muscular upper body

In today’s post I’m answering a question that recently popped up on my Facebook Page in regards to upper body training…

facebook question

Although part of this just comes down to a matter of perspective since everyone will perceive physiques differently, I think it’s safe to say that most lifters do tend to have the wrong idea on this one.

Take a look around at what the average guy in the gym is doing, and where do you usually see them directing the highest percentage of their upper body training focus?

Typically it’s on the chest and arms.

These are generally considered to be the “showy muscles” of the body, and most lifters (particularly beginners) are under the impression that these are somehow the most important areas to develop.

Ultimately you should be training every muscle on your body with equal emphasis, but the reality is that the chest and arms are actually not the most important muscles to build up if your goal is to appear as big and strong as possible.

The pecs, biceps and triceps are actually quite a bit smaller in terms of total mass than most people think, and they don’t provide as much of a contribution to your overall physique as two other areas that are sometimes treated as an after-thought…

The 2 Most Important Upper Body Muscle Groups For That Thick, Powerful Look

big upper body

So, which muscle groups am I talking about here?

If you really want to achieve the most visibly impressive upper body in terms of overall size and “power”, the most two most important areas that you’ll want to add size and thickness to are actually your delts and traps.

It doesn’t matter how well-developed your chest and arms are; if you’re sporting a pair of small, narrow shoulders and have no trap height or thickness to speak of, your upper body will never have that truly wide and powerful look.

On the other hand, if you DO have those round, “3D” shoulders paired with a thick upper back to match, you’ll still look pretty impressive even if your chest and arms are lagging body parts.

Of course a big chest and arms are impressive too, but if you’re one of the many lifters out there who puts more emphasis on those areas in your training, you’re ultimately diverting your effort onto something that just isn’t quite as important as you might think.

So, how do you build up your shoulders and traps as effectively as possible for a big upper body that really stands out?

I’ve discussed this quite a bit in previous posts and videos, so I’ll link you to a few important resources below that you’ll definitely want to check out…

How To Build Big Shoulders

big shoulders

The delts are separated into three individual heads: the anterior head (front), lateral head (side) and posterior head (rear).

shoulder heads

The anterior head is already very heavily stimulated during all of your regular compound pressing exercises, so there’s no need to specifically isolate it with “front raise” types of exercises.

On top of that, the anterior head is actually the least important of the three to develop when it comes to creating that “round” look, since it’s located at the front of the shoulder and doesn’t “pop out” in the same way as the other two heads.

For that wide and thick upper body look, the primary focus should be on building up the lateral and posterior heads, with the lateral portion being the most important of all.

lateral deltoid

The lateral head is most effectively built using, you guessed it, lateral raises.

Most people make a lot of mistakes on this exercise however, and this is the post you’ll want to check out to learn how to execute them for the best results:

7 Side Lateral Raise Mistakes To Avoid For Bigger Side Delts

The posterior head will receive some decent stimulation during your compound rowing movements for back, but it should still be directly isolated in order to maximize its development.

Here are the best movements you can use for that purpose:

The Top 3 Rear Deltoid Exercises

These lateral and posterior deltoid exercises in combination with all of your compound upper body pressing and pulling will easily be enough to build those impressive shoulders you’re after.

Here is the twice-per-week shoulder routine I personally use at the moment for reference:

Cable Lateral Raises – 3 x 8-10
Face Pulls – 3 x 8-10
Standing Reverse Cable Fly – 3 x 8-10

How To Build Big Traps

big traps

The best way to directly train your traps is through the use of shrugging exercises.

I recently made a post outlining how to do shrugs in the most effective way, as most people make several key errors on this one that highly reduce their effectiveness.

You’ll definitely want to read through the following post as it could make a very big difference in your trap training and bottom line development:

How To Do Shrugs The RIGHT Way For Maximum Trap Gains

Shrugs will mainly target the upper area of the traps, while the middle and lower fibers will be hit hard during your compound back exercises, such as rows, pull ups and pulldowns.

If you’re performing deadlifts or rack pulls as part of your back training routine, these will also stimulate the entire upper back area as well.

The Bottom Line On Building A BIG Upper Body

big upper body

Every single muscle group on the upper body is obviously important and plays its own unique role in building a complete and well-rounded physique.

However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the typical “showy” muscles like the chest and arms are somehow the most important areas or that they should be given more of the focus.

If you want to appear as thick, wide and powerful as possible, it’s actually your delts and upper back that will make the biggest contribution, especially when you’re wearing regular clothes.

Check out the resources I’ve linked above when it comes to proper delt and trap training, start treating these areas with just as much emphasis as everything else, and you should notice a clear improvement in your upper body development as a result.

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