3 Bodyweight Shoulder Workouts For Killer Results

Picture of a man performing a handstand

I will start this article by telling you that you don’t necessarily need a bodyweight shoulder workout.

But why is that?

Most exercises performed with your own body weight target the shoulders secondarily. I am talking about push ups, pull ups, dips - all the staples of bodyweight fitness and their variations.

However, if you don’t want an upper body day and you’d like to split the training into muscle groups, then we have you covered with an awesome routine. If you perform it one-two times per week it will be more than enough.

Bodyweight shoulder workout

We will break down the routine into three levels:

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

Every routine will build up for the next, making you stronger for harder variations of an exercise. The goal is to reach advanced and be able to perform all of the cool exercises.

Bear in mind that the information in this article will be fairly limited.

You will see us talking about exercises such as the planche. It takes months of consistent, focused training to achieve the planche.

In this article, we will only present a roadmap and provide a starting with the beginner routine, and goals to achieve with the intermediate and advanced ones.

Beginner

Man pictured doing a push-up while shirtless

Even with the beginner routine, it will not be beginner-friendly to untrained individuals. You have to be able to do a few push ups before being able to complete the following workout.

If you are just starting out with training, we recommend you to check our beginner bodyweight workout. It will be more helpful.

Let’s get started.

  • 3 x (6-12) Dips
  • 3 x (6-12) Decline push ups
  • 3 x (6-12) Inverted rows
  • 3 x (4-10) Wall walks to handstand or Pike push ups
  • Rest: 1 minute between sets, 1-2 minutes between exercises

You will be performing three sets of six to twelve repetitions of the first exercise, then you’ll start doing the other one.

Exercises explained:


  1. The dips will mainly work your anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), triceps, and chest muscles. Secondarily, you will also get rear deltoid (back of the shoulder) activation too.
  2. Decline push ups are done with your feet elevated on any given surface. These will target the anterior deltoid, chest, and triceps muscles.
  3. Inverted rows (or inclined pull ups) are a great way to target the posterior deltoid. The primary movers are the latissimus dorsi, however, posterior deltoids get a good workout from this exercise too.
  4. Wall walks to handstand should be done with your belly facing the wall. Start in a push up position with your heels planted to a wall. From there, walk your way up the wall on your tiptoes while walking your hands closer to the wall too.

    These will give your anterior deltoids a good workout and help you build foundational strength for handstands.

    If you are not interested in handstand training, you can substitute this exercise with pike push ups.

Intermediate

Man doing handstand push ups on parallettes as part of his shoulder workout

Some of the exercises presented above will change from general, to more specific towards achieving skills such as the planche and the handstand push up.

  • 3-4 x (8-12) Pseudo planche push ups
  • 3-4 x (8-12) Pike push ups
  • 3-4 x (8-12) Archer inverted rows or Inverted rows with feet elevated
  • 3-4 x (8-12) Dips
  • 3-4 x (8-12s) L-Sit on parallettes or on the floor
  • Rest: 1-2 minutes between sets, 2-3 minutes between exercises

Exercises explained:


At this point, we are already working towards the planche and the handstand push up.

  1. Pseudo planche push ups are an awesome planche focused exercise.

    Once you can do 4x12 (four sets of 12 repetitions), start doing tuck planche push ups and work up the progressions.
  2. Pike push ups are your way towards achieving a handstand push up. Start with the basic progression, in which your body forms an upside V shape.

    Once you can perform 4x12, elevate your feet on a box and do the exercise. Next, when you can do 4x12 of those, start doing handstand push ups against the wall, with your belly facing it.
  3. The archer inverted row is a progression from the basic inverted row. If you cannot do archers or you simply don’t like the exercise, you can elevate your feet on a box and do inverted rows that way.
  4. Lastly, the L-Sit will develop the posterior deltoids - especially the more you move towards a V-Sit.

    You can either do it on the floor or on parallettes.

    Remember to depress and retract your scapula as much as possible.

Advanced

Gymnast doing a planche on the pommel horse

In the advanced stages, we are getting into freestanding handstand push ups, advanced tuck or even straddle planche push ups, and V-sit progressions.

There is quite a big gap to bridge between the intermediate and advanced, so keep that in mind. It may take you months to reach this strength level but it is worth it.

  • 3-5 x (3-5) Advanced tuck or Straddle planche push ups
  • 3-5 x (6-8) Handstand push ups
  • 3-5 x (15-20) Archer inverted rows or Inverted rows with feet elevated
  • 3-5 x (10-12) Dips +30-40% bodyweight
  • 3-5 x (10-20s) V-sit
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes between sets, 3-5 minutes between exercises

All the exercises, starting from the beginner routine all the way here, were building upon each other to reach this point.

There is even more to achieve than this, such as the full planche, or planche and handstand push ups on the gymnastics rings. However, that is really advanced stuff and it may require sacrifice in other areas of your life.

The anatomy of the shoulder

Diagram of the human body with the three heads of the deltoid highlighted

There is a lot more to the shoulder than people may think. The shoulder girdle is very complex and I will not get into details in regards to that. At least not in this article.

What we’ll be discussing about here is the deltoid muscle and its three fibers (heads):

  • Anterior deltoid (clavicular fibers)
  • Lateral deltoid (acromial fibers)
  • Posterior deltoid (spinal fibers)

The clavicular head originates in the clavicle (hence its name). The acromial head originates in the acromion (which is a bony structure on the superior end of the shoulder blade). The spinal fibers originate from the inferior border of the spine of the shoulder blade.

The anterior, lateral, and posterior parts merge together and insert into the humerus.

The three heads can function synergistically - helping one another produce a certain type of movement - or antagonistically.

Note: In the above bodyweight shoulder workout we’ve taken into account all three heads. However, it’s difficult to train the lateral head through bodyweight movements only. We strongly recommend you to use weights for that area if possible.

Anterior deltoid

Anatomy of the human muscles with the anterior deltoid highlighted

The clavicular head of the deltoid produces the following movements:

  • Anteversion
  • Internal rotation
  • Adduction

Anteversion is the forward movement of the shoulder and the arm. Having this in mind, you can make a picture of what exercises could be beneficial for targeting this head - especially if you think about doing the movement with dumbbells.

The internal rotation movement is self-explanatory - inward rotation of the humerus.

Adduction is the lateral downward movement of the arm.

Diagram of a man with highlighted anterior deltoids

Image source ExRx.net

Imagine that you raise your arms to form a big “T”. The movement of dropping them to your sides is the adduction, and the anterior deltoid is the one performing it.

Lateral deltoid

Diagram of the lateral deltoid in a human body

The main movement associated with the acromial head is the abduction.

Let’s take the example presented above, in which you are raising your arms to form a “T” figure. The process of lowering the arms is called adduction; conversely, the movement of raising the arms is the abduction - function of the lateral head.

Note that it’s considered abduction only raising the arm to form a 90-degree angle at your armpits.

Diagram of a man with highlighted lateral deltoids

Image source ExRx.net

​Posterior deltoid

Diagram of the human body with the posterior deltoid highlighted

The spinal head of the deltoid produces the following actions:

  • Retroversion
  • External rotation
  • Adduction

Retroversion is the action in which you move the arm and the shoulder backward. A good rear deltoid exercise, although not performed using the body weight, is to lay on your stomach on a bench and, using dumbbells, perform retroversion movement.

The external rotation movement is self-explanatory - outward rotation of the humerus.

Diagram of a man with highlighted posterior deltoids

Image source ExRx.net

Lastly, there is the adduction movement that is performed with the anterior deltoid.

Our recommendation

Picture of a man doing unilateral push ups as part of his bodyweight workout

We’ve started this article by saying that we don’t necessarily recommend a bodyweight workout only focused on the shoulders.

All movements involving the arms have to go through the shoulder. This is both beneficial and detrimental.

The advantage is that, especially through bodyweight fitness, you don’t need to specifically target the shoulder to get a good workout. Most exercises are compound movements and the shoulder will get a good workout either way.

The disadvantage is that any injury in the shoulder will impinge you from training your upper body. If you don’t have the necessary strength to do unilateral exercises (exercises performed using only one limb), then you either have to choose using weights or stop training your upper body until you heal.

With this in mind, we highly recommend you to train using an upper/lower split, a push-pull-legs split, or a full body routine. In bodyweight training, you don’t need to split the days based on muscle groups but rather on movement patterns.

However, if you are training towards achieving shoulder dominant movements - such as the planche and handstand push ups - it’s recommended that you complement the specific training for those movements with some isolation work.

​Conclusion

This should be more than enough if you’re looking to train your shoulders.

We have discussed why we don’t necessarily recommend using a bodyweight routine focused on the muscles of your shoulders. We have also broken down the deltoid muscle with its three heads and brushed over their origin, insertion, and functions.

The bodyweight shoulder workout presented above should be more than enough to put you on a fast lane towards achieving at least some of your goals. Don’t forget that you should keep progressing with each exercise until you can meet the requirements for the next level.

Now it is over to you.