How to get bigger shoulders

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Kevin Mangelschots

Big, broad shoulders are often associated with physical strength in males.

Men are typically looking to improve their appearance, either for themselves, or to attract a mate.

This is how to get bigger shoulders.

What's a dumbbell shoulder press?

The dumbbell shoulder press, also called the dumbbell overhead press or military press, is a weight-lifting exercise that trains and targets mainly the shoulder muscles, more specifically the Deltoideus.

What is more, it also targets the Pectoral, Trapezius, and Triceps as synergistic muscle groups. It is the most vital exercise in my opinion to get bigger shoulders.

Furthermore, it’s typically performed in a standing position, but it can also be performed when sitting down. The reason most people perform it standing up is that it engages more muscles and heavier loads can be lifted due to this.

To perform this exercise, two dumbbells or a barbell are held in front of the shoulders. This is called the starting position. Next, both dumbbells are pushed upwards in a straight line until both elbows are extended, this is called the end position. Lower the dumbbells/barbell again to the starting position.

Which muscles does the dumbbell shoulder press work?

Picture of a man holding two dumbbells while sitting on a bench.

The military dumbbell press mainly trains the Deltoideus Anterior, the Deltoideus medialis, and the Deltoideus Lateralis. Although other synergistic muscles like the Pectorals, Trapezius, and Triceps are targeted as well.

We will describe below what functions the antagonistic muscles have.

Deltoideus Anterior

This is the front part of the Deltoideus muscle. It has multiple functions.

  • Anteversion

    Moving the shoulder/arm forward.

  • Endorotation

    Turning the shoulder inwards, towards your chest.

  • Abduction

    Moving the arm away from your body.

Deltoideus Medialis

This is the rear portion of the Deltoideus muscle. It has multiple functions as well.

  • Retroversion

    Tilting the arm/shoulder backward.

  • Exorotation

    Turning the shoulder/arm outward, away from the body.

  • Abduction

    Moving the arm away from your body.

Deltoideus Lateralis

This is the middle part of the Deltoideus muscle. It’s this part of the Deltoideus muscle which gives the shoulders a broad look. It has only one primary function, which is abduction.

If your question is “How to get wider shoulders” then this is the most important part of the deltoideus muscle to train.

  • Abduction

    Moving the arm away from your body until it hits 90°.

How to dumbbell shoulder press

A man with a red shirt performing a dumbbell shoulder press.

  1. Stand up or sit down on a bench, keep your back straight.
  2. Take a dumbbell in each hand (a barbell can also be used) and lay it down on your upper legs.
  3. Raise both dumbbells until they are in front of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward, away from your body.
  4. Push both dumbbells upwards in a straight line by extending your elbows.
  5. Lower both dumbbells in a controlled manner until they are back in the starting position, which is in front of the shoulders.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as needed.

    –> Don’t arch your back too much because doing this will turn it more into an incline bench press movement. This means there’s less focus on the shoulder muscles and more on the pectoral muscles.

Alternative exercises to build bigger shoulders

Several alternative exercises can assist you to build bigger shoulders and give them a bigger, wider look.

However, I recommend performing the exercises down below as assistance work and not as a substitute for the dumbbell overhead press.

  • Lateral raises

    Lateral raises will help you to get broader shoulders since they specifically target the Deltoideus Lateralis. The guidelines to execute them properly are as follows:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand up straight. The dumbbells should be at the side of your waist with the palms of your hands facing towards your body. This is called the starting position.
  2. Lift both dumbbells to the side in a straight line, away from your body, with a slight bend in your elbows and tilting your hands slightly forward.
  3. Lower both dumbbells in a slow and controlled manner until they are beside your body again.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as necessary.
  • Dumbbell shrugs

    Dumbbell shrugs target the anterior, medial, and lateral parts of the Deltoideus muscles, helping your overall shoulder development.

    A great side effect is that dumbbell shrugs also target the Trapezius muscle as our synergistic muscle group. Effectively making it two for the price of one. (Yay!)

    Use the following steps to perform dumbbell shrugs correctly:

  1. Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand. A barbell can also be used as a substitute. Your arms should be extended with the palms of your hands facing towards your body.
  2. Raise both dumbbells by elevating both shoulders as high as possible. Your elbows should always stay extended to obstruct the biceps from intervening when performing the exercise.
  3. Lower the dumbbells in a slow, controlled manner.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as needed
  • Front dumbbell raises

    Woman doing front dumbbell raises outside.

    Front dumbbell raises target the anterior head of the Deltoideus muscles.

    It should not be overlooked if you want your shoulders to have a full, rounded look. To execute them properly, read the following guidelines:

  1. Take a dumbbell in both hands and stand upright. Keep both dumbbells in front of the body with your elbows extended. Make sure to keep them extended during the whole exercise.

    This is what we call the starting position.

  2. Keep your torso straight. This means no swinging of your trunk. Lift the left dumbbell in a straight path in front of your body with your elbow slightly bent. Stop when your arm is parallel to the ground.
  3. Lower your left arm in a controlled manner. Make sure to keep a slight bend in your left elbow.
  4. Do the same with your right arm.
  5. Repeat for as many repetitions as necessary

Important to note is that all the above exercises can be used to get bigger shoulders at home. The only requirement is a dumbbell set, which is cheap and doesn’t take much room to store.

Final note

“Wake up and workout” written on a sign with multiple workout tools surrounding it.

Training your shoulder muscles is important for both aesthetic and functional reasons.

The shoulder joint is very mobile because our arms and hands need to be able to move freely and precisely to grab things in front, beside, and behind us.

The downside to this large range of motion of our shoulders is that the shoulder joint is not as robust as let’s say the hip or knee joint. This makes the shoulder the most flexible, yet most unstable joint of the human body.

This means it’s in your own best interest to keep the muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding your shoulders as strong as possible to stabilize the shoulder joint and prevent injuries.

Indispensable small muscles that surround the shoulder joint and keep it stable are the rotator cuff muscles. Imbalances in one of those small muscles will lead to an unstable joint, causing injuries in the process.