We will start this article by telling you that you don’t necessarily need a bodyweight shoulder workout.
Most exercises performed with your own body weight target the shoulders secondarily.
We are 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:
Every routine will be build upon the previous, gradually making you stronger.
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.
We will only present a roadmap and provide a starting point to achieve the intermediate and advanced levels.
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.
- 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: 1-2 minutes between sets
You will be performing three sets of six to twelve repetitions of the first exercise, then you’ll start doing the other one, and so on.
The dips work the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), triceps, and chest muscles.
Secondarily, you will also get rear deltoid (back of the shoulder) activation.
Decline push-ups are done with your feet elevated on any given surface.
These will target the anterior deltoid, chest, and triceps muscles.
Inverted rows (or Australian pull-ups) are a great way to target the posterior deltoid.
The primary movers are the latissimus dorsi and back muscles. However, posterior deltoids get a good workout from this exercise too.
Wall walks to handstand will give your anterior deltoids a good workout and help you build foundational strength for handstands.
If you are not interested in handstand training, substitute this exercise with pike push ups.
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 or Elevated pike push-ups
- 3-4 x (8-12) Archer inverted rows or Elevated Inverted rows
- 3-4 x (8-12) Dips
- 3-4 x (8-12s) L-Sit on parallettes or Floor L-sit
- Rest: 1-2 minutes between sets
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.
Pike push-ups are your way towards achieving a handstand push-up.
Start with the basic progression, in which your body forms an upside down V-shape.
Once you can perform 4x12, do the exercise with your feet elevated on a box.
Next, when you can do 4x12 of those, start doing handstand push-ups against the wall, with your belly facing it.
The archer inverted row is a progression from the basic inverted row.
If you can't do it or you simply don’t like the exercise, elevate your feet on a box and do inverted rows that way.
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.
At this level we are getting into handstand push-ups, advanced tuck or even straddle planche push-ups, and V-sit.
There is 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 (4-6) Handstand push-ups
- 3-5 x (10-15) Archer inverted rows or Elevated Inverted rows or Weighted inverted rows
- 3-5 x (10-12) Dips +40-60% bodyweight
- 3-5 x (10-20s) V-sit
- Rest: 2-3 minutes between sets
All the exercises, starting from the beginner routine all the way here, were building upon each other to reach this point.
The anatomy of the shoulder
There is a lot more to the shoulder than people may think.
The shoulder girdle is very complex.
However, we will not get into details in this article.
What we’ll be discussing about here is the deltoid muscle and its three fibers (heads):
- Front/anterior deltoid (clavicular fibers)
- Side/lateral deltoid (acromial fibers)
- Back/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 and insert into the humerus.
The three heads can function synergistically - helping one another produce a certain type of movement - or antagonistically.
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.
The clavicular head of the deltoid produces the following movements:
- Internal rotation
The flexion is the forward movement of the shoulder and the arm.
Exercises such as front dumbbell raises are a great example of arm flexion.
The internal rotation is self-explanatory - inward rotation of the humerus.
Adduction is the lateral downward movement of the arm.
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.
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.
The spinal head of the deltoid produces the following actions:
- External rotation
The extension is the action in which you move the arm and the shoulder backward.
A good rear deltoid exercise is to lay on your stomach and, using dumbbells, perform push your arm backward, towards the ceiling.
The external rotation is self-explanatory - outward rotation of the humerus.
Adduction, discussed above, performed with the help of the front deltoid.
We don't necessarily recommend a bodyweight shoulder workout.
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 prevent 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 to complement the specific training for those movements with some isolation work.
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.
Over to you.