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How to Build Big Shoulders, Part 1

shoulderBig shoulders… man you gotta love em.

A man with a set of thick, wide shoulders looks like he can carry the weight of the whole world on them. 

He displays an air of confidence that is almost effortless and people can’t help but notice. 

The fellas know this is a man they don’t want to mess with and the ladies know without a doubt that they do. 

Unlike his abs, that are no doubt equally impressive, he doesn’t have to be shirtless for everyone around him to know he hits the iron. 

His shoulders scream to the world “YES… I train!”

Even the huge chest and arms he’s worked so hard for are somewhat hidden as he goes through the work day in his dress shirts. 

But the shoulders… those shoulders refuse to be ignored. They DEMAND attention!

When the work day is over and it’s time to cut loose, just let THIS man put on a tank top or wife beater.

Shit, there’s not a need for a single pickup line or canned routine. Women notice and they almost beat him over the head with the signs of attraction they send his way.

So, if you want to be a man with the kind of shoulders that get panties wet….read on, my friend.

Ready? Good. Let’s get started!


It would be irresponsible of me not to at least make you aware of how very important it is to keep your shoulders healthy. Especially considering that I’ve suffered a couple of devastating shoulder injuries, one of which required surgery. 

Take the time (just 5-10 min) to warm up thoroughly before every weight training session. 

Use the treadmill, stationary bike, jumping jacks… whatever. Anything that will get the blood flowing, cause you to break a light sweat and elevate your heart rate will work. 

Be sure to complete several light warm up sets before lifting heavy and/or pushing yourself hard. This applies to any muscle group you’re training but it’s especially important for your shoulders. 

The same is true of lifting form. Use PROPER form! 

Throwing around a weight with sloppy form, just for the sake of saying you lifted something heavy, may or may not catch up to you today but I guarantee it eventually WILL

The shoulder joint is delicate therefore it’s one of the most commonly injured areas. 

In addition to a general warm up, I also recommend a few sets of specific shoulder warm ups such as arm circles, holding a 2 lb. plate, and internal/external rotations with a VERY light resistance band, cable machine or dumbbell.

Alright, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the shit that builds boulder shoulders!

1. High Incline Dumbbell Presses

When most guys want to build size and strength in their shoulders, they automatically think of overhead shoulder presses, using either a barbell or dumbbells. And, really, you can’t blame them. 

Shoulder presses are an EXCELLENT compound exercise for building mass in the delts. However, they are ALSO an exercise which causes far too many shoulder injuries. 

This is largely due to guys using more weight than they can handle with proper form. However, the exercise itself is at least partially to blame.

When setting up to do shoulder presses most every lifter will either perform them standing upright or they will do them while sitting and use an upright 90o angle bench. 

The reality is, this is one of the most unnatural angles from which to press and, even when using absolute perfect form, it can cause some serious strain on your shoulders, specifically the rotator cuff(s). 

Repeated use of this exercise, or even 1 bad rep where your form slips, can leave you unable to train for months or, even worse, on an operating table.

Now, I’m not saying abandon this exercise all together (every movement has its risks) but I do recommend that you reduce how often you do it and begin to work in some High Incline Dumbbell Presses.

To perform them, set an adjustable bench to an incline of anywhere between 50o (5 degrees above the standard incline angle used for working your chest) to 85o (5 below the standard 90 degrees that most people use). 

As you raise the angle of the bench slightly above where it’s normally set for Incline Bench Presses, the emphasis of the resistance (weight) is placed more on your shoulders than your chest. 

If you perform these properly, with a challenging weight for around 8-12 reps, you will feel a great pump in your anterior (front) delts.

At the 50o angle the emphasis will primarily be on the front delts and as you increase the incline to a steeper angle you’ll start to shift the resistance to include the frontal portion of the medial (side) delts. 

I would highly recommend rotating your pressing angles from one workout to the next.

One shoulder session use a 50o angle. The next you could go up to 70o and, the session after that, maybe use the 85o angle. 

Or, you could start with a few sets at 50o and maybe throw in a few more sets, at around a 75-80o angle, within the same training session. 

There are seemingly endless possibilities but, the point is, hit your shoulders from MANY different angles for maximum growth and development.

What makes High Incline Dumbbell Presses so valuable is the amount of stress they take OFF of the ligaments and tendons in your shoulders. 

It’s just a much more natural movement and the pathway of travel for the dumbbells allows amazing stimulation in your shoulders without as much wear and tear on your rotator cuffs. 

This element of safety allows you to push your shoulders hard, with high intensity and heavy weight, while keeping them healthy enough to continue to make gains. 

Will your upper chest receive some stimulation while doing high incline presses? You bet.

But, given that the upper chest is a common area of weakness for many men, extra stimulation in that area is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I find it efficient at times to work my upper chest and front delts in the same training session.

Give it a try and I think you’ll be convinced. 

I’m willing to bet a one night stand with Jennifer Lawrence you’ll be able to use heavier dumbbells than you would for standard, upright shoulder presses and you’ll get an amazing pump. 

The soreness you’ll feel, especially in your front delts, without even a hint of shoulder pain, should be more than enough to convince you to include high angle presses in your training arsenal.

Quick tip…

You can also do these on a Smith Machine. Just set a bench to a high incline, load up the bar and press with everything you’ve got. I like to throw this version in the mix because of the element of safety.

With this one I can go pretty damn heavy and, because the bar is guided along a “track”, my stabilizer muscles don’t need to balance the weight. All I really have to focus on is pushing. 

This is a great option if you have some shoulder issues and don’t want to risk the weight crashing down on you, should something go wrong.

Or it can be thrown in after regular free weight presses, when you’re likely to start tiring out, to thoroughly exhaust all of the muscle fibers in your shoulders.

Side Lateral Raises with PROPER Form

I see so many poor souls at the gym doing what I can only guess are supposed to be side lateral raises.

Honestly, I cringe because I’m waiting for their shoulder to burst through their skin and take the guy standing next to them out. 

OK, that may be a bit dramatic but you get my point. This is an exercise I see screwed up on a DAILY basis.

I’m a huge advocate of using mostly basic, compound movements in your training routine.

These types of exercises allow you to go heavy, work multiple muscle groups at once and they build size and strength. 

However, I personally find it difficult to completely stimulate the medial (side) delts without the use of some type of lateral raise. 

So, given that lateral raises are a single joint, isolation exercise, sometimes I have to bend my own rules.  Hey, whatever the fuck it takes to build muscle, right?

Upright rows are in fact a compound movement that, when performed properly, do an excellent job of hitting the side delts. 

However, if you’ve read one of my other fitness articles “5 Exercises You Need to Stop Doing” you know how I feel about upright rows. 

In short, they wreak havoc on your shoulders. The risk vs reward just isn’t worth it, in my humble opinion.

So, we’re left with lateral raises. 

Now, the standard upright 90o shoulder presses I talked about above do actually hit the front portion of your side delts but, I feel that lateral raises are necessary to fully develop them. 

You just HAVE to do them correctly in order to maximize muscle growth and minimize rotator cuff abuse.

Also, keep in mind that although lateral raises are technically one exercise, there are several variations of ways you can perform them, along with a slew of effective ways to increase the intensity of the movement. 

Specifically you can perform what I call 11/1 o’clock lateral raises as well as 10/2 o’clock lateral raises.  

What the 10/2 and 11/1 refers to is the angle that you raise the dumbbells out from your body. Think of it as if you were facing a gigantic clock. 

For example, the 10/2 version would have you raising your left arm/dumbbell at an angle towards the 10 and the right arm/dumbbell towards the 2. 

The 11/1 version places emphasis on the front most portion of the side delts and the 10/2 version shifts the emphasis to a different region of the side delts. 

In time, these small adjustments add up to a level of development much greater than if you were to simply raise your arms out to the sides every time.

It may have already dawned on you that both of these versions will have you raising your arms slightly towards the front of your body. I know, you probably see most people doing lateral raises directly out to their sides.

Performing them that way is much harder on your shoulders and, doing them as I’m suggesting, will allow you to use a heavier weight, therefore overloading your muscles and causing more growth!   

Now, in order to actually hit the side delts while raising your arms slightly towards the front of your body, you’ll have to bend forward at the waist a bit in order to align the weights with gravity. 

This means you will need to bend forward slightly more during the 11/1 version, than you will doing the 10/2, because you’re raising your arms further out in front of your body. 

Practice both versions, using light dumbbells until you get the proper form, and you’ll begin to understand and feel exactly what I’m saying. Once you master the form you can start using heavier weights. 

I almost guarantee that you’ll experience an outstanding contraction and the pump you’ll achieve in your side delts will blow you away.

Proper Exercise Technique (11/1 o’clock version)

Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.

Bend your arms, slightly, and maintain this position throughout the movement, without allowing any flexibility at the elbow joint whatsoever.

Position the hands so that the index finger is facing downward, just a bit, by rotating the arms at the shoulder joint. 

Tip: It should appear is if you are pouring out a drink. Next, lean forward enough to optimize tension on the target region of the side delts. 

Elevate the arms at the 11/1 o’clock plane of motion until the hands move just above shoulder level.

Then slowly lower them to your sides, stopping just before the upper arms are perpendicular to the ground, to maintain tension on the side delts. 

Perform each rep with a controlled tempo, meaning contract your delts hard on the way up and resist the weight on the way down, never allowing them to just fall back to your sides.

Now, the exercise technique is really the same for the 10/2 o’clock version, except you don’t need to bend at the waist quite as much and, of course, you raise the dumbbells in a plane towards the imaginary 10 with the left arm and 2 with the right.

If you’ve ever heard of the “mind-muscle connection” let me tell you, this is the time to develop it.

 Focus hard on feeling your side delts contract as you raise the weight and lower it in a smooth, controlled manner, fighting the resistance all the way down.

There is no need to pump out “power” reps when doing this exercise.

So get started….

In this 1st article I wanted to at least provide you with enough information to help you get started building your shoulders, today if you choose. And, I think I’ve managed exactly that. 

If you wanted to go to the gym tonight and train shoulders, you could hit them hard with 4-5 sets of heavy High Incline Dumbbell Presses, a couple sets of standard upright shoulder presses and then finish them off with 11/1 or 10/2 side lateral raises….

In part 2 of this series I’m going to give you some exercises to target the often neglected posterior (rear) delts and explain to you why it’s SO important for you to train them. 

I’ll also provide you with a great variation for front dumbbell raises that probably most of you have never done. 

Then I’ll cover some intensity techniques you can implement that will shock your shoulders into growth and help build some cannon ball delts. 

And, because I just can’t help myself and my need to recommend COMPOUND movements, I’ll give you a variation of an upright row that is much safer than what you may have been doing and best of all, it will blast your side delts into new growth.

Big shoulders are an absolute requirement for a true Alpha physique. 

They display rugged masculinity that is the envy of every man and the desire of every woman.  

Learning the right exercises is only HALF the battle. Now, it’s up to you to take massive action and put in the work. 

Make it your goal to build your shoulders to the fullest extent your genetics will allow.

When you’ve met your goals, and you see yourself with thick muscular shoulders, you’ll know there’s no load life can hand you, that you can’t carry on them.

Look out for Part 2, where I teach you how to build big shoulders faster, coming soon here on Women Attracted!

– Michael Wheeler

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