In bodyweight training, shoulders typically get loads of work additionally as we train our pull-ups, body rows, dips, and pushups. But if there is an extra necessity for shoulder development, then you have to integrate a few dedicated bodyweight exercises in completion.
In this article, I show you my best shoulder bodyweight exercises. You can also perform this calisthenics workout at home or the gym, plus a quick home workout routine to hit that muscle. And if you find these exercises too hard, then worry not because I offer alternatives to make it a little easier for the beginners in bodyweight training.
How can I build my shoulders with bodyweight?
The training method to develop your shoulders has to be simple and effective, like the exercises themselves, no need to overcomplicate anything. So, to the question of how I can build my shoulders with bodyweight training, well, every time you do a combo of pushups and pull-ups or when you do your pushing routine with a more emphasis on the shoulders, include these exercises, starting with the toughest.
Do over 4 sets per each exercise and try to go to muscle failure, but at the same time, always keep a good form and correct execution. I also like doing these exercises in a circuit with a slightly larger pause at each superset’s end.
A combination of these 4 bodyweight shoulder exercises and Wide Pull-Ups, or other pulling variation is way more than enough to challenge your shoulder intensively.
What bodyweight exercises work shoulders?
After years of calisthenics practice, I know precisely what bodyweight shoulder exercises work best. The point is to do more with less. So as I’ve found on my own body, there are a few exercises that will stimulate shoulders to grow strong and robust.
The Best Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
- Handstand Pushups against a wall
- Pushups with the feet elevated on the wall
- Pushups with rubber bands for extra resistance
- Diamond Pushups.
All these shoulder bodyweight exercises also have more accessible variations, as it will follow. So let’s discuss the first exercise,
Handstand Pushups (Assisted by a Wall)
There doesn’t exist a better exercise in calisthenics that hit the shoulder muscles strongly than handstand push-ups. So regardless of your current fitness, you have to master this specific exercise if growing well-shaped and strong shoulders is what you intend.
Handstand pushups are compound movements and utilize the largest muscle fibers, and that makes them somewhat useful for strength and muscle gains not only in shoulders but in triceps and back as well.
Two Ways To Do Handstand Pushups:
- Facing the wall, which generates more pressure on the spine;
- Having your back against the wall, the more beneficial option.
Having your face against the wall works excellent for shoulders exclusively, but it’s a lot more taxing for the vertebras, and that alone raises the possibilities for injury. I had some issues with my lower back a few years ago, and I remember that doing this type of handstand pushup variation only complicated the things:
The second alternative is much safer for your spine, and besides that, it allows you a controlled fall after finishing the set, plus more accessible to get in the right positioning at the beginning. Therefore, the second variation is what I definitely recommend always:
As I said, the handstand push-ups have to be your number one exercise. Include any other variation afterward.
The reason why you must begin your shoulder workout with handstand push-ups is that you start fresh. Once your muscles fatigue with doing other exercises, it will be a lot harder to keep a good form and boost enough reps. And believe me that you need a high rep range to hit hypertrophy in your shoulders. That’s how you plan bodyweight shoulder exercises.
When You Add Handstand Pushups, then:
- Do it twice a week for maximizing gains,
- Establish working sets between 4 to 10,
- Do a rep interval of 4 to 10,
- Rest between 60-90 seconds from a set to another,
- Push as powerful as possible on the concentric portion,
- Go slow on the negative part to increase time under tension,
- Beginners can do half reps, and those more advanced should almost touch the surface of the floor with the head;
- If you can’t do handstand pushups, then focus on doing negatives only. Get in the position, block and hold in a handstand for 5-10 seconds, then move as slow as possible on the eccentric part (for at least 3-5 seconds) and if you can block again right before your head touches the floor, then hold there for another 3-5 seconds; Rest briefly and try the second repetition,
- If you can only do negatives, then do as many consecutive reps as possible, keeping a proper form and extend the pause to 2 minutes between sets. In this situation, do more than 5-6 sets to compensate for the low-rep interval;
- Let’s say you can’t do negatives either. In this case, do handstands only in sets of over five and holding the position 30 seconds – 2 minutes;
- An excellent alternative to handstand pushups is pike pushups,
- Last tips, don’t forget to breathe correctly and deeply. Otherwise, you’ll get dizzy being upside down, and your reps will drop significantly.
Pushups with feet elevated on the wall
Your second exercise that activates shoulders to a very high degree is pushups where you place your toes on the surface of the wall. This bodyweight exercise is similar to Decline Pushups, except your soles don’t stay fixed and stable on a box or something.
Because you place your toes on the wall, and because the surface might also be very slippery, you have to move the center of the gravity more on the shoulders (that’s the second difference from Decline Push ups). Focusing on executing the exercises will influence the result of the workout. And that alone generates a lot of more tension in the shoulders, chest, and triceps, making it perfect for hypertrophy and strength gains. These bodyweight shoulder exercises can help develop your upper body.
Very useful calisthenics exercise! Your reps will be limited to how slippery the surface of the wall is but also on how endurable your muscles are. If you are in the same situation as me, then watch the video below, and at some point, you’ll see how I glide on the wall so I can boost more reps. Otherwise, wear shoes that have a good grip.
Even with a good grip on the wall, I don’t think you will be able to do more than 10-12 reps per set. Hence, I recommend:
- Around five working sets
- Do it twice a week in combination with handstand pushups
- A rest time of 60 seconds from a set to another
- Use a rep range between 6 and 15, but recommended is doing a maximum amount of reps for each set, close to muscle failure
- Position yourself as horizontally as possible.
Pushups with Resistance Rubber Bands
For the third bodyweight exercise, you need some strong elastic bands that generate enough tension in the muscles, and that forces you to lower the number of reps per set. I like this variation because it’s time-efficient. It takes less time to do 6-10 reps than 15-25 purely bodyweight. Plus, the challenge against the nervous system is higher, so are the contractions.
Using rubber bands, you’ll utilize more of the moderate-fast twitch muscle fibers associated with muscle gains. You can choose any pushup grip preferred, just pay attention to which one activates the shoulders more. If you have no rubber bands, then modify the exercise with bodyweight diamond pushups.
Recommendations for pushups with resistance bands:
- Establish working sets of 4 and 5
- Use a maximum amount of repetitions. If you do diamond pushups instead, then do the same.
- The number of reps you can do depends on how strong the rubber band is. But, use one that allows you to do at least eight reps and up to 15.
- Rest 1 minute from a set to another.
Your fourth and last exercise is bodyweight diamond pushups. In case you selected it as your third exercise, then replace it with explosive pushups (push powerfully on the concentric portion and very slow on the eccentric part).
Nonetheless, if you are not in a quest to do quick home shoulder workouts using calisthenics exercises, then add explosive pushups as your fifth bonus exercise.
At this point, what matters is bringing more work volume and fatigue to the muscles with high-reps. The only way to successfully do that is by integrating bodyweight exercises of moderate and light difficulty. Therefore, diamonds and regular explosive pushups fill in great.
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- Add 4-5 sets
- Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
- Do a maximum amount of correct repetitions (8-25)
- You can add diamonds along with dips or pull-ups and bench-dips too
- Add an extra 3-5 sets if you also do regular explosive pushups
- There are two ways to do diamond pushups (watch my video above). One is placing the hands right beneath the chest. The second alternative is moving your hands closer to the bellybutton. The second one will slightly change the form and execution. See which one attacks more the shoulders!
Almost every upper body bodyweight exercise will work your shoulders well if it’s a compound movement. So, in addition to the first two exercises on my list, you can do any pull-ups, body rows, dips, and pushups, even if your primary goal may be to train the chest or back muscles.
Shoulder muscles adjoin as connective muscles every time you do compound movements. You can try this workout as well for shoulder development: