If you don’t have access to a fully equipped weight room, don’t despair. There are plenty of workouts that require little to no equipment and can help you get serious results. Even so, it can be difficult to find bodyweight shoulder exercises and workouts that don’t involve actual weights. In addition, calisthenics-based exercises and programs tend to ignore the shoulders, a key muscle group that can serve as a hugely functional showpiece for your physique. That’s where the moves below come in. Whether you’re working out at home or just want to mix up your typical gym routine, these bodyweight shoulder exercises will have you covered.
The Best Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
1: Suicide Pushup
How to Do It: Set up three sturdy platforms. One can be a bench; this is where your feet will go. Set the other two platforms approximately shoulder-width apart and place your hands on them. Pay attention to how close the two “hand” platforms are to your “feet” platform. Place them a bit closer together than you would for a pushup—your body should be in a pike position (with the hips up high) to start. Next, while maintaining those body angles, “dive” downward into the bottom portion of the pushup. Make sure the head descends below the level of the hands. Repeat for sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Pro Tip: It’s easy to gradually shift into a classic pushup position and out of your exaggerated pike position for this exercise. To avoid that, aim to look under your foot bench at the bottom of each rep. This will ensure your upper body is truly inverted. Also look for a deep stretch in the hamstrings throughout the set.
2: Ring Rocker
How to Do It: A pair of gymnastic rings or TRX straps are easy to set up, and they’re worth their weight in gold for their multipurpose uses in the gym. To blast the rear deltoids, set them up to hang at waist level and assume an inverted row start position with the hips elevated and the arms held fully extended. Next, drop the hips toward the floor and simultaneously pull the head between the hands. Your finish position should look like an upright seated position. Without changing your foot position, slowly return to your starting position, and repeat. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades tightly on each pull, and repeat for sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Pro Tip: To make this exercise more challenging, elevate the feet on a bench or other raised surface.
3: Isometric Shoulder Extension
How to Do It: If done properly, isometric bodyweight shoulder exercises can build strength, increase mobility, and even improve overall shoulder health. For this move, all you need is a wall. Face away from it, and get into a half squat position so your butt makes contact with the wall. With straight arms, make fists and drive them back into the wall (with thumbs facing away from the wall). Pull the shoulders back so the chest stays proud; you should feel the rear deltoids working hard. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds. That’s one rep.
Pro Tip: The best way to make isometrics really “work”is to use 100 percent of your maximum effort on every rep. Since your body isn’t moving, the risk of injury is very low, and it frees you up to go full throttle on the exertion.
4: Wall Handstand
How to Do It: Believe it or not, executing a handstand is a great way to load up the shoulders, not to mention increase time under tension. If you can’t perform them freestanding, then face a wall and use your legs to get into a supported handstand position against the wall. Your shoulders will still do almost all the same work. Try to maintain the handstand for 30 to 45 seconds. (Note: Blood will rush to your head.)
Pro Tip: Speaking of the head, ensure it’s properly stacked where the spine is concerned. Since you’ll be upside down, it’s easy to run into the habit of looking “upward” to the floor, which expands the neck vertebrae. Instead, look straight ahead, so the head is facing “forward”, through the arms. This will promote better spine health, decrease the compression of the muscles and nerves in the neck, and lower your chances of injury.
How to Do It: The blackburn is an A-grade posture movement that can present major challenges with bodyweight alone. Posture is often a weak link in fitness, especially for people who work at a desk all day, and it demands attention. For those with less-than-stellar posture, it doesn’t take much to present a real challenge to the involved muscles, and for the blackburn, that includes the rear deltoids and scapular tissue.
To do them, find open floor space and lay flat on your stomach. Set the hands beside your shoulders with the thumbs up toward the ceiling and the palms facing in toward each other. Next, raise the hands, forearms, and elbows away from the ground, so only your torso and legs are touching the floor. It’s OK if your forehead stays down. Slowly extend your arms to a full reach overhead (like a flying Superman pose). Once your arms are straight and fully extended, return to the start position. Repeat for sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Pro Tip: Try using this movement as a superset with another bodyweight shoulder exercise in this list. It’s the perfect choice for a finisher.
6: Back Plank
How to Do It: Set up two benches parallel to one another and sit on the floor between them. Keeping your butt on the floor, place one upper arm (elbow to shoulder) on each bench, with your forearms raised up to the ceiling. Position the feet so they’re hip-width apart with the knees bent comfortably. When you’re ready, drive the arms into the benches and the feet into the floor in order to raise the hips up off the ground. Aim to raise your hips above the level of the benches, creating a straight line from your knees to your chest. Clench your fists and keep your forearms pointed up. Hold that position for 15 to 20 seconds. That’s one rep.
Pro Tip: To make this movement more difficult, move the benches farther apart. It doesn’t take much—even a couple inches of added separation makes a big difference.
7. Manual Treadmill Push
How to Do It: If you have a treadmill handy, keep it turned off and assume a plank position with the hands on the belt. Keep the chest positioned over the hands. Using your shoulders, push the belt away from you and “walk” with your hands. Don’t let the belt escape you, and try to keep an even tempo as you move. Maintain this motion for 30 seconds; that’s one rep.
Pro Tip: This is also a great core exercise, and to emphasize the abs even more, simply create a longer lever plank by stepping backward so the hands are under the face to start (rather than under the chest). The abs and lower back will have to do more work to resist extension of the spine.
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