Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Are you looking to build up your deltoids at home or outside? But maybe you’re unsure what exercises to do. If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Below, we’ll break down five of the best bodyweight shoulder exercises you can do without equipment.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • The shoulder muscle consists of 3 heads: anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid (front, side, rear). Each has their own function during shoulder movements.

  • Always use proper form and start with some light cardio to warm up in order to avoid injuries.

  • Bodyweight exercises are a great option to have in your workout wheelhouse when you don't have access to gym equipment.

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Anterior Deltoid (front shoulder muscle)
  • Lateral Deltoid (side shoulder muscle)
  • Posterior Deltoid (rear shoulder muscle)

Secondary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Triceps
  • Chest (Pecs)

A Quick Look at Shoulder Muscle Anatomy and Function

The shoulder (deltoid) muscle has three heads:

  •  Anterior (front)
  • Lateral (middle/side)
  • Posterior (back)

Despite being part of the same muscle, these three heads serve unique roles and are involved in different exercises.

The front and middle heads are heavily involved in pushing exercises, such as push-ups, bench presses, and shoulder presses. The lateral head is also involved in arm abduction (lifting your arm to the side, away from your body’s midline), such as during a lateral raise.

In contrast, the posterior head is involved in pulling exercises, especially those where the elbows are flared to the sides (e.g., a face pull).

5 Simple and Effective Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

1. Pike Push-Ups

Pike push-ups are one of the best bodyweight shoulder exercises because they can work for beginners, and you can tweak your form to adjust the difficulty.

How to:

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Lean forward and place your hands flat on the floor, roughly shoulder-width apart.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades, push your butt high, and engage your abs.
  4. Inhale and descend, bringing your head closer to the floor by bending your arms.
  5. Pause briefly and push yourself up as you exhale.

Performing Pike Push-ups

2. Plank to Downward Dog

This hybrid exercise is fantastic for building core strength and training your shoulders with no equipment.

How to:

  1. Get into a high plank position with your arms and body straight. Support your lower body on your toes.
  2. Engage your abs and inhale.
  3. Slowly bring your buttocks toward the ceiling by pushing your upper body back, folding yourself into an inverted V letter.
  4. Pause briefly and extend your body to the starting position as you exhale. Keep your arms straight from start to finish.

Plank to Downward Dog

3. Bear Crawl

This less common movement trains your shoulders along with the chest, arms, back, core, and lower body.

How to:

  1. Get down on all fours with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees, arms straight, and hands flat on the ground.
  2. Engage your abs, inhale, and lift your knees two inches off the floor.
  3. From there, begin crawling forward. Bring your left arm forward, followed by your right leg. Immediately bring your right arm and left leg forward.
  4. Continue alternating and breathe steadily, keeping your knees off the floor.

Bear Crawl

4. Dolphin Push-Ups

The dolphin push-up is an advanced and highly effective bodyweight shoulder exercise. (1)

How to:

  1. Place your forearms flat on the ground and interlock your fingers.
  2. Extend your body into a pike position with your butt pointing to the ceiling.
  3. Take a deep breath and engage your abs.
  4. Slowly extend your body, bringing your face to the floor, and pause.
  5. Push back through your forearms to bring your butt toward the ceiling as you exhale.

Dolphin Push-up

5. Lateral Plank Walks

This movement adds a spin to the high plank movement, making it more chest and shoulder-centric.

How to:

  1. Assume a high plank (classic push-up) position. Keep your elbows extended, your body straight, your hands flat on the floor, and your toes supporting your lower body.
  2. Engage your abs, inhale, and move to the right by first moving your right arm and leg, then following with your left arm and leg.
  3. Move to the right several more times, then switch direction and move to the left for the same number of reps.

If you’re limited on space, move once to the right, then to the left, and alternate until your shoulders burn.

Safety Tips & Final Words

The most important thing to remember for safe shoulder training is to warm up the area well before each workout. To do that, perform a variety of dynamic stretches, such as arm swings in different directions. (2)

Additionally, do some warm-up sets at a lower intensity to engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps before jumping into your workouts.

Finally, pick movements you can do with proper form. For instance, if pike push-ups feel too difficult at the start, perform them on your knees. Alternatively, start with bear crawls and lateral plank walks, which tend to be easier.

Are these shoulder exercises easy for you? Check out these inverted push ups to challenge yourself with more resistance. Want to target more chest and triceps? Check out these push exercises using body weight. Click for more bodyweight exercises. Check out these bodyweight videos from our video library.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Livingston, M. (2021, August 6). Fire up your upper body with dolphin push-ups. Well+Good.
  2. Elizabeth Quinn, M. S. (2020, March 13). Prevent injuries. Verywell Fit. 

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