How To Build Broader Shoulders

Is it possible to build broader shoulders? If you’re an ectomorph, chances are you have a thinner bone structure, and perhaps that’s why you’re interested in finding out if you can build big, broad shoulders.

And lots of guys want broad shoulders… but why? Inside we’ll discuss why men want broad shoulders, what we can control and what we can’t, and some action steps to help you add a few inches to your shoulder circumference.


Why do men want broad shoulders?

Both men and women find broad shoulders combined with a lean waist to be ideal (study, study, study). Men want to build broader shoulders, and women find those broader shoulders incredibly attractive. This effect is so exaggerated that your shoulder-to-waist ratio is actually the most important aspect of your 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. Testosterone causes our shoulders to grow broader, whereas estrogen causes our hips to grow broader. 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, broad shoulders are also an incredible symbol of full-body strength. (In women, hips tend to be a better indicator of strength.)

Finally, because men tend to store most of their fat in their stomach, 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.

Body proportions matter when it comes to attractiveness

In this study, body proportions that signaled 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 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.

First, the bad news: 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.

You can’t change your bone structure

Bone structure is almost entirely determined by your genetics, and once it’s established, there’s nothing that you can do to change it. Research shows that your clavicles (collarbones) are already ossifying at just 5 1/2 weeks old! There is steady growth from then up to about age 12 for boys. By 12, boys have reached around 80% of their total clavicle length, and then the final growth picks up at an even faster pace. By 18 years old, your clavicle growth has reached 100% of its final length. The clavicle continues to ossify until around age 26, but your shoulders won’t grow any broader (study). This means that if you’re 18 or older, the only way to build broader shoulders is to gain muscle in your upper body.

Some people are blessed with good genetics, naturally growing long clavicles and narrow hips. They can capitalize on the the attractiveness boost without needing to gain as much muscle—although remember that muscularity is arguably more important than how long your collarbones are.

You’ll even find a lot of ectomorphs who have broad shoulders compared to their waists once they develop a decent amount of muscle. Here you can see the swimmer Michael Phelps, the Korean Actor RAIN, and Shane. After gaining some muscle (Shane had gained roughly 40 pounds by this point), it’s clear that their bone structures actually feature longer clavicles and narrower hips. You might think that you have naturally narrow shoulders, but it’s possible that you just haven’t made the most of your physique yet.

Naturally Wide Bone Structure

Ectomorphs aren’t in the best (or worst) position

When it comes to building broader shoulders, we ectomorphs are in neutral standing. We don’t have a genetic advantage or disadvantage.

It’s a mesomorphic trait to have broad shoulders and narrow hips (v-shaped physique), and it’s an endomorphic trait to have narrower shoulders and wider hips (pear-shaped physique). Ectomorphs tend to be shaped like a rectangle, with neither broad nor narrow shoulders. 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, here’s a video where Shane will teach you how to measure your bone structure so that you can see if you have naturally broad shoulders or not.

If you’ve got narrow shoulders and you’re feeling a bit envious, keep in mind that ectomorphs with wide clavicles suffer by never being able to comfortably sleep on their side…

On a more serious note, your clavicle length is just one aspect of your overall frame. We all struggle with different issues. And if your main concern is attractiveness, it’s important to realize what an amazing gift it is that we even have healthy bodies that give us every opportunity to lift weights and build muscle.

Building muscle isn’t easy, but everyone—even the hardgaineriest ectomorph in the world—can build muscle if they learn how to exercise and diet in a way that suits their body type.

Now, The Good News: What We Can Control

Alright, now for the guys with naturally narrow shoulders—guys like myself. The good news is that our shoulder muscles have a ton of growth potential—far more than most of our other muscles. 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 is considered. In addition to bulking up our shoulders, we can also change the shape of our bodies by building up bigger upper backs and chests, and also making sure that our waists are lean.

Adding Lots Of Mass To Your Upper Body

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

Consider this scenario: we have 3 ectomorphs, all with the exact same bone structure underneath. One is skinny-fat and rounder in the mid-section, one is a classically skinny ectomorph, and the last one has gained 20 pounds of muscle mass, primarily around his shoulder girdle. 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 20 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 now-broad shoulders.

Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, Skinny Ectomorph, And Ripped Ectomorph

Why 20 pounds? We’ve found that, generally, gaining 20 pounds of lean mass will bump you up a t-shirt size. So if you’re wearing a size small right now, adding 20 pounds will get your t-shirt up to a medium.

When I was 23, I added 5.5 inches in my shoulder measurements during my first 90 days of bulking. This brought me from a small size tee 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 size large.

If you need help building lean mass, I’d highly recommend checking out all of our free content and our full program. In our Bony to Beastly Program, we guarantee that a skinny beginner can gain at least 20 pounds within just his first 3 months, and we put extra emphasis on building broader shoulders, so you can expect to gain several inches on your shoulders within that timeframe. The Bony to Beastly 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 lines up with your goals. The vast majority of bulking programs are not designed to emphasize shoulder growth. In fact, many lifting programs are heavily weighted towards bulking up your lower body. Bulking down, so to speak.

A 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, and because most of the assistance exercises will be centred around improving your squat and deadlift, your lower body will just be emphasized all the more.

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.

In either case, when combined with a muscle-building diet, your muscle mass will go to where it’s being told it’s needed—to your lower body. Since our program is designed to build a classically masculine, athletic and attractive physique, we put most of our bulking priority on your upper body, which is actually where most guys need extra muscle the most. When you’re carrying furniture, carrying groceries, carrying people, etc, you’ll probably struggle because of your grip, back, biceps or shoulder strength—upper body issues.

We also designed our program to help you look good, so we’ve put even more emphasis on your shoulders, chest and upper back. Besides, looking as attractive as possible is “functional” in its own way, and it’s also a visual signal that you’re building a balanced, healthy, masculine physique—that’s why it looks so good in the first place. So we consider building broad shoulders incredibly important.

Also keep in mind that posture plays a big role in how broad your shoulders look. If your upper back is rounding forward and your shoulders are caving inwards, it will make your shoulders look far narrower than they actually are. (We emphasize posture in our program as well.)

Building Up Bigger Deltoids

Your shoulders have 3 sets of fibres, the front delts (anterior deltoids), middle delts (lateral deltoids), and rear delts (posterior deltoids). Building up your strength and size in all 3 sets of fibres will allow you to add quite a few inches to your shoulders. If you’re a skinny guy, you’ll probably be able to gain 5–10 inches in your shoulders.

Many people have terrible overhead mobility, often due to spending most of their day sitting and working at their desks. This causes their shoulders to cave in forwards, making it far harder to build broader shoulders.

Everyone has seen crazy-looking cannonball shoulders that look extremely round. And they look great because of what it signals: optimal shoulder health. They have strength in all ranges of motion, and that well-rounded strength shows. We often fall into the trap of only targeting the muscles we can see in the mirror, so keep in mind that we shouldn’t neglect our rear deltoids and our other postural muscles, such as the external rotators.

The bulk of your shoulder width will come from your front and side delts, and these muscles can be trained with heavy pressing, both horizontally (bench pressing) and vertically (overhead pressing). As we mentioned above, these are very strong, beefy muscles with a ton of growth potential, as you can see above. They’ll grow the quickest when you combine heavy compound movements with some shoulder isolation lifts.

Your rear deltoids are smaller, and they have less growth potential, but they’re incredibly important as well. Once you get them strong enough, they’ll help hold your shoulders in the right place, which will make your shoulders look far better, improve your range of motion, and reduce the risk of injuring your shoulders (and lower back). They’ll even add some of that round “pop” to your shoulders from the side view.

In terms of exercises, fairly heavy bench pressing and overhead pressing will stimulate the fronts and sides of your shoulders quite well, and then push-ups and lateral raises make for a good lighter lifts to do afterwards. Your rear delts can also be stimulated with bigger compound movements first, like heavy rowing and chin-ups. Then they can be targeted with the lighter assistance lifts, like facepulls and rear-delt flyes.

Facepulls are less common but incredibly effectiveso here’s how you can do the Facepull if you have access to a cable machine. What makes the facepull 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 you’re working out from home, you can do the bent-over facepull as a dumbbell alternative:

Overall, the overhead shoulder press is the best exercise for building up your shoulders, provided there’s 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 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 facepull, soon you should be able to progress to a full overhead press.

Get your internally rotated shoulders back into a neutral position

Again, because the modern lifestyle can involve so much time spent sitting at a desk, it’s common to develop internally rotated shoulders, which is shaving inches off of your shoulder breadth. The best thing you can do to improve your posture is to develop the muscular strength required to hold your body in the proper position. But you also need to work on your range of motion and movement patterns, so it often helps to do correctional exercises like the ones Marco demonstrates here and here. Best of all, you could follow an intelligently programmed muscle-building program, like ours, where we focus on gaining size and strength in a way that also considers posture.

Fixing up your posture ties back into the earlier section on the roundness of your shoulders. Once you’re able to lift heavy weights through a full range of motion with good form, your shoulders will get rounder and more aesthetic because you’ll be using the entire length of your muscle fibres when lifting. (This is also why learning to use a deeper range of motion when squatting will lead to better leg development.)

Your call: do you want big traps compared to your shoulders?

Some bros on the internet advise limiting the growth of your trapezius “trap” muscles. Your traps are the muscles that connect your shoulders to your neck. They argue that having small traps will make your shoulders look squarer instead of rounder. Maybe there’s some truth to that.

However, if broad shoulders are so attractive because they symbolize strength and masculinity, then the exact same thing should be true with your traps. Men have a disproportionately large amount of androgen receptors in their entire shoulder girdle, meaning that the more masculine a guy is, the bigger his shoulders and traps will be.

Broad Shoulders and Trapezius Muscles

So you could say that mountainous traps, like broad shoulders, can give you a distinctly masculine look. Plus, if you get good at carrying heavy things—which you most definitely should do—then your traps will grow accordingly. As such, the traps are one of the best muscles to signify functional strength.

Also keep in mind that most skinny guys have naturally thinner necks, and building up bigger trap muscles is one of the best ways for a skinny guy to build up a thicker, stronger neck. (Look at how the above illustration changes the shape of the guy’s neck even though his neck muscles haven’t been enlarged.)

Your call.

Bonus: The Fit Of Your Clothes

Given that having an inverted triangle body shape will make you look more attractive, it also helps if you choose clothes that give you a v-tapered silhouette. Most t-shirts are cut to fit like a box, so building up bigger shoulders and upper body muscles can cause your shirts to drape more loosely around your waist. Your shoulders will still appear broad compared to your head and legs, so your hard work will still be visible, but it won’t be emphasized.

Some people recommend getting your tees tailored to remove the extra material around your waist. Some recommend buying shirts with an athletic or slim-fit cut. And some other people tuck in their shirts (which is what Shane does). This saves him the cost and hassle of tailoring. It does, however, leave him with a tucked in tee…


We really hope that this article helps you build broader shoulders, and gives you some peace of mind if you’ve been worrying about having a narrow bone structure. Wherever you find yourself, you have quite a lot of control over your shoulder-to-waist ratio. It just might mean choosing a weightlifting program that puts more emphasis on your shoulders relative to your hips and legs.

And as a bonus, by the time you finish building broad shoulders, you’ll also be a truly strong man.

So to recap: our three main tips for how to build broader shoulders:

  • Even if you’ve got short clavicles, you can build up far broader shoulders. But keep in mind that your three-dimensional (3D) body shape matters too, meaning that you can improve your ratio even more by also bulking up your back and chest.
  • Work on your shoulders with a variety of compound and isolation exercises to make them bigger, but also focus on your overall posture and shoulder mobility so that your shoulders become rounder and more aesthetic. This will also stop your shoulders from caving in forwards, which makes them appear narrower.
  • Be grateful that this is something largely under your control. If you want broader shoulders, you can build them.

And if you’re a naturally skinny guy who wants to be walked through this entire process, we guarantee that we can help you gain 20 pounds within 3 months of starting The Bony to Beastly Program. We specialize in hardgainers and ectomorphs, and we know how important building broad shoulders is, so we’ve heavily emphasized shoulder growth in our workout programming.

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  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!

  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


      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. […] 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. Here are the three best exercises for building your delta, along with some great shoulder workouts.

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