Across animal species, males and females develop secondary sex characteristics — physical traits that aren’t directly related to the reproductive system, but nonetheless distinguish the sexes from each other.
In males, these features are sometimes just for display, and make the animal more attractive by exhibiting its health and genetic fitness. Such is the case in the lion’s mane and the peacock’s plumage.
But these distinctive features can be functional as well, as in the case of the antlers of deer (as well as elk and moose). A buck’s antlers emerge as its testosterone rises and are a sign to does of its health, virility, and adeptness at finding food (antlers must be regrown every year and are nutritionally “expensive” to support). At the same time, antlers also enable a stag to dominate other males in sparring contests.
Humans sport secondary sex characteristics too, and while there’s a constellation of traits that makes males more sexually attractive, one that exerts a particularly salient effect is the v-shaped torso.
During childhood, boys and girls have pretty much the same physical proportions. But once puberty hits, testosterone surges in boys and estrogen rises in girls, which results in changes in the shape of their respective bodies. Males have a lot of androgen receptors in their upper bodies. When that surge of testosterone hits during puberty, it latches on to those receptors in the muscles, cartilage, and bone, and causes the shoulders, back, and chest to broaden and widen, creating that distinctively masculine v-shaped torso that starts wide at the shoulders and tapers down to a narrower waist.
A v-shaped torso is not just a visually attractive indicator of health, potency, and the ability to obtain resources (muscles take food to fuel), but also competitive prowess. As with gorillas and chimps, us human dudes use punching as a primary tool in physical fights for dominance, and the strength of one’s shoulders plays a big role in the strength of one’s swing. Big, strong shoulders are a sign to other males not to mess with you and a sign to females that you are a potential protector.
Thus, as anthropologist Richard Wrangham notes, “broad shoulders . . . are the human equivalent of antlers.”
So shoulders are man antlers.
Or mantlers, if you will.
While genetics has a lot to do with the size and definition of your man antlers, with some hard work and basic strength training movements, you can grow them to more bull-moosian proportions. To get the scoop on how to get bigger and broader shoulders, I hit up my barbell coach, Matt Reynolds, for advice.
The Main Lifts for Stronger & Bigger Shoulders
Unless you’re a bodybuilder, focusing on developing specific parts of your body is not a sound way to go about your fitness training. Fortunately, there are exercises you can do that will shape and strengthen not only your shoulders, but the rest of your physique at the same time, and which should be part of every man’s regular workouts anyway.
As Matt explains: “Of course, I’m going to recommend that all men take up a full-body barbell strength training program. Squatting, deadlifting, benching, and shoulder pressing will give you all-around useful strength and provide a balanced, strong-looking physique. With that said, two of the main barbell lifts are conducive to building man antlers: the shoulder press and deadlift.”
Barbell Shoulder Press
Besides working those mantler muscles, the standing shoulder press forces you to stabilize yourself as you perform the lift, which activates muscles down your back, core, hips, and legs.
If you want big and strong shoulders, and a steely trunk as well, make sure you’re regularly pressing.
Your traps help control the bar as it tries to pull your shoulders into protraction at the bottom and depression at the top. Your lats, the big muscles in your back just beneath the shoulder, control the bar, and keep it from swinging away from your body during the lift. Strengthening and building up your lats can go a long way in helping give your upper body a v-shape.
So while you might not feel like you’re getting a shoulder workout while you’re deadlifting, rest assured, you’re strengthening and building up your man antlers.
Accessory Lifts for Stronger and Bigger Shoulders
If you really want to kick up the growth of your man antlers, Matt recommends incorporating a few simple accessory lifts that specifically target the shoulders.
The Arnold Press is a dumbbell shoulder press variation invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his bodybuilding days. The Arnold Press recruits all of the muscles in the three sections of your deltoid muscles, which results in fuller, wider, and more defined shoulders. I love how my shoulders feel after a set of Arnold Presses. It definitely grows the man antlers.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent, as in the top of a biceps curl, so your palms are facing you.
- Press the dumbbells up, rotating them until the palms are facing forward at the top of the press. Shrug your shoulders at the top of the lift.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Do 3 sets of 10-12. Add weight or reps each week.
This is a devilishly simple but difficult lift that blasts your middle deltoid muscles. By the last rep, your shoulders will be burning.
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
- Slowly lift the weights out to the side for a count of 3 until your arms are parallel with the floor, keeping your elbows straight. Then slowly lower them back down for a count of 3. Don’t cheat by “shrugging” the weights up using your traps. Keep those arms straight and do the lifts s l o w l y for maximum deltoid blasting.
Start off with really light weight. Like 10 lbs. These suckers are hard to do.
Do 3 sets of 12. Increase weight after you can perform all sets without fatiguing.
The Man Antlers Shoulder Workout
There’s not much to Matt’s Man Antlers Shoulder Workout. This isn’t a workout for bodybuilders. Instead, it’s for regular dudes, who are focused on building their whole body rather than specific parts of it, but still want to get some bigger, wider, more defined shoulders.
Just do your regular full-body barbell training program. On the days you shoulder press or bench press, end the workout with:
- Arnold presses 3×10
- Lateral raises 3×12
That’s it. You’ll now be ready to not only confidently sport a tank top, but come out the victor should you end up in a showdown in which your antlers clash with another’s.