The 21 Best Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises [Videos, FAQs & More]

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In this post, we are going to cover the best of the best bodyweight shoulder exercises.

We will go over 21 different exercises, each one focusing on a specific muscle of the shoulder complex.

The best part is, you could do all of these bodyweight shoulder exercises from the comfort of your own home.

Alright let’s get started.

Shoulder Anatomy – The 3 Different Deltoid Muscles

First, I want to go over a very quick lesson on shoulder anatomy.

The shoulder is composed of three major muscle groups.

The Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid sits in the front of your upper arm, and is primarily worked by exercises that bring your arms in front of you.

anterior-deltoid-exercises

Common anterior deltoid exercises include front raises, and horizontal pushing exercises such as push-ups.

The Medial Deltoid

The medial deltoid sits on the side of your upper arm, and is primarily worked by exercises that bring your arm away from your body, towards your sides and overhead.

medial-deltoid-exercises

Common medial deltoid exercises include side lateral raises and overhead presses.

The Posterior Deltoid

Lastly the posterior deltoid sits in the back of your upper arm, and is primarily worked by exercises that bring your arms behind you.

posterior-deltoid-exercises

Common posterior deltoid exercises include rowing type exercises and posterior shoulder flys.

The Rotator Cuff

Lastly, the rotator cuff is also considered part of the shoulder complex.

It is composed of 4 small muscles that serve to move your shoulder joint in multiple directions (abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation).

The rotator cuff muscles tend to be secondary movers in almost all shoulder exercises.

Healthline has a cool 3D diagram of all of the shoulder muscle anatomy if you would like to learn more!

So those are the muscles that we will be working on today.

Now, let’s get to the exercises.

Beginner Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

For this next section, we will break up the shoulder exercises into beginner, intermediate, and advanced variations. 

Each exercise will have a video demonstration, a short description, and a difficulty score.

Pike Pushups

The number one bodyweight shoulder exercise is the pike push-up.

In this exercise, you are going to walk your feet towards your hands until you are making a V at the hips.

You can feel free to go on your tip toes.

From this position bend at the elbows and tuck your elbows to a 45 degree angle from your body (I.e. point your elbows towards your toes rather than to the side)

Bring the top of your head/forehead towards the ground slightly in front of your hands, and push back up.

The pike push-up will mainly target your medial deltoid and is best used in the 6-12 rep range.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 3/10


Push-ups & Push-Up Shoulder Taps

The next calisthenic shoulder exercise is the good ole push-up.

We won’t cover it in great detail here, since we already have a comprehensive push-up tutorial which you can find here.

With that said, the push-up shoulder tap is another simple bodyweight shoulder exercise that you can easily add to your routine.

From a push-up position, you will shift all of your weight to one hand and lift the other hand to touch the opposite shoulder.

Slowly return down to a push-up position and repeat with your other hand.

You can do this as a stand alone exercise, or as a finisher after each push-up set.

This exercise will target your anterior and medial deltoid, and should be done for higher reps (10+).

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 2/10

Single Arm Side Plank Rotations

This next bodyweight exercise is a combination of the standard plank and the side plank.

Instead of alternating between your left and right side, you will go from a regular plank and rotate to a side plank while lifting your other arm straight up into the air.

From here you will rotate back down as if you were going back to a regular plank, but before you reach the bottom, you will rotate back up again.

Focus on driving the movement from your shoulder joint, as if you were abducting your arm away from your body.

This exercise will primarily target your medial deltoids, and should be done for about 8-10 repetitions per side.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 2/10

Crow Pose

I first saw this exercise in yoga circles and later in the calisthenics world. It is actually a great introductory exercise to learn more advanced movements like the handstand or the planche.

It teaches you how to support your entire body on just your arms (which is a lot easier said than done.

Start by crouching down and placing your hands on the floor, palms down, shoulder width apart.

Next you are going to bring your knees up towards your arm pits and above your elbows. Your elbows are naturally going to bend.

From this position, begin leaning forward until your feet come up off the ground.

Hold this position for as long as you can – 30 seconds is a good place to start.

Oh, did I mention that this exercise also requires a great deal of balance too?

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 3/10

Planche Leans

Rounding out the beginner exercises is the planche lean. It looks extremely easy, but it is anything but.

Unlike the crow stand, where your arms are bent- the planche lean requires you to have completely straight arms.

In order to do it properly, get into a standard push-up position with hands turned out, and slightly wider than shoulder width.

Next, push your hands hard into the ground and protract your shoulder blades as much as possible. This will round your upper back, creating a hollow body position.

From here, you are going to lean your body as far forward as you possibly can while keeping your hands flat on the floor and your elbows locked out.

You can do this exercise for time, or for reps, i.e. leaning forward, holding for a 3 count and returning back to the starting position, and leaning forward again.

The important thing is to maintain the hollow body posture throughout the entire exercise.

This exercise will primarily train your anterior deltoids.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: Depends on How Far You Can Lean

Intermediate Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Next up, we are going to cover more challenging variations to the exercises we listed above.

Let’s get started.

Incline (Pike) Shoulder Taps

The pike shoulder tap is exactly like the push-up shoulder tap.  Instead of starting from the push-up position, you will elevate your feet onto a bench or a chair.

Pike yourself up into a V position, and begin alternating shoulder taps by reaching your hand to touch the opposite shoulder.

This variation will stress your shoulder joints more than the push-up shoulder tap because 1) you are supporting much more of your bodyweight and 2) the angle in which your arms are positioned.

10 repetitions per side is a good goal.

As always, take your time.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 4/10

Incline Pike Pushups

The Incline pike push-up is a more advanced variation of the standard pike push-up because it increases the demand of stress on your shoulders.

You will perform it just as you would a pike push-up, but instead you will elevate your feet onto a bench or a chair. The goal is to still create as much of a V shape as possible.

The remainder of the technique is the same.

The Incline pike push-up will mainly target your medial deltoid and works best in the hypertrophy and strength rep ranges (5-12 reps).

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 5/10

Handstand Holds

bodyweight-shoulder-press

Handstand holds are an excellent way to train your shoulders and several other muscle groups too.

It will require a decent amount of wrist flexibility, and you will have to keep your core, glutes, and triceps engaged in order to hold the position correctly.

It is important that you do this exercise against a wall so that you don’t have to worry about the balance component when starting out.

The easiest way to do so is to stand 6 inches away from a wall, place your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and crouch down with your non-dominant leg bent and your dominant leg straight out behind you.

From here use the bent leg to kick up and propel your body up towards the wall.  It will take a few practice attempts but it is a skill you will pick up relatively quickly.

During the hand stand, focus on squeezing your glutes together and maintaining your elbows locked out. 

Hold this position for as long as you can. Your shoulders will burn afterwards.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 5/10

Wall Walks

The wall walk is another fun shoulder exercise that you can do that adds a dynamic component to your training.

Simply get into a push-up position with your feet up against a wall. From here walk your feet up along the wall while you walk your hands back bringing your chest closer to the wall.

Be careful to not walk too close to the wall, or else you run the risk of falling over.

Reverse the movement back down to the starting position and repeat.

At the top, be sure to completely lock your shoulders overhead to engage a full range of motion.

3-5 reps per set should be sufficient.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 6/10

Neutral Grip (Standard) Dips

Last up is the standard dip.

Everyone knows this exercise due to it’s simplicity and effectiveness.

The one downside to this exercise is that it does require you to have access to tall parallel bars. If not, you can do them with some sturdy chairs, or two desks.

Throughout the movement, keep your chest proud and your shoulders back. Most people feel comfortable bending their knees and crossing their legs behind them.

As you are bending at the elbows; you should have some level of forward lean but not too much.

Lastly, you should only go as low as you can maintain proper form in your shoulder joint.

Once you start to see your shoulder rolling forward, you are either going too low for your mobility, or you need to practice maintaining a neutral shoulder position.

Anywhere from 5-15 reps per set works well.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 5/10

Advanced Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Okay, now it’s time to increase the difficulty even more.

Here are the most advanced calisthenic shoulder exercises you can do.

Handstand Push-ups

The first advanced exercise is the back to wall handstand push-up.

Get into the handstand the same way as you did in the previous exercise (kicking up with your dominant leg with your hands already planted on the ground at a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.)  Watch the video above for a demonstration.

From here, bend your elbows at a 45 degree angle from your body until your head touches the floor.

Press back up while maintaining a neutral spine. 

If this exercise is too difficult for you, place a mat under your head to shorten the range of motion.

4-10 reps per set is sufficient for handstand push-ups.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 7/10

Chest To Wall HSPU

Another advanced bodyweight shoulder exercise is the chest to wall handstand push-up.

It is performed exactly as it sounds. In order to get in the proper position, face away from the wall in a push-up position. From here you will need to walk your feet up the wall while walking your hands back bringing your chest closer to the wall with each step.

When executing this exercise, you will bring your head down in front of your hands, and then pushing back up to neutral (unlike the standard handstand push-up where you essentially travel straight up and down).

This variation is much more difficult and it requires a lot more concentration to get the most out of this exercise.

To get back down, you can either walk your way back down, or offset one of your hands to give you enough room to lower down as shown in the video.

The chest to wall handstand push-up is almost the equivalent of a bodyweight shoulder press.

4-10 reps per set is sufficient for this exercise.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 8/10

Pseudo Planche Pushups

The psuedo planche pushup is a beast of an exercise.

Remember the planche lean from before? That is the starting position for the pseudo planche push-up.

You are going to drop down into a push-up while you are leaning as far forward as your shoulder strength allows.

Do not be surprised if you could only do a handful of repetitions. This is a very advanced push-up variation that really targets the shoulders and even your biceps.

Don’t forget, it is critical that you maintain a rounded hollow body position throughout the movement.

6-10 reps per set is a good goal to strive for.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: Depends On How Far You Can Lean

Straight Bar Dips

The straight bar dip is another great bodyweight exercise for the shoulders.

It is more well known in the calisthenics realm because it is the second half of the muscle-up exercise (a movement that combines a pull-up and a dip in one fast motion).

To do it, you must position your hands slightly wider than shoulder width on a straight bar.

From here, jump up and support your bodyweight through your outstretched arms. Begin the movement by bending at the elbows  and bringing your lower chest down towards the bar.

Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body.

Your upper body will naturally bend forward to meet the bar. Once your upper abdomen makes contact, press back up and lock out your elbows.

This exercise will primarily target the anterior deltoids since it requires your shoulders to be in an internally rotated position to start.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 6/10

Ring Dips

The ring dip is the last of the dip variations we are going to cover.

By performing the dips on rings, the demands of the movement significantly increases because it adds a substantial stability component to the exercise.

In addition, your hands will be free to rotate allowing for a more natural range of motion.

Just be careful. You may notice that your hands will be very shaky when first doing this exercise.

Keep the rings close to your body and keep all of the muscles in your core and upper body engaged.

Lastly, make sure you have a high quality set of rings before doing any exercise on rings.

DIFFICULTY SCORE: 8/10

Corrective (Rehab) Shoulder Exercises

In this last section, I will cover corrective shoulder exercises.

Including corrective exercises into your routine is important to maintain structural and postural balance in your muscles. In other words, these exercises are meant to keep your shoulders healthy.

They primarily train the posterior deltoid and the rotator cuff, two muscle groups that are often neglected in shoulder muscle training.

Plus, these exercises are also great for improving the mobility of the shoulder joint as well as your thoracic spine.

Include these exercises into your warm-up, or as rehab/prehab exercises to keep the shoulders structurally balanced.

Here are the best bodyweight corrective shoulder exercises.

YTI Shoulder Complex

The YTI exercise is one of the best corrective body weight shoulder exercise that you can do

Find a bench that you can lay face down on (or you can lay on the floor which works equally well). When in position, lift your arms directly overhead, creating an I shape, with your thumbs facing up towards the ceiling.

From here, lift your arms as much as you can while keeping your elbows straight. Your range of motion won’t be very large but you will feel your posterior shoulder getting activated. Hold the position for a 2 count and return back to the starting position.

For the next part of the exercise, you are going to keep your arms overhead, but you will bring your hands further apart form each other until your shoulders are at a Y shape. Keep your thumbs up and lift your shoulders as you did in the previous part.

For the last part of the exercise, bring your arms directly out laterally, creating a T shape with your body. Again, make sure that your thumbs are pointing up towards the ceiling. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

5-8 repetitions in each position should be sufficient.

Prone Swimmers

The prone swimmer is another great shoulder corrective exercise that trains shoulder internal rotation, external rotation, and flexion.

To do it, lay face down on the floor with your hands behind you, resting on your low back and palms facing the ceiling.

From here, retract your shoulder blades together by trying to make your elbows touch each other. Next swing your arms out laterally and then overhead in one smooth controlled motion.

Reverse the movement by bringing your hands back together on your low back.

This exercise will focus on the posterior deltoid as well as your rotator cuff.

Aim for 8 repetitions per set.

Bridge Press Ups

The bridge is a nice addition to add to your shoulder calisthenics tool box because it serves two purposes.

First of all, it is a great mobility exercise that improves the range of motion of your thoracic spine, your shoulders, and your hips. 

Second of all, if you perform this exercise for repetitions (by pressing up into a bridge and lowering back down to the floor) you get a great deal of shoulder activation.

Lay flat on the floor with your knees bent and your hands over your head. Place your palms face down by your head with your fingers pointing away from you. From here, squeeze your glutes, elevate your hips, and press hard into the floor with your hands.  

This is the starting position. Begin the exercise by bending the elbows until your head makes contact with the ground. Pause for 1 second and press back up.

Ideally, your elbows should lock out.  But don’t worry if you cant- it is much harder than it looks. 

Go for 6-10 repetitions per set.

Crab Walks

The crab walk is a lot harder than it looks.  This exercise will strengthen your rear deltoids while improving your shoulder mobility in an extended and externally rotated position.

To do it correctly, sit with your knees bent and your hands flat on the floor at your sides with your fingers pointing backwards.  Start the exercise by squeezing your glutes and elevating your hips up toward the sky while keeping your hands flat on the floor.

You will feel a nice stretch along your shoulders and chest. While maintaining your hips in an extended position, you are going to begin walking slowly by marching your feet and hands forward.

This exercise will target your posterior shoulder as well as your rotator cuff.

Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly

Last but not least is the rear shoulder fly.

This exercise is extremely effective at targeting the posterior deltoid. While the range of motion of this exercise is not very big- it requires a great deal force.

Lay on the ground with your arms out to your side, thumbs facing up toward the ceiling.

From here, press your fists down hard as if you are trying to pick your upper body off the ground using only your fist.

Keep your elbows locked out and your arms straight throughout the entire exercise.

Your body will come off the ground a couple of inches – hold this position for a 1 count and return back to the starting position.

Bodyweight Shoulder Exercise FAQs

Do push-ups work shoulders?

Yes, the push-up exercise works the shoulders. It primarily focuses on the chest and triceps, the anterior deltoid is a secondary mover.

However, you can increase the shoulder activation of a push-up by keeping your hands locked in place and leaning forward.

By performing pushups from this position, you will bias the shoulder muscles more than the chest.

Do dips work shoulders?

Yes, dips work your shoulders.  The degree of shoulder activation is dependent on how much or how little you lean forward.  The more forward you lean during the exercise, the more chest activation occurs, and the more upright you stay, the more your shoulders and triceps get activated.

It is natural to have some degree of forward lean, which makes the dip more of a shoulder, tricep, and chest dominant exercise.

Why Is It Important To Train The Shoulder Muscles?

The shoulder muscles are a very under appreciated muscle group.

Despite their small size, the shoulders help dictate almost every single motion in the upper body. Just think about all of the movements you do with your arms on a daily basis.

Your shoulders must be able to 

  • have the strength to actually do these movements, and
  • have sufficient range of motion to allow for a variety of movements

Without developing both of the strength and mobility of these muscles, you run the risk of pain and injury from normal every day tasks.

The exercises described here are designed to strengthen and improve the mobility of your shoulders as well as all of the other supporting stabilizers.

How often should you train shoulders?

The shoulder muscles are quite small relative to other muscle groups in the body.  As such, they cannot handle or tolerate a lot of volume or frequency.  

You should aim to train your shoulders two times per week. 

Also, keep in mind that there is a lot of overlap among upper body exercises. The shoulder muscles are often a secondary mover in most upper body movements.

What is a good calisthenic shoulder workout?

Good shoulder workouts need to train all three heads of the deltoid muscle.

Therefore, we need to include a horizontal pressing exercise (for the anterior deltoid), a vertical pressing exercise (for the medial deltoid), and at least 1 corrective exercise (for the posterior deltoid).

Always do the most difficult exercise first, which in this case will be the vertical push exercise.

Here are three bodyweight shoulder workouts you can do anywhere.

Beginner Calisthenic Shoulder Workout

ExerciseSets & Reps
Pike Push-ups
– (Immediately followed by shoulder taps)
1 x 12
(1 x 8 each side)
Bodyweight Rear Delt Flys1 x 8
Dips1 x 10
YTI Complex1 x 8 each position

Repeat this triplet three times to complete the workout

Intermediate Calisthenic Shoulder Workout A

ExerciseSets & Reps
Incline Pike Push-ups
– (Immediately followed by shoulder taps)
1 x 10
(1 x 8 each side)
Prone Swimmers1 x 10
Wall Walk with 3 second Handstand Holds1 x 3

Repeat this triplet 3 times to complete the workout

Intermediate Calisthenic Shoulder Workout B

ExerciseSets & Reps
Handstand Push-ups1 x 5
Psuedo Planche Push-ups1 x 8
Crab Walks1 x 15 steps
Side Plank Rotations1 x 10 each side

Repeat this circuit 3 times to complete the workout

If this isn’t enough for you, we also have a very detailed comprehensive post on how to design a complete full body calisthenics workout from beginning to end! Check it out here.

To Summarize:

Here is a quick recap of the bodyweight shoulder exercises we covered today, and the specific deltoid muscles they emphasize.

Anterior Deltoid Exercises

  • Push-ups and Push-up Shoulder Taps
  • Wall Walks
  • Planche Leans
  • Psuedo Planche Push-ups
  • Dips (All three variations)

Medial Deltoid Exercises

  • Pike Push-ups
  • Wall Walks
  • Side Plank Rotations
  • Incline Pike Push-ups and Shoulder Taps
  • Handstand Holds
  • Handstand Push-ups
  • Crow Pose
  • Dips (Neutral Grip and Ring)
  • Bridge Press-ups

Posterior Deltoid Exercises

  • YTIs
  • Prone Swimmers
  • Crab Walks
  • Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly

Wrap Up

So there you have it. That is our list of the 21 best bodyweight shoulder exercises. What did you think?

Anything you would add to the list?

Anything you would take away?

Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, a NASM CPT, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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