smaller traps will make our shoulders look squarer and broader by comparison. Maybe there’s some truth to that. Shane mocked up an illustration so that we can see how looks to have bigger or smaller traps when every other factor is held constant:

Comparison of a man with small vs big trap muscles.

As we can see, it’s true that having small traps makes our shoulders look broader and squarer by comparison, but I’m not convinced that’s a good thing. If broad shoulders are attractive because they symbolize strength and masculinity—and they do—then the exact same principle should hold true with our traps as well. The bigger our traps are, the stronger we’ll be, and so they should make us look more attractive.

Furthermore, as men, we have a large number of androgen receptors in our entire shoulder girdle, meaning that the more masculine we are, the bigger our shoulders and traps will be. If we build broader shoulders without building larger traps, it would just make us look less masculine. By that same token, mountainous traps combined with broad shoulders can give us a distinctly masculine look. We’ll look like strong men who actually lift things.

Also keep in mind that most skinny guys have naturally longer and thinner necks, and building up bigger trap muscles is one of the best ways for a skinny guy to build up a more powerful neck.

Your call.

Key Takeaways

We really hope that this article helps you build bigger, broader shoulders and that it gives you some peace of mind if you’ve been worrying about having a narrow bone structure. The good news is that even if we have shorter collarbones, we have quite a lot of control over our shoulder-to-waist ratios. With a workout program that puts more emphasis on your shoulders, you’ll have broad shoulders within a few months, not to mention being a strong man overall.

To summarize, here are our three tips for building bigger, broader shoulders:

  • Even as a skinny guy with short clavicles, it’s still possible to build far broader shoulders. Our shoulders are huge muscles with tremendous potential for growth. Luckily, this is something largely under our control.
  • Train your shoulders with a variety of compound and isolation exercises to make them bigger. For compound lifts, the bench press will train our front delts, the overhead press will train our front and side delts, and chin-ups and rows will train our rear delts. For isolation lifts, lateral raises and face pulls are a good place to start. Upright rows are another good lift for our shoulders if they feel good, but they can be finicky, especially if you have poor posture.
  • Improve your shoulder posture and mobility so that your shoulders look rounder and more aesthetic. This will also stop our shoulders from caving in forwards, which makes them appear narrower. Front squats are great for this, as are face pulls.
Illustration of a bodybuilder with burning shoulders.

And if you’re a naturally skinny guy who wants to be walked through the entire process of building bigger shoulders—and bigger muscles overall—you’ll love our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program.

Looking to learn even more about this? We’ve developed this free guide you can download below.

Jared Polowick, BDes, has a degree in design from York University. He co-founded Bony to Beastly, Bony to Bombshell, and Outlive, where he translates complex academic research reviews about strength, fat loss, and health into easy-to-read and visual formats that anyone can understand.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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49 Comments

  1. DavidG on April 15, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Another awesome article. Thanks Jared!

    It can’t be stressed enough that, in addition to aesthetics and strength, the b2B program is all about health. You touched on it in your write up, but I wanted to highlight the point. My back and shoulders still thank you every day 🙂

    • Jared Polowick on April 15, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words David. Makes me so happy you’ve had a good experience and that your back/shoulders are feeling solid!

      • What's your waist? on April 24, 2018 at 10:25 am

        Great progress, Jared! I want to add, that from your first picture to the last, your bones have also grown. Not grown in length they way kids’ bones do. But bones grow much like muscles get bigger and stronger:
        https://www.livestrong.com/article/347688-how-to-get-strong-bones-in-children/

        What’s your waist size? Studies have shown women prefer a ratio between the waist and shoulders to be around 0.6.

        I am guessing a bigger chest will “force out” the arms, thereby also creating the impression of having wider shoulders.

        • Jared Polowick on May 8, 2018 at 11:20 am

          Yes! We talk about this in our Ectomorph Aesthetics article, the ratio being 0.618. My waist is about 30.5 inches and my shoulders are 47 inches at the moment, so I need to pop on 2 more inches to reach the optimal ratio.

        • Alka Gupta on May 25, 2020 at 10:32 am

          Amazing . I really want to build my shoulder straps

  2. Nodetails on April 17, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Is there a good way to measure clavicle length or be able to instantly tell if you have a long or short clavicle? Checking that study, it mentions the mean / SD clavicle length being 161 +- 11 mm, which are very small increments making it difficult to get the actual result if the starting / ending positions are slightly off.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Jared Polowick on April 18, 2017 at 9:50 am

      In one of the studies, I believe they used a computer to measure radiographs (x-rays) of the clavicles because they can be hard to measure because of their shape. It’s also common to use a osteometric board (photo) and tape measure.

      So I think our best bet is to use a tape measure, it’s a real tool. But just realize it won’t be 100% accurate since we can’t take our bones out of our body and measure it several different ways. But it’s still pretty good.

      Clavicle length was defined as the straight distance between the lateral-most point of the clavicle in the acromioclavicular joint (closest to your arm) and the medial-most point of the clavicle in the sternoclavicular joint (your sternum).

      It might be helpful to take a marker, and make a little notch on your body at the points where you think it’s widest. Then measure those points with the measuring tape.

      One other thing to keep in mind is your left and right clavicle may not be symmetrical. In this study, it found that almost 30% of people had asymmetrical clavicles. If you’re asymmetrical, it’s your call, but I’d be more tempted to use the longer clavicle as my base… you could also add up both clavicle lengths and divide it by 2 and get the average of them.

      I hope that helps a bit!

  3. Dave Francis on April 24, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    No doubt about, broader shoulders are definitely a confidence builder. I’m still havin issues eliminating my midsection, but the growth of my shoulders definitely gives that V-taper impression with the right clothing.

    In regards to the tuck in/tailor debate – tailor, definitely. If you’ve been a lifelong skinny fella, putting on a tailored T for the first time afte growth in the chest/back/traps/shoulders area feels glorious!!!

    • Jared Polowick on April 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Definitely!

      I’m sure you’ve seen our skinny-fat article Dave? Best to tackle one thing at a time. Building up your upper body and shoulders is nice to have first though, that way you don’t feel like you’re just getting smaller when you decide to cut the fat off.

      I’ve yet to personally get a boxy-tee tailored, but I do know that a nicely cut/athletic shaped tee does make a difference. Glad to hear you’ve got something good working for you 🙂

  4. RB on May 4, 2017 at 4:04 am

    Great article Jared, and your shoulder gains are immense!

    Just to encourage anyone struggling with their shoulders that while the medial deltoids/middle shoulder muscles contribute the most to adding shoulder width, they are also amongst the slowest muscles to respond to training and develop. This is because their primary physiological function is not to be strong, but to move the arms around. While your pecs, biceps and lats will start to grow noticeably after a short amount of training, it takes much longer for your medial deltoids to develop. With this in mind, don’t be tempted to compensate by over-training your shoulders or lifting weights that you find very heavy, causing clicking, popping, or forcing your core to move out of a strong neutral stance. The shoulders are complex joints and highly vulnerable to injury. Train with weights that allow you to complete 8-12 reps and in the meantime do plenty of pull ups – these will widen your back and contribute to your v-taper before your medial deltoids step up.

  5. Will Chou on July 10, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    I enjoyed this. Thanks!

  6. Medical News Today: The best men's health blogs | Health News on September 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    […] blog is full of interesting reads and cool graphics in posts such as how to build broader shoulders when you have a thinner bone structure build, how to bolster your upper back, and how to overcome […]

  7. Alex on October 26, 2017 at 5:27 am

    Yes broader shoulder men are more handsome according to women. But if you are bit bony it’s hard to gain some weight and get some broader shoulders. This article is complete and very helpful guide for broader shoulders. Thank for the sharing with us. Will be a lot of help for guys out there.

  8. Mark on December 4, 2017 at 5:48 am

    A set of broad shoulders isn’t the only marker of a man’s masculinity, but it is a powerful one.

  9. Ahmed on April 29, 2018 at 5:49 am

    How do u measure shoulders?

    1) Delt to delt

    or

    2) Wrap tape around chest and shoulders both?

    Can someone clear this up?

    • Jared Polowick on May 3, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      We measure the total shoulder circumference. So it’ll include your chest and back.

      • Ahmed on May 5, 2018 at 6:08 am

        Thanks. So basically the measurement will include shoulder, chest, and back? I take it the tape should be above nipple but below clavicle?

        • Ahmed on May 6, 2018 at 4:13 am

          Also another thing.

          1) What is considered wide shoulders (at least approximately) for 32inch waist?

          2) I’ve heard it’s 52inch, but isn’t this extremely hard for ectomorphs to achieve?

          3) Also ectomorphs usually the skinnyfat type have wide hips (which cannot be altered despite losing fat), so wouldn’t this also affect v taper despite wide shoulders?

          • Jared Polowick on May 8, 2018 at 11:18 am

            1. According to studies (that we discuss in our Aesthetics article), the best ratio is 1.618 to 1 for shoulder-to-waist. So if you have a 32 inch waist, your shoulder measurement should be: 52 inches.

            2. Shane has as a 31 inch waist and 51-inch shoulders, so he’s not only hitting the ratio, he’s beyond it. But, you could say that he started with a decent clavicle/waist bone structure in terms of ratio.

            But for myself, I would say I’ve got very naturally narrow shoulders when it comes to bone structure. I fit into small sized shirts, I didn’t have a problem fitting into stadium or airplane seats, and everything seems to be built for a wider shouldered person—even right down to guitars (since I made the switching to shorter neck guitars, it’s been much funner to play.) With my waist being 30.5 inches, the ratio would put the ideal shoulder measurement at 49 inches. Right now I’m at 47 inches, only 2 inches away. It’d be an understatement to say I haven’t ever trained my shoulders hard. My shoulders are a bit cranky, especially when it comes to overhead pressing, and I’m still working on it. It’s a leftover problem due to getting crazy hunchback posture (kyphosis) back when I was a skinny 14 year old designing and coding websites with every moment of my free time. Plus, there’s lots more room to grow on my chest/back.

            So to answer your question, I think it’s totally realistic, because I think most guys are starting in a better spot than me. But it will likely take skinny guys longer than a year of training to get there, unless they’ve got a head start with bone structure.

            3. Yes, you can’t change your hip size. From my understanding of the research, we value a lean waist with large shoulders because it signifies health and robustness. That’s why it looks good. So if you’ve got a wider hip bone structure, you can still get a lean waist and big shoulders, and the ratio would still apply. The v-taper would go down to the hips. And if you really feel like there’s too much contrast between your hips and your waist, you could try working on building up bigger obliques.



        • Jared Polowick on May 8, 2018 at 10:09 am

          We measure at the widest measurement we can get, so that often means below the clavicle and above the nipple, yep.

          • Em on June 16, 2019 at 10:29 pm

            This article is on the right lines but not entirely accurate, the widest part of human shoulder bone structure is the acromion, from which the bone should be measured, not the clavicles, hence why you may see the terms ‘biacromial’ width being used in studies instead, the average biacromial width being about 15.75 inches across, I believe Shane’s to be 15.9, the difference between an ectomorph with wide shoulders and an actual mesomorph however, is the mesomorph’s relatively larger but tapered ribcage, which is often overlooked in regards to defining the V-taper



  10. Ahmed on May 8, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Jared, thanks so much for explaining this to me in detail. Means a lot to me. I just have one doubt, though.

    Even if the waist is small (and shoulders broad), as long as the hip is wide, wouldn’t a v taper be impossible? Because no matter how broad the shoulder is/lean the waist is, compared to the hip wouldn’t they still be relatively narrow?

    I am not sure how to explain it. It’s a visual thing.

    • Jared Polowick on May 29, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      As far as I’ve seen, the v-taper is more of an upper body thing. It goes down to your hips, at which point it starts getting wide again. Most strong men have strong glutes, and so they’ll had a wider hip circumference, anyways, which stops the V shape. (Seems like there are some miscers on BB.com talking about Y-taper vs V-Taper and the lat insertion point and some structural differences. Kind of neat debate.)

      I totally hear what you’re saying. And I suppose you could make a point for online photos, where you can’t see that person in 3D. At which point, you can do poses to really push things. An example that comes to mind is Frank Zane, where his shoulders are square to the photo to look their widest, but his core are rotated to appear even thinner.

      So online, maybe a case could be made. But in person and in 3D, the shoulder to waist ratio is sending all the health signals that it’s supposed to be.

      One idea to think about would be to try and bulk up your obliques. That way your waist at it’s narrowest point and your hips are a little less hourglass-ey.

  11. Andrew on May 22, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Totally Agree with Ahmed.

    It’s all about visual impression, and if a man has really wide hip bone, even decent shoulders cannot remove this “visual thing”. Even it’s just a bone(not fat), it makes your silhouette look a bit awful.

    • Jared Polowick on May 29, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Maybe in elite bodybuilding. There will be those who genetically will rise to the top and look remarkable even among the fittest people like Steve Reeves. But among the general population, building up a strong upper body and keeping a lean waist will put you in the top percentage as it’s so rare, and definitely send all the fit/capable/resourceful/healthy signals you want to send.

  12. Faith on May 29, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Will this program work for women as well??

    • Jared Polowick on May 29, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Faith,

      We heard this question a lot so we developed Bony to Bombshell, our sister program, from the ground up just for women. You can check it out here 🙂

  13. mas on June 17, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    Just FYI, the paragraph “You see the same thing in most modern bodybuilding programs. Back in the “golden age” of bodybuilding, when guys like Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Frank Zane were the big icons, there was an emphasis on building a V-taper physique, with broad shoulders and a strong, but not bulky, lower body. Nowadays, the “X-taper” physique is more popular with bodybuilders, where the lower body is supposed to be just as big as the lower body.”
    I think you meant to say (where the lower body is supposed to be just as big as the upper body.)

    • Jared Polowick on July 9, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Thanks Mas! Fixed up.

  14. Julius on August 26, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Nice Article btw,

    in your article, You say that if you are older than 18 you have no chance of changing your bone structure. but let’s say you where younger, how could you change your bone structure.

    • Jared Polowick on September 7, 2018 at 9:20 am

      That’s a great question Julius. I’m not sure. Just looking into it a bit now. Here’s a good excerpt from a 2006 study:

      Prudent recommendations (Department of Health, 1998; World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003) are the same as those for adults, i.e. to consume a Ca intake close to the reference nutrient intake, optimise vitamin D status through adequate summer sunshine exposure (and diet supplementation where appropriate), be physically active, have a body weight in the healthy range, restrict salt intake and consume plenty of fruit and vegetables.

      So eat enough calories (Ca), get enough sunlight or take vitamin D throughout the whole year, exercise/play sports, and eat lots of fruits and veggies. I’d probably add to focus on your sleep quantity and quality as well. Teenagers are notorious for bad sleeping habits now and they need quite a lot of sleep. So that means putting the phone down and TV away an hour or more before bed. Go to bed early enough to give yourself enough time to sleep, sleep in a dark and cool room, etc.

  15. Paul on December 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve found that working in an abbreviated routine has done wonders for my shoulders, and physique in general. Simply put, I work each muscle directly 3 times every 2 weeks. A combination of heavy bb/dB shoulder presses and alternating lateral raises and upright rows (lifted to nipple level only) have been all that’s necessary. 3 sets of 6-8 reps works best for me. When I started out, I used 4×10 with lightish weight and absolutely nothing happened. Trial and error is a big component of bodybuilding I think, but it also leads to confusion from conflicting advice and numerous online arguments. I’d say stick to the basics, work out the set/rep range that your body reacts to, ignore the gimmicks, eat right, be consistent and don’t give up. Putting on muscle gets easier with age, despite what many ‘experts’ say.

    • Jared on May 22, 2019 at 9:52 am

      Dumbbell shoulder presses is one of the best exercises you can use to develop your shoulders, I can see why that has been helping you out a lot 🙂 I’ve been really enjoying face pulls and cable lateral raises for the last little bit.

      I agree that there’s definitely a lot of conflicting advice out there, although science has been shedding more and more light on how building muscle actually works. We’re able to design more optimized routines for different levels of lifters, starting points, and age. Now the hardest part is getting people to take action and to stick with it 😉

  16. Mark on January 25, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    The most hardgaineriest? Very familiar with that, I was 5’11” and 115 pounds when I went into the military at 17. At 45 I was six feet and 135. Even at 60 I am still 6 feet and 155 pounds. Several times over the decades I have tried to gain weight, had a weight room installed in my house, drank protein till it was coming out of my pores. Even did testosterone supplements from my doctor. At one point with HGC but that was so ridiculously expensive I could not keep it up.

    I am not a hard gainer, in all those attempts I never gained a single pound. People at body building sites just do not believe me and say some of the meanest things because as even you say ANYONE can gain weight. And I just want to tell you that is not true, most people can gain weight, but not all.

    Most recently last July I was embarrassed by my shape when an old friend came to visit and he had gone from portly to slim muscular. So I started working out again in earnest, and the doctor has again put me on T. Agian 7 months later, and mind you I have been also doing SARMS and other supps like epicatechin and creatine, L Arginine, DHEA, and cutting back on fats and almost complete abstinence from alcohol, making sure I am getting adequate sleep and ZIP! In fact 7 months later negative zip, I have lost 6 pounds.

    I feel good though. I guess that is just the best I can ever hope for. Just please stop saying if you can’t gain you are either doing it wrong or are lazy. It just is not so.

    • Shane Duquette on February 18, 2019 at 5:56 pm

      Hey Mark, that sounds so unbelievably frustrating. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. I failed several times before I finally succeeded, but that was over the course of just a few years, not over the course of an entire lifetime.

      We could add caveats to our statement that anyone can gain weight. For example, if you don’t have access to enough calories, you can’t gain weight. That immediately closes the door for all the starving people out there who simply don’t have access to enough food. I’m sure there are other exceptions as well—if someone is born without any muscle, without the ability to store fat, their throat isn’t connected to their stomach, or etc.

      But for the vast majority of people, that’s simply not the case. Being able to store extra calories as body-fat is incredibly vital to our survival. Almost everyone has the ability to store body-fat. The same is true with our ability to grow stronger muscles and denser bones. These are essential aspects of survival. And given the fact that you, for example, were able to learn how to walk, you clearly have the ability to develop muscle size and strength in response to the activities you engage in.

      Most of us hardgainers and ectomorphs are naturally skinny guys who are otherwise healthy. I mean, we might have some issues—irritable bowel syndrome is common, as are food allergies, as are small stomachs, as are small appetites, as are all number of conditions and unfortunate circumstances—but that doesn’t make gaining weight impossible, it just means that we have some issues that we need to work around. Almost everyone has some sort of health issue. We simply have to work around them.

      As for experimenting with steroids, steroids don’t actually cause weight gain. They often lead to weight gain in the sense that they tend to make people hungrier, which drives them into a calorie surplus, which causes them to gain weight, but they don’t directly cause weight gain. It’s the calorie surplus that causes the weight gain. Having tried steroids doesn’t mean that you can’t gain weight, it just means that the steroids weren’t enough to coax you into eating in a calorie surplus.

      I know that you have no reason to believe me, especially given that your life experience has taught you otherwise, but I’m confident that unless you have an extremely rare medical condition that I’ve never heard of, you could have gained weight and you still can.

  17. Tarun on May 7, 2019 at 1:41 am

    I would like to correct this ratio at 1.618 ,that is the golden ratio or the most attractive as shoulder-to-waist ratio.

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  20. […] It’s also better to have the freedom to use weights when weights clearly provide an advantage. For example, yes, you could do handstand push-ups for your shoulders, but you’re going to waste a lot of time getting used to the rising blood pressure in your head, you’re going to waste a lot of energy trying to get your balance right, and when you do finally master the lift, you’ll be too strong for it anyway. It’s much easier to grab a dumbbell or barbell and do some overhead pressing, using progressively heavier weights as your shoulders grow bigger and stronger. (Speaking of which, here’s how to build broader shoulders.) […]

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  26. […] so much as your degree of muscularity, making this more about how big your chest, upper back, and shoulders […]

  27. […] prepare for chin-ups. (We also start getting people’s shoulders ready for pressing overhead, broadening their shoulders with lateral […]

  28. […] presses, rows), and then finish the workouts with some lighter accessory lifts for your abs, arms, shoulders, chest, and upper […]

  29. […] The conventional wisdom is that we should do the biggest lifts first, and when it comes to compound lifts, the biggest lifts are the squat and the deadlift. This is why programs like Starting Strength and StrongLifts start every single workout with back squats. But is that really the best way to do it? Sometimes, yes. If the lift we’re most eager to improve is the back squat, and if the muscle we’re most interested in bulking up is our quads, then yeah, starting every workout with the back squat makes sense. But what if we’re trying to get stronger at the bench press? Or what if we’re eager to bulk up our shoulders? […]

  30. […] The overhead press is first and foremost a shoulder exercise, and it’s excellent for that. It’s one of the only lifts that does a great job of bulking up both our front and side delts, helping us to build bigger and broader shoulders. […]

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