You don’t need heavy-duty gym equipment to develop strong shoulders. In fact, the only weight you’ll need to carry is your own.
As a fitness expert with over a decade of experience training clients in calisthenics, I’ve seen how bodyweight training can build massive shoulders.
In this article, I’ll take you through seven highly effective body weight exercises that’ll give you a great shoulder workout.
- The best bodyweight shoulder exercises include pike push-ups, wall walks, handstand holds, shoulder taps, incline push-ups, handstand push-ups, and shoulder circles.
- Your shoulder muscles, especially your rotator cuffs, are easily susceptible to injury, so warming them up before a workout is important.
- Research from PubMed shows that performing your reps (including bodyweight exercises) slowly allows you to build muscle size and strength faster.
- Before hitting any bodyweight exercise, we highly recommend taking a pre-workout to fuel your performance.
Top 7 Bodyweight Exercises for Your Shoulders
Based on our research, these are the top seven bodyweight exercises that’ll help you build shoulder strength and size.
1. Pike Push-Ups
Here’s how to do them with perfect form:
- Begin by getting into a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your feet hip-width apart. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
- Walk your feet toward your hands until your body forms a 90-degree “V” shape, like the downward dog yoga pose.
- Face your head toward your feet and lower yourself by bending your elbows until your head touches the floor.
- Push back up to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
Note: If you haven’t done a push-up before, we don’t recommend doing this exercise. Don't do it until you can do at least 20 push-ups in a go.
2. Wall Walks
Wall walks are a challenging and super-effective shoulder exercise that uses almost all of your body weight.
They also target your core and help you build stability.
It’s not beginner-friendly, so perform them once you can do 15 incline push-ups.
Here’s how to do a wall walk with excellent form:
- Start by getting into a plank position in front of a wall with your feet pressed flat against the wall.
- Keep your arms straight by positioning your hands directly below your shoulder about shoulder-width apart for optimal stability, keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Walk your feet up on the wall while walking your hands toward the wall at the same time, keeping your core tight, legs straight, and your hands and shoulders in line throughout the movement.
- Continue this movement until your body is nearly vertical.
- Carefully walk back down, maintaining a tight core, back to the starting position.
- Repeat for reps.
3. Handstand Hold
The handstand hold is an isometric exercise (exercises that involve static contraction of your muscles without any joint movements) that works your delts, lats, core, and shoulder muscles.
To do a handstand hold:
- Walk into a handstand (use the first four steps of the instructions under ‘Wall Walks’).
- When your body is almost vertical against the wall, keep your core tight and focus on flexing the shoulder muscles.
- Hold this position for as long as you can.
- When you’re approaching failure, carefully put your hands down.
- Rest and repeat for sets.
Handstand holds are an excellent way to build isometric shoulder strength and toughen up your rotator cuff muscles.
4. Shoulder Taps
Shoulder taps are another variation of the push-up that work the shoulders, triceps, chest, and core.
Here's how to do them with good form:
- Begin by getting into a high plank position (the up position in a push-up) with your hands under your shoulders and feet shoulder-width apart. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe.
- Lift your right shoulder, tap your left shoulder, and bring it back down to the high plank position.
- Repeat the same with the opposite shoulder.
- Repeat for reps.
5. Incline Push-Ups
The incline push-up is a modified version of the traditional push-up. They’re extremely beginner-friendly, so I recommend them to clients who
If you can’t do regular push-ups, this variation is a great way to build strength until you’re strong enough to do your first push-up.
Here’s how you do this exercise with good form:
- Find an elevated surface, such as a bench or desk (the higher the surface, the easier the exercise).
- Place your hands on the edge of the surface with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Form a straight line with your body by extending your legs out behind you and standing on the balls of your feet. This is your incline push-up position.
- Bend your elbows and lower yourself toward the surface.
- When your chest hits the surface, push back to the incline plank position and focus on your shoulder muscles when doing so.
- Repeat for reps.
6. Handstand Push-Ups
The handstand push-up is an excellent test of upper-body strength. It’s not beginner-friendly, so we recommend doing it only once you’ve mastered the handstand hold.
Here’s how to do handstand push-ups with good form:
- Begin by getting into a handstand position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Support your feet on a wall for balance.
- Lower yourself by slowly bending your elbows until they’re at a 45-degree angle (your head should barely touch the floor).
- Push back up to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
When doing this exercise, focus on “pushing the ground away” instead of pushing yourself up. This will engage the right muscles and improve your form.
7. Shoulder Circles
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly raise your shoulders towards your ears, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so.
- Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion.
- Continue the circular motion, drawing your shoulder blades down and back as you finish the circle.
- Repeat for reps, and then do the same with backward circles.
Benefits of Bodyweight Shoulder Workout
While nothing beats brute strength training your muscle groups with a barbell and dumbbells, incorporating bodyweight exercises is a great way to add variation to your workout.
Here are some of the benefits of building your shoulders using bodyweight exercises:
- Builds functional strength: Most bodyweight exercises are based on functional movements. Performing these exercises regularly helps you build functional strength that has a carryover effect on other movements.
- Helps master your body’s weight: Mastering your body weight is one of many tests of strength. By using your body’s weight for shoulder exercises, you can progressively learn how to carry your own weight.
- Can be done anywhere: You don’t need a gym to do a bodyweight shoulder workout. So you can easily do it at home or on the go.
- No equipment needed: The only equipment you need for bodyweight shoulder exercises is a floor and wall.
Making It Challenging
Here’s how you can make bodyweight shoulder exercises more challenging:
- Add a good weight vest: You can add weight to your upper body using a weight vest. This will make your shoulder workouts more challenging.
- Do movements slowly: Research from PubMed shows that performing your reps slowly allows you to build muscle size and strength faster .
- Strong focus on eccentric movements: Another study we found on PubMed suggested that the eccentric phase of your lifts increases your shoulder strength and size gains .
- Use a full range of motion: Compared to all joints in the upper body, the shoulder joint has the longest range of motion (ROM). Using full ROM in your shoulder exercises strengthens your shoulder joint more effectively than a shorter movement.
There is no muscle group that is more susceptible to injury than the shoulder muscles.
Here are some friendly tips to lower your chances of injury when doing bodyweight shoulder exercises:
- Aim for perfect form: Performing any exercise with good form increases your hypertrophy and strength gains. It also decreases your chances of injury.
- Do a dynamic warm-up: Perform a dynamic shoulder warm-up before diving into bodyweight exercises. Options include jumping jacks, dynamic stretches, shoulder rotations, or any exercise that works a sweat and gets your body limber for movements.
- Do a cool-down after lifts: Finish your bodyweight shoulder workout with light stretches and a quick low-intensity cardio session.
- Build your rotator cuffs: Weak rotator cuff muscles make you highly susceptible to injury during heavy lifts. Strengthen these muscles with a daily rotator cuff routine to decrease your chances of shoulder injuries.
- Rest & recovery: Lifting without proper rest for your muscles contributes to poor muscle recovery and higher rates of injury. Ensure you get plenty of sleep and take the right supplements for faster muscle recovery.
“Cooling down is as important as warming up your muscles. It will help you relax and prevent any delayed post-workout injury.”
- Charushila Biswas, ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist
How Do You Build Shoulders With Body Weight?
You can build shoulders with your body weight by doing challenging shoulder workouts, adding more reps and sets, and using progressive overload. You can also do your reps slowly and focus on the eccentric to build more muscle and strength.
Can I Train Shoulders Every Day?
Yes, you can train shoulders every day as long as you don’t train them with multiple reps and sets with heavy weights. A better strategy would be to train your rotator cuff and mid-back muscles every day to build stability. This will help you lift heavier weights on shoulder days.
Is Heavy Weight Better for Shoulders?
No, heavier weights are not better for the shoulders. Working with light to medium weights is the best way to make your deltoid muscles bigger and faster. If you lift heavy weights on shoulder days, complement that with lighter weights on other days.
Key Shoulder Mobility Drills
The shoulder joint is one of the most complex in the human body, offering a wide range of motion. However, this flexibility also makes it vulnerable to injuries, and I've seen many people easily injure their shoulders without a proper warm-up drill.
Incorporating mobility drills helps in maintaining the health of this joint, ensuring that you can perform various exercises without limitations or pain.
- Wall slides: Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Place your arms against the wall in a 'W' shape. Slowly slide them up to form a 'Y', keeping your arms and back in contact with the wall. This drill enhances scapular mobility and opens up the chest.
- Dynamic blackburns: Lie face down with arms extended in a 'T' position, thumbs pointing up. Lift your arms off the ground, then sweep them forward to a 'Y' position, and finally bring them down in a 'W' shape. This dynamic movement enhances mobility across different planes.
- Thoracic spine rotations: Sit on your heels, place one hand behind your head, and extend the other out. Rotate your upper body and elbow towards the extended arm, then rotate back, aiming your elbow to the ceiling. This exercise mobilizes the thoracic spine, directly benefiting shoulder mobility.
- Scapular wall holds: Stand facing a wall, extend your arms, and press your palms against the wall without bending your elbows. Push your chest away from the wall, engaging your scapula. This drill strengthens the scapular region and improves shoulder stability.
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