We use shoulders in almost every upper body movement. Weak shoulders are limiting and pose high risk injury. In this article I will show you how you can build big and strong shoulders (deltoids) through bodyweight exercises.
If you have been training for a while, whether it’s lifting or bodyweight exercises, you know that shoulder are stubborn muscles to grow. And they are also prone to injury. A shoulder injury can keep you off training for months or even years. Sometimes even end a sports career.
Since shoulders are very sensitive, proper form must be observed. The good news is that you have less risk of shoulder injury than someone who uses weights or machines.
Even if you don’t directly target the shoulders, most upper body exercises work the shoulders. Exercises like pull ups and push ups work the shoulders. But if you want to build shoulder muscles and increase overall upper body strength, do exercises which mainly target the shoulders.
Skill exercises like the handstand, planche and human flag can only be done by some with strong shoulders. The benefits don’t end there, ask any athlete and they’ll tell you shoulders play a vital role in sports. In golf strong shoulders will improve the swing and also prevent injury. This is also true in other sports – ever noticed that all NBA players have big shoulders, or how much you use the shoulders when playing backhand in tennis.
How to do bodyweight shoulder exercises safely
Here are a few tips to help you avoid shoulder injury and train for maximum gains.
- Always warm up – I know you have heard this before. Shoulder joint is made up of muscles, ligaments, humerus and scapula, and you have to increase the flow of blood in these parts before you put any stress on them. Warm up for 5-10 minutes before a shoulder workout or any other workout.
- Do exercises on your strength level – Don’t jump straight to handstand pushups if you are a beginner. Due to the sensitivity of the shoulders, only do exercises which you can do at least 3 reps.
- Stretching after shoulder workout – Stretch after doing shoulder exercises to increase the flexibility of the shoulders and increase blood flow.
- Proper form – this is important in all exercises. Make sure you read the notes in every exercise and watch a demonstration video.
Other than improving strength and performance, shoulder muscles help build an aesthetic physique. Big lattimus dorsi and big deltoids create the V look.
Bonus: These exercises will help build the trapezius muscles as well.
Now let’s look into the bodyweight exercises for strong and muscular shoulders.
Bodyweight Shoulder Beginner Exercises
If you are just starting out on bodyweight training or have weak shoulders, start here. Start seeing results today with the bodyweight beginner workout, it is free!
You can also use this exercise as warm up if you find it too easy. It actually prevents injury by stretching the shoulders and increasing the circulation of blood in the shoulders.
Push up Plank
This exercise is simple – instead of holding the plank position with your forearms on the floor. Keep the arms straight and hold the plank position. To make the exercise harder, do the one arm plank.
Make sure you protect the back by keeping the core tight and preventing the hips from sagging.
Pike Push ups
This exercise mainly works the deltoids and the triceps.
Some key pointers are – keep your back straight – hand grip should be wider than shoulder width – avoid bending your knees.
This is somehow similar to the YTI exercise I discussed in the bodyweight back exercises list. But you won’t do this lying on the floor.
The YTWL work the deltoids and the trapezius. Do 8-10 reps of the Y-T movement then 8-10 reps of the WL movement.
You’ll be surprised by the difficulty of this exercise if you do it properly.
Scapula Push up
Strong scapula muscles also improve shoulder range of motion, which is an advantage in sports like tennis, golf or cricket.
You can also do this movement with the forearms on the floor.
Intermediate Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
You need more than the beginner exercises to build muscle and strength.
To get the most out of the exercise do the movement slow.
You can make the exercise easier by keeping your feet wider than shoulder width apart or place your arms on a high surface like a table or a chair.
Feet-elevated Pike Push up
When the normal pike push up becomes less challenging, start doing this. Place your feet on a chair, a table or a high box. This increases the amount of weight you lift and the exercise becomes harder. The higher the surface the harder the exercise will be.
Just make sure that your hand grip is wider than shoulder width and back remains straight.
Hindu Push ups
I wouldn’t recommend having both exercises in one routine – chose one out of the two, personally I would go with dive bombers.
This exercise works the chest, triceps, shoulders, and strengthens the core.
Semi-Planche Push up
Just lie on your stomach and place your hands near your waist, with the fingers facing backwards. Then push yourself up until the arms are straight, then lower the body until the stomach almost touches the floor.
Placing feet on a high surface will make the exercise harder.
Sliding Chest Flies
Lie flat on your stomach with hands spread out in a way that you are making a T. The piece on clothing should be under your palm – it’s what will help you slide.
Bring your hands close together by raising the body to a push up position. Then slide again until the chest almost touches the floor.
The common mistake you want to avoid is bending your hands or knees.
Make small steps with your hands until the torso almost touches the floor.
If you are not strong enough, do the hand walkouts on your knees. Once you can do 10-12 reps of the knee hand walkout move up to this.
Advanced Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
These are the best bodyweight exercises for building strong and muscular shoulders. You should only attempt them after you master the beginner and intermediate exercises.
Planche Push up
When the semi-planche push up becomes easy advance to this. Never forget to warm up even when practicing balancing skills.
Wall Handstand Push up
You don’t need mad balancing skills to do a handstand push up – you can use a wall.
Start facing away from the wall and hands on the floor then walk your way up the wall until the body is vertical.
Your hands should be shoulder width apart. Then lower the body by bending the elbows, until the head almost touches the floor. Then raise the body until the arms are straight.
This exercise mainly works the shoulders and triceps. If you can already hold a handstand you may not need a wall.
One arm push up
Do this exercise only when you are strong enough. Jumping to it too early could lead to injury.
Land your hands softly on the floor when doing this exercise.
Shoulders largely determine upper body strength. Having weak shoulders is one of the biggest disadvantages you can have as a bodyweight trainee.
Use these exercises to build strong and muscular shoulders. Just a reminder, shoulders are very sensitive so use the safety tips to avoid shoulder injury.
If you ever want to do any skill exercise like the planche or human flag, you should start doing these exercises.
How often do you train shoulders? Leave a comment below.
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