Building Broad Shoulders


Question: I really have been trying to get that “V” tapered look of wide shoulders and small waist but I can’t get my back to grow. What are some exercises I can do to build back width?
Answer: The broad shouldered look that you wish to attain comes with a price. You’ll pay with lot’s of hard work no matter what exercises you do. You have to leave your ego at the door for a while as well using lighter weights to get a feel for the exercises since you can’t see your back as you can other body parts. Consider how wide your bone structure is across your shoulder area. If you have short clavicles then you’ll need to train your delts hard to build those as well as your back to make up for your short bone structure. Larry Scott the first Mr. Olympia and locally, Jack Davenport a Mr. NC back in the late 70’s both had short clavicles and built enormous deltoids that looked like half a melon slapped on each shoulder. On the other hand Steve Reeves a Mr. Universe in the late 40’s was blessed with a broad shoulder structure and had a natural “V” taper without much effort. Let’s assume you have a good shoulder structure.
To build a broad back you have to do pull-ups. They build a broad back faster than typical pulldowns. Pulldowns are useful and necessary in your training but not the cornerstone like pull-ups. Using a machine to assist in your pull-ups is not as productive either. If you can’t do them begin by using a partner to help you up and lower yourself down on a 3 count and do 5 negative pull-ups this way for 3 sets. If no partner is available then use a bench to hop to the top position and lower yourself down. Do these 2 times a week beginning your back training with them and work them into your chest training as well.
After pull-ups move on to bent-over barbell rows. Some don’t like these because if done incorrectly they can place your lower back at risk. To do them well keep your ribcage elevated during the exercise without allowing your shoulders to round forward. This keeps your lower back from rounding and placing stress on the discs in your lumbar area. Also don’t lock out your knees but keep them loose like a shock absorber. As you pull the bar, don’t begin the movement with your lower back but pull through your lats all the way to your lower ribcage or belly button. Fight to maintain the flex at the contracted position against your belly and lower the bar without allowing it to fall back to start position without resistance.
One seldom used exercise for back that can help build width is the dumbbell pullover, especially when used in conjunction with a pulldown behind the neck. Lay across a bench with the dumbbell between both hands and lower it over your head keeping your elbows unlocked until you feel a deep stretch. Then pull it back to starting position in front of your face. Continue for 8 to 10 reps stretching deeper until you can feel you upper arms about parallel to your ears. As soon as you finish, move directly to the pulldown bar and use a wide grip and pull the bar behind your head to just below ear level. Then return to the top position. Do three sets of each for 8 to 10 reps. Use moderate weights, don’t lean too far forward or yank the bar because your shoulders are in an open position and more susceptible to injury if your form is not perfect. If you have existing shoulder or rotator cuff issues then lightly experiment with these exercises to insure that you do yourself no harm. Finish with Low Cable Rows to get a good stretch across your lats. Do three to 4 sets on these and do 8 to 10 reps each time. Change your grip on the Pull-ups, Barbell Rows and Low Rows to give your routine variety and within a few weeks you should see changes in your width.
If you weren’t blessed with a wide shoulder girth then you need to train delts with a vengeance as well as your back training to build overall shoulder width. Your form on shoulder training especially Side Laterals needs to be close to perfect. Too many people do these by slinging the weights to the top position and dropping them back to their sides without really doing anything productive to their muscles in the process. Yeah, you are going to have to use a little body English to get heavier dumbbells to a position parallel to the floor but you need to resist them on the way down. Make the muscles do the work. If you can’t control the weight then you need to lower the weight to a point you can control. If you use a weight you can do sets of 10 with on one shoulder training day then the next time do sets of 15 or 20 reps with a lighter weight.
Here are a couple of sample routines:

Routine 1

  • Side Laterals – 3 x 10
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 x 10 x 2, 1 x 8(1 x 4-6) This means do a drop set on the last set decreasing the weight by 25 to 30% without any rest and doing another 4 to 6 reps.
  • Bent-Over Rear Delts – 3 x 10
  • Dumbbell Upright Rows – 3-4 x 8-10 reps On these, place the dumbbells close at the bottom of the exercise and pull the dumbbells wide as you lift them until they are at shoulder width at the top of the exercise.

Routine 2

  • Side Laterals – 3 x 15 – 20
  • Dumbbell Upright Rows – 3 – 4 x 8 – 10
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press – *Railroads – 3 sets
  • High Pulley Rows – 3 x 10

* Railroads are done by beginning with lighter weight and doing 5 reps. Go up 5 or 10 pounds and do another 5 reps. Go up again 5 or 10 pounds and do another 5 reps, then go back down to your weight on the second set and do 5 reps. Return to the weight on the first set and do 5 reps. This is one set. You’ll do 3 of these and the heaviest set of the three should be difficult to complete. Now go build some delts.
God bless and keep training.