15 Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises For Strength & Mobility

There is not a single joint in the body that can compare with the shoulder in terms of mobility.

Although both passive and active ranges of motion are great, my experience shows that the shoulders are highly susceptible to injuries.

Fortunately, it is possible to build shoulder muscles and prevent injuries without going to the gym or buying expensive equipment.

No matter your goal, these bodyweight exercises will help you get strong and mobile shoulders, so let's dive in!

Due to the complexity of the shoulder joint, you have to take advantage of numerous movements to strengthen the anterior, lateral, and rear deltoid equally.

I have selected exercises that will make your shoulders bulletproof if you do them regularly and stick to your great shoulder home workout routine.

1. Incline Push-Up

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids

The push-up is a bodyweight exercise we primarily associate with chest and triceps workouts, but it is impossible to do a push-up without activating the shoulders, specifically the front deltoid muscle.

There are so many different push-ups, and I will mention a few in this article for practically every muscle group.

I start with the incline push-ups, the best push up version for beginners. All those who cannot do a standard push-up should start with an incline push-up or a knee push-up.

Thus, the load on the wrists, chest, shoulders, and triceps will be reduced, and over time you will get stronger and move on to more challenging variations.

Adding a resistance band and shifting the position of the hands will make the incline push-up harder.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Spread your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the bench or chair.
  2. 2
    In the starting position, the arms should be straight.
  3. 3
    Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest almost touches the bench.
  4. 4
    To get back to your starting position, push through your hands.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: If the incline push-ups are too easy for you, try decline push-ups or the pseudo-planche push up. This exercise will set your delts, upper pecs, and triceps on fire.
Incline Push-Up

2. Crab Walk

Target: Triceps brachii, deltoids, core, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps

The crab walk is an intensive exercise that can be both part of a warm-up and a great shoulder workout.

It will take some time to master it, and the first time you do it, you will feel very strange, but don't worry, it is actually very simple.

Once your body and mind become familiar with this movement, you'll quickly realize that it's a great exercise and an example of a full-body movement that simultaneously positively affects your cardiovascular system and muscles. Agility training even influences your brain.[1]

If you want to implement the crab walk in the workout, not the warm-up part, do it with other exercises emphasizing the rear delts.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Sit on the floor.
  2. 2
    Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart.
  3. 3
    Your palms should be on the floor behind you, and your fingers pointing forward.
  4. 4
    Brace your core and engage your glutes to raise your pelvis off the floor.
  5. 5
    Walk forward alternately - first with the right foot and left hand, then with the left foot and right hand.
  6. 6
    After several steps, reverse the movement and walk backwards to the starting position.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: If you want to break into a sweat at the beginning or the end of a training session, try to move as fast as possible without compromising the proper form.
Crab Walk Exercise

3. Shoulder Tap

Target: Anterior deltoids, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, core

High plank shoulder taps are one of my favorite shoulder stability exercises.

Although this is considered a core exercise because it significantly targets the core, the shoulders and the rest of the body must also be active to stabilize the body and maintain it in the high plank position when leaning on only one arm.

The difficulty level is generally not very high, but it is not easy either. If you spread your legs more, you can make the exercise easier since you will be more stable.

Do this shoulder exercise at the beginning of your bodyweight shoulder workout to warm up your shoulders and core properly.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Take up the high plank position and lean forward just a little bit.
  2. 2
    Start with hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    For stability, you must spread the legs beyond hip width.
  4. 4
    Maintain a neutral pelvis.
  5. 5
    From there, lift one hand and tap the opposite shoulder.
  6. 6
    Alternate or do ten reps on one side and then the other.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: It is important to be completely still when doing this shoulder exercise. 
If you sway, twist your hips, or move your pelvis too much in the air to stabilize yourself, it means that shoulder taps are too challenging for you.
High Plank Shoulder Taps

4. Prone T (And Y)

Target: Trapezius, deltoids, erector spinae, teres major, quadratus lumborum, teres minor, latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior

The prone T, Y, and I are the key to healthy shoulders.

Every corrective therapist and doctor will recommend these bodyweight shoulder exercises, but their function is not limited to recovery from injuries and overcoming deformities.

Do them twice a week, and you will notice how some daily activities will become easier.

In addition, you will strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades and many other muscles in the shoulders and back that you otherwise do not activate often or ever.

If you are a bodybuilder, the prone T, Y, and I, often called Superman exercises, will also benefit you greatly and reduce the chance of getting injured while doing the bench press and other alternative exercises.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Lie on your stomach.
  2. 2
    Put your arms straight ahead of you.
  3. 3
    Lift your arms off the ground while keeping them straight.
  4. 4
    Change the position of the arms depending on whether you are doing Y, T, or I.
  5. 5
    When you raise your arms, hold for a second.
  6. 6
    Return arms to the ground.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: Put a towel or pillow under your head to avoid neck strain.
Superman Exercise

5. Plank To Down Dog

Target: Deltoids, latissimus dorsi, core, glutes, hamstrings, calves

Plank to Down Dog is another total-body movement similar to yoga movements. You can find different types of yoga in our guide here!

As such, it strengthens your entire body, and along with shoulder strength, you also gain mobility.

One of Plank to Down Dog's main benefits is the spine muscles' movement through an almost full range of motion.

You will also strengthen your fingers, hands, and wrists, which are weak body parts for many people and prevent you from progressing.

You only need a yoga mat, and you can try this exercise. If you are still determining whether you have a good technique, record yourself and then check if you need to make certain corrections.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Start in the plank position.
  2. 2
    Engage your core.
  3. 3
    Shoulders should be above your wrists.
  4. 4
    Hinge at hips to make an inverted V-shape while maintaining a straight back.
  5. 5
    Hold for a second, then return to plank.
Plank To Down Dog

6. Plank-Up

Target: Core, deltoids, pectoralis major, glutes, triceps brachii, obliques

A plank-up, also known as a plank-push-up and plank-to-push-up, is an exercise that combines two movements - push-up and plank.

I'm usually not a big fan of exercises that combine multiple movements, but the plank-up is not one of them.

I recommend it to all my clients to strengthen the core and stabilizer muscle fibers around the spine.

After a few sets, you will feel how active your triceps and deltoids are as well. If you want to improve your cardiovascular level, pick up the pace.

The exercise is equally suitable for beginners and experienced exercisers.

Beginners can shorten the range of motion and thus make it easier, and it is challenging enough for those who have been doing bodyweight training for a long time.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Assume a standard plank position on your elbows.
  2. 2
    Your body should form a straight line from heels to shoulders.
  3. 3
    Brace your core.
  4. 4
    Start by placing one palm on the floor and push up.
  5. 5
    Then do the same with the other palm to reach the push-up position.
  6. 6
    Return to the plank position in the same way - one arm at a time.
  7. 7
    Repeat.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: For beginners - keep your knees on the ground or place your elbows on an elevated surface.
Plank-Up

7. Push-Back Push-Up

Target: Pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps brachii, core, lats, glutes, quadriceps

Many of my clients experience overhead shoulder instability and limited mobility.

I'm not only talking about people who work sedentary jobs but also tennis and basketball players who should have above-average stability and mobility.

Push-back push-up is an excellent method to address that issue.

This can even be a way to bust through a stubborn bench press plateau.

Since it is not necessary to make a full push-up motion, this variation is good for those who cannot perform a regular push-up too.

Related Article - Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Get into a push-up position.
  2. 2
    Hands and feet should be a bit wider than shoulder-width.
  3. 3
    Begin to bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor as if doing a standard push-up.
  4. 4
    Instead of pushing straight back up, push your body backwards towards the heels.
  5. 5
    Simultaneously bend your legs and raise your hips.
  6. 6
    Return to starting position.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: Try the child's pose famous in yoga before doing push-back push-ups. This gentle stretch will prepare your body for exercise because the movement is quite similar.
Push-Back Push-Up

8. Diving Push-Up

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, deltoids, core, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi

Diving or dive bomber push-up is another movement that is borrowed from yoga. Even though it is not the same as Vinyasa Flow, it resembles.

Just like other similar full-body exercises, the dive bomber push-up will strengthen your shoulders, chest, arms, core, and part of the lower body.

If necessary, you can change the portion of the exercise and make it easier to perform.

When you begin returning to the starting position, you can leave your knees on the ground and thus get one more point of contact with the floor.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    In the starting position, your body should form an inverted V by putting your hands and feet shoulder-width apart and raising your hips (Downward Dog pose)
  2. 2
    Bend your arms and lower your chest forward between your hands.
  3. 3
    Pull your chest up and straighten your arms, simultaneously dropping your hips almost to the floor.
  4. 4
    Raise your pelvis and bring your chest back to the floor while extending your arms to return to the Downward Dog pose.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: The whole movement should look like a glide, not jerky.
Diving Push-Up

9. Plank To Alternate Pike

Target: Deltoids, core, triceps brachii, hamstrings

When I do the plank to alternate pike movement, I feel like I'm doing an advanced variation of shoulder taps because my deltoids burn badly after 3 or 4 sets.

The additional core engagement is also worth mentioning.

Since you move your torso in plank to alternate pike, the core has more difficulty stabilizing you and helping you make a precise move across the body.

While during shoulder taps, you stay in one plane.

This exercise can be part of an uptempo workout and help burn calories.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Start in a standard high plank position.
  2. 2
    Brace your core and glutes.
  3. 3
    Place hands shoulder-width apart on the ground, directly below your shoulders, and your feet hip-width apart.
  4. 4
    Bring your hips in the air to create an upside-down V shape, and touch your right ankle with your left hand.
  5. 5
    Return to the starting position and then repeat, but this time touch the left ankle with the right hand.
Plank To Alternate Pike

10. Wall Walk-Up

Target: Core, obliques, deltoids, lats, trapezius, erector spinae, forearms, glutes, hip flexors

The wall walk-up is a complex and advanced exercise, even for advanced exercisers who do not have a background in gymnastics or similar sports where handstand position is common.

That doesn't mean you should give up. On the contrary; it offers numerous benefits in terms of strength, stability, and mobility.

Keep in mind that you are not competing, and you will not achieve anything if you do it fast, except that the chances of getting injured increase.

Do it slowly and controlled for safety but also to maximize shoulder activation.

The skill required for the wall walk-up or climb can be helpful in specific Crossfit movements. You will often need to perform handstand push-ups, and not even a single handstand push-up is easy.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Get in a position for push-ups, feet facing the wall.
  2. 2
    Start climbing the wall by elevating your feet gradually and moving your arms back toward your body.
  3. 3
    You should reach the wall handstand push-up position, but you can stop earlier if you don't feel safe enough.
  4. 4
    Slowly return to the starting position.
SnoRidge CF_Wall Climb

11. Pike Push-Up

Target: Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, biceps brachii, core, obliques, trapezius, serratus anterior

The pike push-ups are an advanced push-up variation that emphasizes the shoulders the most. It is one of the few variations where the deltoids are more active than the chest muscles.

If you have had a recent shoulder injury, do not perform it until you fully recover. In any other case, the pike push-up must be part of your calisthenics bodyweight workout.

You will improve vertical pushing power and overall strength. Along with the shoulders, you will strengthen the rest of the upper body and even part of the lower body.

The only downside of pike push-ups is that you may feel dizzy, especially if you have low blood pressure.

See Also - Best Push Up Bar Exercises

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Get into a push-up position.
  2. 2
    Walk your feet towards your hands to make an inverted V at the hips.
  3. 3
    Hands should remain shoulder-width apart.
  4. 4
    Keep your arms straight.
  5. 5
    Keep your legs straight as well.
  6. 6
    Bend your elbows and lower your upper body.
  7. 7
    Push back up to the starting position once your head is close to the floor.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: You can make pike push-ups an even more difficult exercise. 
One way is to push yourself off the ground and thus make this exercise explosive, which is excellent for developing power.[2]
Another way is the elevated pike push-up. Put your feet on the bench, and you will notice the load increases. The third way is to raise one leg in the air and thus reduce stability.
Pike Push-Ups

12. Bear Crawls

Target: Core, obliques, deltoids, pectoralis major, triceps brachii, serratus anterior, lats, glutes, hamstring, quads

Take a look at the target muscles above, and one thing will be immediately apparent to you - bear crawls activate almost every muscle in your body to some extent and improve body composition.

That's not all. In addition to strength and power, bear crawls help you build endurance and agility.[3]

Be careful to avoid exposing your shoulders to too much stress. If you perform this exercise properly, everything will be fine, but if the movements are not controlled, you can suffer an injury.

If you have suffered an injury, it's best to avoid this exercise. Take a look at our guide on the best bear crawl alternative workouts.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Start on all fours.
  2. 2
    Lift your knees about an inch off the ground approximately at a 90-degree angle.
  3. 3
    Move your left hand and right foot forward at the same time.
  4. 4
    Keep the distance from the ground unchanged.
  5. 5
    Move your right hand and left foot in the same way.
  6. 6
    After several forward steps, do the same number of backward steps.
Bear Crawl

13. Bridge Push-Up

Target: Deltoids, triceps brachii, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, trapezius, glutes, hamstrings

The bridge push-up is a demanding exercise, primarily in terms of mobility and flexibility.

If you can do the bridge pose and have good overhead mobility, you will also be able to do the bridge push-up.

Chest, elbow, and wrist flexibility may also be limiting factors, not only your shoulders and back.

You can use a smaller Pilates ball to start with, and you won't need it anymore as you progress.

This shoulder strengthening exercise also works the muscles around the scapula with no equipment.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Lie on your back.
  2. 2
    Keep your knees bent and place your feet as close to your butt as possible.
  3. 3
    Put your hands above your head and point your fingers toward your heels.
  4. 4
    Push your hips up in the air and arch your back.
  5. 5
    Then press your hands into the floor as hard as possible and rise into bridge pose.
  6. 6
    From that position, do push-ups.
Bridge Push-Up

14. Side Plank With Lateral Raise (Bodyweight Only)

Target: Core, medial deltoids, obliques, abductor, adductor

The medial deltoids are often neglected compared to the interior and posterior deltoid.

While the front and back of the shoulders are active during most chest and back exercises, you need to hit the medial deltoids with specific bodyweight shoulder exercises, of which the lateral raise is the most effective, even without weights.

A standing lateral raise without weight is too easy for 99% of exercisers (except those recovering from surgery), so the side plank position is better.

If you want, you can use a lighter dumbbell for the side plank with lateral raise, although the exercise will no longer be a bodyweight shoulder exercise.

This movement is an excellent alternative to standard side planks.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Get in the side plank position with your body weight on your elbow.
  2. 2
    Keep your body in a straight line from shoulders to feet.
  3. 3
     Lift your free arm sideways and lower it in a controlled manner.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: You can bend your knees slightly if it is too demanding to maintain a side plank position with straight legs.
Side Plank With Lateral Raise

15. Inverted Row Face Pull

Target: Deltoids, biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, brachioradialis, teres minor, trapezius

Whether you do an inverted row face pull, cable face pull, or some other face pull alternative variation, it will positively affect your posture.

This exercise is unique in the way it activates different upper body muscles compared to a calisthenics workout for shoulders.

If you use a wide grip for inverted row face pulls, you will primarily target the back, while a narrow grip shifts focus towards the shoulders and biceps.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Lie under a dip station, table, or bar on a Smith machine.
  2. 2
    Grab it firmly with both hands, narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    Pull up until your chest almost touches the bar.
  4. 4
    Hold for a moment.
  5. 5
    Slowly return to the starting position.
Inverted Row Face Pull

Anatomy Of The Shoulder Muscles

I will focus on the shoulder muscle anatomy, but before we move on to the muscles, here are just a few basics about the shoulder joint.

It is a ball and socket joint, similar to a hip. The shoulders consist of three bones - the humerus (upper arm bone), the clavicle (collarbone), and the scapula (shoulder blade).

Those three bones are held in place by the rotator cuff, which is the name of the group of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The rotator cuff allows you to move the joint.

Rotator cuff injuries, including tears, are prevalent. Another common shoulder injury is the labrum tear.

The labrum is a rim of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid cavity. The labrum resembles the meniscus in the knee.

Shoulder bodyweight exercises for deltoids are the focal point of this article. Deltoids, commonly referred to as delts, are three major shoulder muscle groups, often called rotator cuff muscles.

The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids (front, middle, and back, respectively) are primary movers. Those shoulder muscles give you the power to push and pull.

Those are also "mirror muscles," so you must not neglect them and target only the chest, back, and arms in the upper body.

The anterior deltoid is easily visible on the front and is the primary driver during push-ups and similar exercises. The collarbone is the point of origin.

The medial deltoids are on the side and you will target them with movements that move your arm away from the body's mid-line, such as lateral raises.

Once again, the collarbone is the point of origin, while the insertion point is located on the humerus, similar to the anterior deltoids, but not in the same place.

The posterior deltoids are located on the back of your arm, close to the trapezius.

This is why the traps are active during the posterior deltoid movements, even though they are not part of the shoulder. Rear deltoids are attached to your shoulder blade.

Without them, you wouldn't be able to extend and externally rotate your arm.

Anatomy of the Shoulders

Benefits Of Flexible and Strong Shoulders

Flexible and strong shoulders are equally important for a middle-aged woman and a professional bodybuilder.

Shoulders play a vital role in everyday movements like carrying groceries from the store or taking things from a higher shelf.

Everything will be significantly easier when you have strong and healthy shoulders.

I have already mentioned the necessity of injury prevention. If the muscles are weak, you risk various injuries, and the recovery is lengthy and often complicated.

Also, recurring shoulder injuries are very common because of the shoulder anatomy. Don't forget the kinetic chain too.

If one part is weak, especially if it is as essential as the shoulders, then the rest of the body will suffer.

If you play a sport that requires constant shoulder movement, for example, tennis or baseball, you surely know that you can only be successful if you train your shoulders regularly.

Women tend to skip upper body movements and workouts, even if they are regular gym-goers, similar to men's leg day, but my advice is to devote as much time to the shoulders as to the glutes.

Woman Doing a Dumbbell Overhead Press and Flexing Her Shoulders

Which Exercises Are Bad For Your Shoulders?

You will surely be surprised that some exercises you do regularly will be mentioned in this section.

Neither of these exercises is a bodyweight movement, but they are very popular in gyms. I'm not saying they will surely cause an injury, but the risk far outweighs the potential benefit.

Upright rows, behind the neck lat pulldowns, and behind the neck presses are exercises that I do not include in my clients' workout plans.

Both are 101 bodybuilding exercises from the 70s and 80s. However, our knowledge has progressed.

Studies have shown muscle activation during these exercises is similar to some much safer exercises.

These two unnatural movements put the rotator cuff under considerable strain.

The kipping pull-up, battle ropes, dips, and lateral dumbbell raises are not bad per se, but if you do not execute them properly, the chance of injury is substantial.


Bodyweight Shoulder Workout FAQs

Can bodyweight exercises build massive shoulders?

Yes, bodyweight exercises alone can build massive shoulders. But let's make one thing clear. When I say massive, I mean natural size, not the gigantic shoulders that professional bodybuilders have. 

How often should I train shoulders to build muscle?

Generally, it would be best to target your shoulders 2-3 times per week. You can hit them only once a week, but it has to be a killer workout. More than three times a week would be counterproductive as it would not give the muscles enough time to recover.

How can I build my shoulders fast?

The combination of regular training, recovery that includes sleep, massages, cryotherapy, and other methods, as well as a proper diet, is the best way to accelerate muscle growth and improve shoulder strength at the same time with only your body weight.

Why won't my shoulders grow?

There are several reasons why your shoulders are not growing as you would like them to. The first and most common reason is that you do not stimulate muscle hypertrophy with training. Increase training volume and intensity. Another reason is the insufficient amount of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the diet. If you don't rest enough, that will also hinder your progress. 

Do pull-ups widen shoulders?

Pull-ups will make your shoulders look wider because they will develop your deltoids, especially the rear deltoids and your lats. Large lats are actually the most important for the appearance of broad shoulders.


Conclusion

Bodyweight workouts are superb in general because you will strengthen many other muscle groups in addition to the primary muscle groups you are targeting.

You can also count on improved cardiovascular fitness.

All these benefits, plus the fact that you can do them anytime, anywhere, make such exercises more and more popular every year.

Try a few from this list of bodyweight shoulder exercises and tell me whether you have reached the desired result!

References: 

1. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/12000/The_Influence_of_Agility_Training_on_Physiological.10.aspx
2. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Strength_Training_versus_Power_Training
3. https://www.scienceforsport.com/agility/

Filip Maric

Last Updated on December 11, 2022