Strong shoulders are essential for an active daily life, for both women and men. It's even more important than having big arms 😉
Not only is the shoulder joint the one with the greatest range of motion in the body, but the muscles of the shoulder girdle allow you to move your arms in the desired direction.
Also, coupled with toned back muscles, strong shoulders contribute to better posture when standing or sitting. In addition, they promote the impression of a broad back and reduce the risk of injury on a daily basis.
However, when it comes to muscle building, it is very difficult to find shoulder exercises without equipment or sports equipment. Indeed, due to their position and their fragility, especially at the level of the rotator cuff, these muscles cannot be subjected to severe test without risk.
That's why I generally recommend you use light dumbbells, resistance bands, or TRX straps to work them out. At worst, you can even do side raises with water bottles (avoid the water pack if you're a beginner).
Still, some bodyweight exercises can help you build muscle. You'll notice that most of them engage other muscle groups besides the shoulders.
You will discover several very effective movements as you read on. Arguably, these are the best bodyweight exercises for this muscle group. I have listed them in order of difficulty.
Table of Contents
- Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises – Beginners
- Shoulder Exercises – Intermediate Level
- Shoulder exercises without equipment – Advanced level
- Take care of your shoulder joints
- Bodyweight shoulder program
- Muscles worked by these exercises
- Conclusion for muscular shoulders without equipment
Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises – Beginners
1. Mountain climbers
It is not strictly speaking a shoulder exercise, but you'll still use them while doing cardio. It's an exercise that I love and use in high reps to burn a ton of calories.
For my part, I like to follow my series of mountain climbers with 10 to 15 repetitions of exercise n°4 which you will discover later (without rest time).
How to do
- Get into a push-up position with your neck straight and your hands extended below your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
- Engage your core and bring one knee at a time to the opposite elbow while keeping your chest straight as much as possible. Accelerate to the maximum while maintaining correct form.
- Perform 15-20 reps on each side, alternating legs. If you feel like it, you can do more reps or increase the number of sets.
Mountain climbers in video:
2. YTW isometric positions
Make no mistake, while this move may look easy, it's not. This great exercise will challenge your deltoids and upper back, especially postural muscles such as the rhomboids and lats.
Move slowly and in a controlled manner really making the muscle-brain connection to get the most out of it.
How to do
- Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs fully extended with the tops of your static feet facing the floor.
- Raise your shoulders and chest off the floor, maintaining an I-shape with your body. Pause for 1-2 seconds at the top of the movement
- Shift into a Y-shape by spreading your arms out at a 45 degree angle. Then spread your arms to form a T, and bend your elbows backwards to make a nice W. Pause for about 2 seconds for your lower back.
- Return to the initial position before starting again.
- Perform 6 to 10 reps.
The explanations are not obvious, so watch this video carefully to understand:
3. Incline push-ups
Although this is one of the best exercises for the pectoral muscles, you will also work your deltoids.
If you're a beginner, doing push-ups on a bench, coffee table, stair step, or piece of furniture will help you progress easily.
NOTE : I don't recommend the edge of a chair as a high support because you wouldn't be able to spread your arms wide enough. Or, use 2 chairs while checking stability.
How to do
- Rest your hands on a raised surface of your choice, such as the edge of the coffee table.
- Spread your hands beyond shoulder width and form a straight line with your body from head to heels. To do this, you need to engage your core throughout the set.
- Keeping your neck straight, begin to lower your chest while keeping your elbows 45 degrees apart from your body.
- Descend as much as possible then push to return to the initial position.
- Do 10 to 15 reps. If that's too hard, look for an even higher position or lean against a wall. Conversely, a low position will make the effort more intense.
Shoulder Exercises – Intermediate Level
4. Plank to Peak
Yes, it's true, the names of the movements are sometimes rotten, but it's not always easy to define in words what you want to do with the body.
As I said before, it's a movement that I like to follow directly after the mountain climbers. It's a simple way to do bodyweight front raises while working the abdominal muscles.
In any case, you can't go wrong with a good old board for bodyweight training. Adding the transition to the Peak puts even more strain on the shoulders, especially the anterior or clavicular (front of the joint) bundle.
In any case, you can't go wrong with a good old board for bodyweight training. Adding the transition to the Peak strains the shoulders even more.
This movement works on the whole body, including the deltoids, pectorals, rectus abdominis, quadriceps and glutes.
How to do
- Get into a high plank position, with your neck straight and your hands extended below your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Avoid letting your hips sag.
- Transition to Downward Facing Dog: Push through straight arms to raise your hips toward the ceiling while allowing your heels to move toward the floor. Keep your legs straight and your arms straight during this movement. Your body should form an inverted V shape.
- Pause briefly at the top, then return to the starting position before continuing with the next repetition.
- Perform 10 to 15 reps.
This video shows you how to:
5. Plank to Alternate Peak
This is an interesting variation of the previous movement. Adding an alternating movement of hands hitting the opposite leg puts your balance and shoulders to the test.
How to do
- Start a plank with peak, but during the movement, send a hand to touch the shin or the opposite foot.
- Return to starting position, then repeat with opposite hand.
- Perform 8-10 reps on each side.
Follow this video:
6. Straight Plank to Elbow Plank
By going from a horizontal plank on the elbows to a high plank, you will momentarily support your body weight with one arm. This means your triceps and shoulders will be working hard. This means your triceps and shoulders will be working hard.
You can also perform this movement on your knees if standing on your tiptoes prevents you from keeping your body straight.
How to do
- Start with a classic high plank with your arms straight below your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
- Rest one elbow on the ground, then the other, with your forearms on the ground, much like the front legs of a dog lying down.
- Inhale and bring one palm down, followed by the other, to push up and return to a high plank.
- Hold a high plank for 1 second before starting again.
- Perform 10 to 16 repetitions, alternating the starting side each time.
Follow this model in video:
7. Plank with hands on the wall
You will go from an outstretched plank to a plank leaning against the wall.
How to do
- Start in a plank position facing a wall so you can lay your hand flat against it.
- Raise one arm and place one hand on the wall, while only one hand remains on the floor. When you feel that the support is good, put the other hand on the wall and stabilize yourself. Your body should be parallel to the ground.
- Hold for 1-2 seconds, then lower one hand to the floor, then the other. Continue by changing the arm that starts each time.
- Keep the abdominal strap contracted and the body straight throughout the exercise.
Example to follow :
Shoulder exercises without equipment – Advanced level
In fact, these are push-ups in an inverted V position, buttocks in the air. This movement somewhat replaces the military bar press for the shoulder muscles. This will allow you to target the middle deltoid, whereas this plank position exercise primarily targets the pecs or triceps.
If you don't have a good weight mat, place a folded towel on the floor so you don't hit your head on the floor.
How to do
- Adopt the peak position that you have already tested in the previous exercises, then raise your head slightly to look at the ground instead of your feet.
- Bend your elbows to the side and start letting your head lower towards the floor, descending as much as you can. Don't go down too far if you feel your shoulders are struggling.
- Push up to return to starting position.
- Perform 8 to 12 repetitions.
Here is a video to guide you:
9. Elevated toe push-ups
Ready for this next step?
This is the same movement as before, but with an added challenge to increase pressure on the deltoids. Don't do this if your shoulders aren't ready yet.
How to do
- Elevate your legs on a step, bench, chair… whatever. Start as low as possible. You can always increase the difficulty later by choosing a higher and higher support.
- The same rules apply as for classic peak push-ups. Keep your spine in a neutral position and the top of your head pointed at the floor. If you are trying to do this for the first time alone, put a pillow under your head just in case…
- Do 6 to 10 reps.
Look at this example:
10. Side plank with leg lift
When you want to achieve a balanced training plan for any target area, it makes sense to move the joint in all planes of motion. This will help strengthen the muscles all around the joint.
Again, this side plank position is above all a terrible exercise for a tight body and muscular glutes. But it's also a great way to target the shoulders!
How to do
- Lie on your side, elbow down bent and forearm on the floor, hand in front of your body.
- Lift your lower hip off the floor to form a straight line from your foot to the top of your head. Your other arm rests on the hip.
- If you can, raise and lower your top leg.
- Repeat 10 to 12 times then switch sides.
Video to show you the movement:
11. Hindu push-ups
This extremely complete movement works the pectorals, shoulders, triceps, back and abs. You should not deprive yourself of it if you manage to execute it correctly.
How to do
- Assume the straight-arm plank position with your feet hip-width apart and your arms a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Push your butt as high as you can as you do for peak push-ups. Keep your back straight, legs straight without locking your knees. You should be on your tiptoes.
- As you lower your butt, keep your legs straight, but allow your arms to bend as you step forward so that your chest almost touches the floor.
- Push through your arms to full extension and then reverse to return to an inverted V position.
- Pause for a second at the top and repeat.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.
Video to follow:
12. Walk on the wall
Don't worry, you don't need to be called Spiderman...
Well, this exercise is very difficult and requires good balance, as well as a wall that you can shamelessly dirty. Stay focused throughout the movement that will work the back of your shoulders.
NOTE : You need a quality floor mat that does not slip so that your hands grip well and fitness shoes so that they do not slip on the wall. Otherwise, beware of the knees. Also be careful not to fall on your side or back. Don't go too high if you don't have a good feeling. Otherwise, place all the pillows you have around you 😉
How to do
- Start in a push-up position with your feet toward the wall.
- Slowly step back, placing your feet higher and higher on the wall and walking backwards until you are in a balanced position with your feet as high as possible.
- Slowly return to starting position. If you're super motivated, do a push-up before going back.
- Repeat 6 to 8 times.
Follow this video:
If you have exceptional shoulders and a good sense of balance, you can do handstand pushups at the end. But be careful because an accident can happen quickly.
Take care of your shoulder joints
I know I repeat myself often, but these are fragile joints. Unfortunately, I paid the price by training them too heavily at my young age. As a result, I have loose shoulders, especially the right where I also suffer from osteoarthritis.
It must be said that I had powerful pectorals and that I did fairly heavy bench press sessions, but it was to the detriment of the trapezius and anterior deltoids which were not prepared for it at all.
At the time, we were on our own in the weight rooms and I paid cash… So I want to protect you and encourage you to be careful. Take the time to progress slowly to develop each shoulder gently and do not force yourself without warming up beforehand.
Before you start your session, a good warm-up exercise is to make small circles with your arms for a minute or two. Then attack your program for the day with the easiest movements.
Don't overdo it
These muscles are involved in a wide variety of exercises that require shoulder rotation, even if you don't target them directly. Moderation is therefore essential when designing a specific shoulder training program, even one involving only your body weight.
It's true that you can easily do classic push-ups 3 or 4 times a week as part of a fitness routine. But when it comes to shoulders, less is often better.
Alternate targeted muscles
In your routine, choose a variety of exercises to target different bundles of deltoids (anterior, lateral, and posterior).
Many movements presented in this article have the great advantage of working several shoulder muscles at the same time.
Bodyweight shoulder program
To gain strength and volume, perform 3 of these exercises 2 times a week. Aim for 3 sets of each. Aim to burn muscle, but not overload it as you would other muscle groups.
This is why you should favor sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, except for the most difficult movements at the advanced level.
Work this muscle group preferably on legs and glutes day, rather than when doing pecs and back.
Gradually increase the difficulty
For best results, try increasing the challenge bit by bit.
Once an exercise becomes easy, add reps up to 15, then move on to the next level of exercises. The last repetition of each set should be difficult to complete, almost to failure.
You must feel like you can't do another one the right way.
Some additional possibilities
Here is an interesting solution to do a good workout if you do not have specific equipment.
Sometimes, everyday objects can be used as equipment for a complete session. This can be a solution when weight is needed for effective exercise or to take it to the next level.
For example, you can do side raises and front raises with water bottles. When you have progressed enough, you may use a kibble bag, shopping bags, a water pack or a laundry detergent pack.
The big disadvantage of this technique is that you will not always have what you need at the time of your session. Unless you always keep stock in advance...
Muscles worked by these exercises
Composed of 3 bundles, the largest muscle in the shoulder is the deltoid. It runs from the front to the back of the acromioclavicular joint and the top of the humerus, giving the shoulder its rounded shape. If you are curious and want to know more about the anatomy of your shoulder, I encourage you to watch the video available on the CHU Vaudois page.
In your shoulder training program, your goal should be to strengthen the deltoids, but also neighboring muscles such as the lats, trapezius, rhomboids and triceps.
It may not be the easiest route, but it is arguably the cheapest and most available.
In addition, nothing prevents you from combining these exercises with body weight in sessions with dumbbells, elastic bands or TRX straps. It's even a great way to fight monotony and train the whole shoulder depending on the mood of the day.
Conclusion for muscular shoulders without equipment
One thing is for sure, you can do a great shoulder workout without equipment and without going to the gym. And I hope you have discovered new exercises in this article.
For best results, focus on multi-joint exercises rather than those that target a single muscle group. This is all the more true for the deltoids which rarely function alone in real life.
Whether you are a novice or an expert, you will reap the benefits. Focus on the form and feel the shoulders working and reaching the maximum contraction without trying to overload them like crazy. Start with light loads and easy movements. Do 2 specific sessions per week, no more. This advice is valid both at home and in the weight room.
This is how you will get stronger shoulders without hurting yourself.
Tell me what you think by writing to me at email@example.com. As I'm always looking for new exercises, you can also tell me if there are any others you like to do 😅
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Last updated on 2022-03-03 / Affiliate links / Some images are sourced from the Amazon Product Advertising API