Top 5 Exercises to Build Big Shoulders

If you wish to develop big shoulders, we’re in a good position to advise. We’ve looked after numerous British National Weightlifting champions, numerous Olympic weightlifting athletes, and some of the top powerlifters in the world. I'm here to help you comprehend why having larger shoulders is your need and how to achieve this objective.

Shoulder strength and development are essential for a variety of reasons. To begin with, having broader shoulders makes you appear more muscular and imparts a more dominant, masculine appearance. This can be advantageous in the gym, on the field, and in daily life. Additionally, strong shoulders can improve posture and overall body stability, both of which are essential for a healthy lifestyle.

But ask yourself, why do you want big shoulders? Is it to look good, or is there a functional need? If it’s purely to look good, then ask yourself if this is really needed. Looking good and being functionally strong are two different things. Building big shoulders can be done through non-functional, unilateral, one-dimensional machine training. However, this is not functional.

Now, let's move on to the actual process of shoulder development. For optimal results, it is essential to incorporate a variety of exercises into your routine. Working across different planes, with different exercises and with variation is important for functional benefits (but will make it harder to build bulk). Typical bulk building exercises will consist of shoulder presses (military presses), lateral raises, upright rows, incline chest presses, and supine lateral raises. You should also include pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips to strengthen your upper back and rear deltoids.

However functional gains come from using cables, dumbbells, and body-weight exercises. Gymnastics is one of the most functional ways to build immense shoulder strength, using your body weight on rings or bars to support yourself.

Functionally, improving strength of the rotator cuff are key, and using lighter weights and exercise bands are important for this. However, this won’t give you big shoulders. They will, however, make your shoulders functionally stronger.

I recommend performing eight to twelve repetitions and three to four sets of each exercise. This will help to increase your shoulder size and strength. Importantly, you should vary your exercises and rep ranges to keep your muscles guessing, thereby avoiding plateaus and optimising your results.

Bare in mind many people see us with shoulder injury through repetitive use. And shoulder pain is a real stubborn injury, especially when the rotator cuff muscles are involved. Rest and recovery are an essential component for muscle growth. Ensure you give your body time to recover and rebuild after exercise. If you hammer the same exercises each day you’ll cause an over-use injury and you’ll probably be one of the athletes lying on our treatment table getting treatment. This can be prevented by obtaining sufficient rest and sleep and consuming a wholesome balanced diet.

Our Top 5 Exercises to Build Big Shoulders:

1. Dumbbell Arnold Press

Stand shoulder width apart with a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing towards you at chin height, drive the arms upwards while simultaneously rotating your hands to an outward facing position. Descend slowly bringing the dumbbells back to the starting position and maintaining your forearm position remains vertical throughout until the dumbbells return to chin height. Repeat 10-12 reps for three sets.

2. Kettlebell Alternating Press

Sit on the bench with feet shoulder width apart with a kettlebell in each hand and shoulders at a 90-degree angle, drive one arm upwards at a time upwards while keeping the opposite kettlebell at shoulder height. Descend slowly maintaining your forearm position remains vertical throughout until the kettlebell returns to shoulder height and repeat with the opposite arm. Repeat 10-12 reps for three sets.

3. Kettlebell Power Clean and Press

Stand shoulder width apart with a kettlebell in one hand. Slight bend at the hip, knee and ankle and shrug the kettlebell up and catch at the highest point, use the delt to cushion the catch. Catch the kettlebell with your palm facing inwards and knees bent to stabilise, and then push the kettlebell up to the sky. Slowly bring the kettlebell back down to the shoulder and then below hip height and repeat the movement for 10-12 reps, for three sets.

4. Cable Upright Row

Stand shoulder width apart with your hands gripping the cable handle and tips of the thumbs touching. Drive the elbows towards the sky lift your hands up towards your chin. Slowly descend while maintaining an upright position throughout returning to the starting position and repeat for 10-12 reps, for three sets.

5. Plate High Raise Above Head

Stand shoulder width apart with a plate down by your hips. Hold the plate either side and raise the plate above your head. On the descent maintain a slow pace. Repeat the movement once returning to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 times, for three sets.

Having strong, well-developed shoulders is significant for a variety of reasons. To develop larger shoulders, you must perform a combination of exercises, vary the number of repetitions and sets, and allow your body to recover. However, shoulders can also be delicate when overworked, with the rotator cuff muscles being particularly problematic – so take care. With this advice and a little bit of effort, you can safely attain the shoulders of your dreams!

At Surrey Physio, we see many people with arm and shoulder pain. Please call us on 02086856930 for a consultation with one of our team of therapists. We use the latest technology to support patient’s recovery. You can also book online by going to We also provide online consultations for over-seas people who need advice.