7 Bodyweight Exercises That Work Your Shoulders

Woman in a downward dog position

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There are plenty of ways to move your body without the need for fancy equipment. A simple and quick bodyweight workout, whether from the convenience of home or in the great outdoors, is superb for improving your cardiovascular output and overall strength.

A bodyweight workout can fire up multiple muscle groups simultaneously, bringing a full-body burn in a short amount of time. Not to mention, bodyweight movements have many functional benefits since they mimic everyday movements. This is especially true for the shoulders, the most mobile joints in the body that can move in all directions.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises 

Using your body as the resistance can be extremely effective at building strength, says Laura Flynn Endres, an AFFA CPT and founder of Get Fit Done.

A study modeling the 5BX (Five Basic Exercises), designed by the Royal Canadian Air Force, which saw participants take part in 11-minute sessions mixing vigorous bodyweight exercises with recovery spells, saw an improvement in oxygen uptake during peak exercise (VO2peak) in just six weeks.

"Some muscle groups are easier to work using your bodyweight though, such as your legs with squats, lunges, jumping, sprinting," adds Endres. Other muscle groups, like the shoulders, are more tricky to tackle since exercises targeting this region are very challenging.

In general, the shoulder is a complex muscle group given its wide range of mobility, so it has less stability at the joint. To avoid injury, both the shoulder and its supporting muscles should be included in your workout.

Other benefits of bodyweight exercises include the ease of a straightforward workout that can be completed at your own pace. You can keep it simple with a focus on fundamental movements, or mix it up by adding in combinations, such as the shoulder tap, to your plank, notes Endres.

Bodyweight Exercises for Shoulders

To get started, practice and perfect these exercises that work your shoulders and surrounding muscles. Aim for 10-15 reps in each set.

Push-Ups

"Push-ups build strength and muscle definition in the chest, shoulders, triceps, back, and even abs, making them an excellent addition to your workout program," says Endres.

  1. Begin in a plank position with your fingers facing forward and wrists aligned with your shoulders; your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Press into the balls of your feet to elevate your body, keeping your hips and ankles aligned.
  3. Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle to lower your chest toward the floor.
  4. At the end of the exercise, brace your core and exhale as you press the floor away to return back to the starting position.

There are several variations to make push-ups easier and harder, including starting out on your knees and progressing to toe tap push-ups.

Inverted Push-Ups

Similar to a standing overhead press with dumbbells, this exercise requires you to press overhead with your bodyweight. "It’s hard to work shoulders using only bodyweight, but this exercise is exemplary," Endres explains.

  1. Start on your hands and knees, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Tuck your toes under and press through your hands and toes to lift your hips toward the ceiling into a 'pike-up' position.
  3. Bend your elbows to lower your forehead as close to the floor as you can manage; exhale and press back up.

If you find these too challenging, start with your hands on a bench or low step to bear less weight on your upper body, suggests Endres.

Lying Side Hip Raises

Although primarily an exercise for the hips and obliques, side hip raises also challenge the shoulders. "One arm acts as the stabilizer, so there's huge emphasis on the shoulder deltoid muscles," explains Endres.

  1. Lie on your right side with your knees bent and hips and legs stacked. Bend your left elbow to rest your forearm on a mat or the ground, aligning your shoulder directly over your elbow.
  2. Exhale as you press into the floor through your elbow and your bottom knee to lift your hips toward the ceiling.
  3. Hold for a second and slowly lower back down with control.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

To increase difficulty, you can either lift the top leg as you press up or stack both legs straight, pushing up on your elbow and foot.

Superman Rows

This exercise works the deltoids (the main shoulder muscle), with a particular emphasis on the rear delts. It also works out your back and glutes.

  1. Lie face down on the ground or a mat, with your arms by your side.
  2. Engaging your core and arching your lower back, swing your arms out in front with your arms straight and elbows in line with your ears.
  3. Exhale to lift into a superman back extension by reaching forward through your arms and backward through your legs. Keep your abdominals engaged, flex your glutes, and maintain a long lifted hold.
  4. In the Superman position, bend your elbows to row your arms down your back, pressing your shoulder blades together and pulling your elbows back.
  5. Extend your arms long again, and repeat the row for 10 reps, exhaling each time you pull.

Up-Down Plank

This mighty exercise is excellent for working the core, glutes, and arms—especially the shoulders! 

  1. Begin in a full plank with your fingers facing forward and palms placed under your shoulders, with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your right arm and then your left arm to place both elbows on the mat, keeping your hips steady and parallel to the ground.
  3. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, place your right hand on the mat and push through your palm to straighten the, followed by the left arm, returning back to starting position.
  4. Alternate sides on each repetition.

This exercise places a lot of pressure on the wrists, so be sure to take a break by dropping your knees if you feel a strain.

Plank to Downward Dog

By combining this movement with a plank, you not only work your shoulders and give your hamstrings a stretch to improve flexibility, but you will challenge your core.

  1. Begin in a plank position, engaging your core and keeping your hips square to the ground.
  2. Exhale and push through your palms to raise your hips and glutes into the air to form a pike-up, feeling your shoulders activate.
  3. Slowly lower your body back into a plank, keeping your core engaged and making sure not to arch your back.

Shoulder Taps

This low impact exercise encourages good posture whilst improving stability in the shoulders.

  1. Starting in plank, take a few seconds to feel your core and upper body engage.
  2. Press into your right palm and stabilize through your core as you tap your left palm to your right shoulder, making sure to keep the hips steady.
  3. Alternate taps between both sides.

Be mindful not to sway your hips or hunch your shoulders throughout the movement.

A Word From Verywell Fit

Bodyweight exercises are excellent for improving your cardiovascular endurance and strength. Since equipment is not required, the main advantage is you can complete this workout in a short amount of time and from any place.

As always, if you have any injuries, acute or chronic, speak to a healthcare provider before starting a new program or routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are push ups good for shoulders?

    Alongside working your chest, arms, and core, push-ups also tone your shoulders. To get more shoulder activation, you can try varying your push-ups, such as stability ball push-ups or decline push-ups.

  • Can you build shoulder muscles without weights?

    You can build strength and definition in your shoulders without the use of weights. "As most bodyweight exercises are compound, meaning they work more than one muscle group and move multiple joints, any upper body exercise will include shoulders, either as the primary muscle group or secondary," explains Endres.

  • Do bench presses work shoulders?

    The bench press is an upper body exercise that targets the shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoids, along with the chest and triceps. Make sure to pinch your shoulder blades together to unnecessary strain or injury.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. The advantages of body-weight exercises.

  2. Hawkes DH, Khaiyat OA, Howard AJ, Kemp GJ, Frostick SP. Patterns of muscle coordination during dynamic glenohumeral joint elevation: An EMG study. PLOS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211800. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211800

  3. Archila LR, Bostad W, Joyner MJ, Gibala MJ. Simple Bodyweight Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness with Minimal Time Commitment: A Contemporary Application of the 5BX Approach. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021;14(3):93-100. Published 2021 Apr 1. PMID:34055156

  4. Hawkes DH, Khaiyat OA, Howard AJ, Kemp GJ, Frostick SP. Patterns of muscle coordination during dynamic glenohumeral joint elevation: An EMG study. PLOS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211800. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211800